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BSRIA Smart Engineering Network Event: education key to digitisation of the built environmentJune 2018

Henry Lawson Market Research Consultant

BSRIA’s Smart Engineering event took place on Friday 23rd February 2018 in London which focused on ways to build up smart skills. How to shape the future of building services was highlighted.

Conclusions included:

  • one must immerse themselves in the forces of change;
  • industry needs to “up its game”;
  • “keep things simple” with “plain English” and “no jargon”;
  • while AI is making inroads and making work and home life easier and faster, a shift and change in skills is needed “at the coalface” aka in schools, colleges and universities, for an attractive, long career in smart engineering;
  • “future proofing” is the way forward;
  • the construction and building services industry relies on a “good degree of human experience” – including and, especially, training in the workplace.

Central to this BSRIA Smart Network event was an interactive workshop which zoomed in to look at the vital interrelationship between smart engineering and skills.


Could BIM based skills help? And what about the new government T-levels? From 2020, they will offer teenagers in England courses in construction. Each course will include a three-month work placement and are intended as vocational alternatives to A-levels. More courses will be rolled out in stages from 2021 including engineering. T-levels will become one of three main options for post-16 study alongside apprenticeships and A-levels.

It’s good news that children at primary schools are learning coding. The degree of “smartness” in a building is becoming key to whether that building is seen as an attractive place to work and it is known that teenagers have an appreciation of them.


More connected buildings need people who understand multiple disciplines and interfaces – including systems integrators – who can “speak the language”. The millennial generation is more comfortable with the challenges and benefits of the new technologies, but they need to be tempted into the industry.

Is the construction industry behind the “skills curve”? A culture change should be adopted to move away from an “archaic ethos”. And to transition from a short term to a long term view? There is a problem with short term scope of training with not enough attention paid to the long term gain.

The perception of the construction industry in schools needs to change. Engineers need to “market the roles” more. As a key industry player BSRIA recognises that it has a key role to play. The company is increasingly talking to schools via its INSPIRE programme which works with local schools, national and local politicians and the media to promote STEM and change perceptions. Indeed: the project is being rolled out to members. Industry recruitment and succession planning is crucial – the INSPIRE project will address this.

Changes needed

Facilities Managers should be encouraged to acquire the new skills needed to manager smarter buildings, including systems configuration; integration of systems. Their staff need to acquire a new level of awareness and an appropriate level of accreditation.

Market intelligence is needed in designing the courses – to see what the need is, construction and engineering scholarships in schools; technical academies; and open universities would make the future a reality. Especially for key stage 4, namely 14-16 year olds.

Henry Lawson, Senior Market Research Analyst (BSRIA Chair) said:

“For Smart buildings to become a reality then there needs to be a whole range of skills and knowledge from all parties including not just the people who design, build, commission and then run the building, but also the client and the occupier.

This involves bringing together what have previously seemed like different worlds: The worlds of construction and engineering need to join forces with the worlds of information technology and even psychology if we are to create smarter buildings that actually work to the benefit of the people who use them.

This blend of skills will not just magically emerge. We need to create the conditions, courses and customs that will foster them.”

BSRIA’s Smart Network, which held its inaugural meeting in London in October 2017, is a response to the global revolution that is transforming the world of building services.

BSRIA established this network to enable BSRIA members and other building services professionals to meet and exchange ideas and issues that emerge from this profound change, including addressing such questions as:

• What does the IoT mean for building automation?
• How will it affect different types and sizes of building?
• In what ways can HVAC systems become smarter and how far is this already happening?
• How do we get the most out of the potential smartness of our buildings?
• Are smart buildings easier to manage or more complicated?
• What does the smart world mean for building maintenance and facility management?
• What kind of security risks does the smart world bring and how do we best grapple with them?

A definition of “smart”

While there is no universally agreed definition of what “smart” means, whether for buildings or in any other context, BSRIA prefers to see Smartness as a continuum, or a series of ‘stages’ broken down into at least 10 levels, which can be summarised in the “BSRIA Smart Building Pyramid”:

1. mechanised;
2. programmable;
3. connected / communicating;
4. capable of interpreting information;
5. finding exceptions / anomalies;
6. recommending actions to problems;
7. taking preventative action;
8. a self-improving system;
9. identifying new goals;
10. drawing on information and insights from the wider world.

Most building services and devices today can probably be found at levels 1-5 of this “pyramid” though this can be expected to change rapidly.

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