05 - 07 March 2024 | ExCeL, London

05 - 07 March 2024 | ExCeL, London

Opinion Piece

Why now is the time to ‘take a lead’

An opinion piece by Adrian Catchpole, CEng FCIBSE, CIBSE President

We are faced with an urgent need to bridge the engineering skills gap internationally. It is no secret that the demand for skilled professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is rapidly outpacing the supply.

The current estimate for the UK construction industry alone is that we will need another 200,000 people for net zero, so to meet these challenges, we need to find more innovative and engaging ways to attract new entrants.

Within my inaugural address as CIBSE President, I launched a new STEM Ambassador initiative, developed by CIBSE in partnership with STEM Learning. By inspiring and engaging the next generation of engineers, we can nurture their passion for STEM disciplines and pave the way for a brighter future.

Our focus needs to be much broader, to incorporate not just those at university, but also those still at school, making the choices that will dictate their further courses of study and employment. Building services engineering is crucial to reaching net zero carbon targets and delivering a safe and sustainable built environment. As a career, it offers a real opportunity to have a positive impact on the world. That, coupled with the technology that we now have, including building simulation, 3D modelling, and data exchange, mean it’s never been a more exciting time to become a building services engineer.

The new CIBSE STEM Ambassador Scheme, in partnership with STEM Learning, aims to support volunteers in all 17 of the CIBSE regions in the UK, and in Ireland, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and the UAE, with a specific remit to attract new entrants.

I believe that to tackle the engineering skills shortage effectively, a multi-faceted approach is needed. First and foremost, we must inspire and engage young minds early on. By promoting STEM education in schools, offering hands-on experiences, and showcasing the real-world impact of engineering, we can ignite interest and sow the seeds for future engineers.

As we work to reduce the skills gap, we must also make sure that we are supporting the appropriate level of knowledge, skill and competency for the task at hand. CIBSE’s introduction of mandatory net zero and building safety focused CPD for our members goes some way to addressing this, but we need to go much further.

The challenge for all of us now is to deliver and operate better buildings, buildings that generate less carbon from initial product manufacture to demolition; buildings that are safe and comfortable throughout their lives; and promote the health and well-being of their occupants.

Last year’s update to Part L of The Building Regulations, conservation of fuel and power, is intended to reduce carbon emissions by 27-31% over the previous version; and the Government has committed to a further amendment in 2025, to target a 75-80% reduction on 2013 levels, so we are finally starting to get where we need to be with new buildings.

New dwellings also now require an overheating assessment to address the solar gains, which have become increasingly problematic in new developments. Similarly, it is encouraging to see that dynamic modelling is required as part of an overheating assessment. It gave us pleasure to see the new Part O, for Overheating, which CIBSE has been calling for since 2006.  

CIBSE continues to lead the call for embodied carbon to be addressed in the Building Regulations. We have learned how to design buildings that are energy efficient in use, but to be truly carbon neutral, the carbon created in the manufacturing process of the materials used to construct the buildings must also be considered.

This is why CIBSE’s role in the leadership of the UK Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard is so important. Alongside other leading industry organisations, we are developing a Standard that will enable the industry to robustly demonstrate that their built assets are truly net zero.

Once the Standard is established, we will need to upskill our workforce and look at more robust procurement practices, to ensure its provisions are effectively delivered.

Engineers have a great skill to be able to break things down into their parts, analyse which parts are not working or could work better, and suggest improvements. As I stressed within my inaugural address as CIBSE President, each one of us, needs to be prepared to ‘take a lead’ on these things and to do so more often so that the full benefit of sharing knowledge and new approaches can be realised.

The pace of technological advancement has accelerated, and society’s reliance on innovative solutions has intensified. Whether it’s sustainable energy systems, smart cities, or infrastructure development, the demand for engineering expertise has reached unprecedented levels.

I believe that to overcome challenges presented by the skills shortage and climate change, we must collaborate with other professional engineering institutions, and educational institutions, engage with local communities, and offer mentorship opportunities to young minds eager to learn and contribute.

By inspiring young minds, promoting diversity, strengthening industry-academia collaboration, and investing in lifelong learning, we can create a sustainable pipeline of skilled engineers. Failing to address this shortage risks hampering economic growth, stifling innovation, and leaving society ill-prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

It is crucial to establish strong partnerships between industry and academia. Collaborative efforts can bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. Similarly, Work-based learning opportunities, internships, and apprenticeships can play a pivotal role in providing hands-on training and equipping individuals with industry-relevant skills.

As building services engineers, and throughout the construction industry, our leadership is needed now if we are going to have the impact required. This spans our individual responsibilities, to those of whole organisations. As engineers, we must help move the built environment, from being a significant contributor to global emissions, to an exemplar of how to reduce them.  Each one of us needs to step out of our comfort zone, step forward with solutions; and commit to “taking a lead”.

Adrian Catchpole delivered his CIBSE Presidential Address on 13 June 2023, at the Royal Society London. You can read it in full via the CIBSE website, www.cibse.org

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