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Building services engineer

Building Services Engineerbuilding service engineer

Tell me about it

Building services engineers are specialists in such matters as the design of energy efficient buildings, renewable energy, green architecture, ventilation and air-conditioning, heating, lighting, plumbing and sanitation, lifts and fire escapes, acoustics, electricity and control, many or all of which are necessary in modern buildings.

They may specialise in one function, such as estimating, designing or project management, or in an area such as safety features or computer installation. The work includes discussing what is required with the client and architect, preparing a design and detailed drawings on computer, choosing systems and equipment, estimating the cost of materials and labour involved, supervising installation, and overseeing the final testing.

Building services engineers may be qualified to chartered, incorporated or technician level. Chartered engineers have senior management roles, such as negotiating with clients, preparing overall designs and specifications or overseeing projects. Incorporated engineers are usually involved on the ground, perhaps overseeing and managing installation work as site engineer. Engineering technicians may design straightforward systems, buy materials and equipment or supervise craft workers.

Entry level

The usual qualification for a chartered or incorporated building services engineer is a degree in a relevant subject, such as building services engineering, accredited by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE). For this, you would need at least two A levels/three H grades and three GCSEs/S grades (A*-C/1-3). Maths and physics are usually essential, preferably at A level/H grade. Equivalent qualifications may be accepted.

At many universities, students without science and maths qualifications can take a one-year foundation course. Students with A levels applying for courses in Scotland may be able to start in the second year of the course, depending on their grades.

Technicians may study full time before starting work, although they often start through an apprenticeship. There are no set entry requirements, but many employers ask for at least four GCSEs/S grades (A*-C/1-3), including English, maths and science, or equivalent qualifications.

Making the grade

To qualify as an incorporated building services engineer, you should have an accredited three-year degree or equivalent qualification. You would then complete a period of initial professional development, including practical training and professional engineering experience, and pass a professional review. This would give you corporate membership of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

To qualify as a chartered building services engineer, you must have an accredited MEng degree or equivalent qualification in a relevant engineering subject. You would then complete a period of initial professional development, including formal and informal training and professional engineering experience, and pass a professional review with an interview. This would give you corporate membership of CIBSE.

Most technicians are trained by their employer – often via an apprenticeship – and study for a recognised qualification by day or block release. Depending on what is available in your area and your overall career aspirations, you could aim for a general qualification in building services engineering or a qualification in a specific industry discipline, such as plumbing, refrigeration and air conditioning, or heating and ventilation engineering.  

Chartered building services engineers usually progress by taking on more management responsibility. They may become a team leader, project leader, project manager or department manager, and can progress further to general management and company director. Some experienced chartered engineers form their own companies or consultancies, especially in design. Others move into training or research and development.

Incorporated engineers may study to become chartered engineers. Similarly, engineering technicians may gain more responsibility and study to work towards incorporated and chartered status.

Personal qualities

As a building services engineer, you should be good at maths, physics and design, and should enjoy working with computers and computer-aided design. You must have the ability to analyse and solve problems, often creatively, and you would need good communication skills to liaise with clients and colleagues in construction.

You would need to be physically fit, with a head for heights.

Looking ahead

Building services engineering is recognised as an important discipline and for many years demand for graduates in this area outstripped supply. There was, before the 2008-10 recession, a nationwide shortage of building services engineers, which meant that you were in an extremely good position to find a job, with potential employers including large building contractors, architectural or design practices and equipment manufacturers.  Large companies with a buildings portfolio also need building services engineers and there are jobs in companies responsible for the maintenance and servicing of buildings.  There are also opportunities to work overseas.

Employment forecasts suggest that construction and engineering opportunities will pick up again, especially with the key role building services engineering has to play in combating climate change through the installation of low carbon footprint systems like solar water heating, photovoltaics and micro wind turbines.

Alternative suggestions

Other possibilities might include architect, architectural technologist, building surveyor, civil engineer, electrical/electronics engineer, mechanical engineer, electrician, gas service technician, heating and ventilation engineer, mechanical engineer, plumber, quantity surveyor, thermal insulation engineer or town planner.

Take-home pay

Starting salaries, once qualified, are generally between £20,000 and £24,000 a year. Experienced engineers earn between £30,000 and £45,000. Senior engineers with the right qualifications and experience can earn over £70,000 a year.

Effects

If you were office based, you would expect to work regular hours, probably a 35- to 40-hour week Monday to Friday.  However, you might need to work longer hours when there are important deadlines to meet.  If you were working on site, you could expect to work longer and less regular hours than this, including evenings and weekends.
You might need to travel a long distance to reach the site or even to stay away from home while you are working.  You would also be expected to work all around the site, which could involve climbing ladders or scaffolding.  You would need to be prepared to get wet, cold and dirty and to wear protective clothing.

Sources of information

Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers: www.cibse.org
Building Engineering Services Training: www.best-ltd.co.uk
Summit Skills: www.summitskills.org.uk
Institution of Engineering and Technology: www.theiet.org

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