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Climate changers - Young Engineers foresight reviewNovember 2012

In a world beset by economic woe and forced adaptation to climate change, the engineers of tomorrow will have a lot on their plate. Tracey Tilbry polled their views.

BSRIA's Young Engineers Network is freely available to people with 10 or less years industry experience who work for BSRIA Members

What is a young engineer? Answer: less to do with youth per se, more a definition of anyone with less than 10 years' experience in building services industry.

It's always interesting to hear what young engineers think the building services industry will look like in 10 to 20 years' time. BSRIA recently held a foresight exercise with young engineers to find out what future holds, and what any changes will mean for the building services industry, the companies that work within it, and of course the individuals themselves.

While most could see little change from the current dire economic situation, there was a feeling of greater energy awareness due to increasing energy prices. Many were resolved to a future where there would be loss of power at peak times, and a phase-out of natural gas. A greater incidence of extreme weather events would likely mean that water would become a precious commodity.

In the future, they said, waste recycling would be on a much higher scale than today. The responsibility for products having a greater amount of recycled content will fall squarely on the manufacturers' shoulders, with financial penalties for non-compliance being proportional to company size.

Delegates also visualised an aging population working virtually rather than in the office or on-site. People will be expected to work until at least the age of 85, and probably living with their grown-up children in order to avoid expensive care homes.

Not surprisingly delegates predicted greater youth migration, stricter selective immigration and a society divided between the haves and have-nots. People will become increasingly dependent on technology, they said, both for their personal lifestyle and the nation's economy.

Buildings of the future

As for buildings of the future, the young engineers postulated more people living and working in high-rise, multi-purpose communities. In this vision of the future, there would be building
performance-branded community charges for both existing and new build, smarter control over energy use with visual indicators for building performance, and a greater use of natural resources with mandatory recycling of building materials.

For the UK construction industry, the engineers envisioned tighter regulations moving towards Passivhaus standards, increased measurement of building performance evaluation and post-occupancy evaluations, and the use of building information modelling and Soft Landings becoming the norm on all new build projects.

There will also be a trend to move from a capital-cost focus to a life-cycle focus. Clients and the construction industry will need to adopt a whole-life value mentality to acheive this.


Government's role would be to contribute to energy generation and localised green schemes through community financing. This might involve incentives for combined heat and power, renewable energy tariffs, and tax breaks for manufacturing energy efficient products.

The engineers foresee the UK introducing legislation such as energy requirements for landlords, and more detailed new owner/tenant energy information packs. Large construction
firms would invest more in research and development, perhaps driven by a desire to showcase their value-driven low energy products. University research/knowledge transfer also would be more embedded in construction.

Research and development, said the delegates, will be key: if the UK can lead solutions, then there are opportunities for technical exports to other countries.

Co-located teams and project-based work may be part of the landscape, as will be a rise in home working. Innovative cross-industry construction and technical platforms are vital for this to happen.

Training and skills

So what of the nation's learning? Education will be paramount to making the 'man on the street' understand the importance of environmental awareness, and the need to preserve resources and how to save money.

Languages will become important with the rise of economic power in the far east. The UK will have to face up to learning alternative languages, such as Chinese Mandarin, in order to possess the skills to communicate with foreign investors.

Training and skills for building services will benefit greatly from exchange programmes to ensure broad hands-on experience of skills and knowledge sharing across the disciplines.
Building designs will need to include the needs of building operators at a very early design stage.

The young engineers acknowledged that there were uncertainties about financial stability, Government commitment and commercial drivers of technology in the future. However, they seemed optimistic about the future of building services as a discipline.

The young engineers saw themselves as part of the solution to the problems of the future, and that it was their responsibility to get a broad experience of building services in order to position themselves well to cope with any eventualities.

In return, it was the responsibility of employers to invest in education and training, particuarly to understand and apply evolving technologies.

For more information on BSRIA networks, including the Young Engineers Network contact