Building for the future

Published:  01 March, 2012

HVCA, B&ES
A new era — Blane Judd.

It’s less than 50 years, 49 to be precise, since the industry’s contracting association last changed its name. So what’s behind B&ES (Building & Engineering Services Association)? Blane Judd explains.

They do say that if you remember the 1960s you probably weren’t there, but what happened to our industry back then still resonates today.

As well as being the era when the HVCA last changed its name, it was also a time of powerful union influence and the birth of several working agreements that are still in place. Yet, in the intervening half century, our industry has changed out of all recognition and so the HVCA has become the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES).

The fact that more than 90% of HVCA members voted for the new name reflects that the term ‘heating and ventilating’ has ceased to adequately reflect the breadth of expertise of the modern building engineering services firm.

In many cases, contractors now lead the whole process of delivering complex buildings in line with the challenging goals set by the sustainability agenda. The traditional divisions between trades are long gone, and a much more flexible, multi-faceted profession has emerged that needs to be capable of taking on a much broader workload and embrace concepts that would simply not have been on the radar in 1963 when the HVCA changed its name from the National Association of Heating, Ventilating & Domestic Engineering Employers.

For example, energy-saving and low-carbon solutions are now required in every building. These are not practical without a multi-disciplinary approach and a multi-skilled workforce.

Incentives

Delivering such solutions depends on installers grasping how a technology fits into a complete building-services system, as well as having the skills required to make it work in practice. The financial incentives available are all geared to lifetime performance. For end users to get the benefits requires real breadth and depth of knowledge on behalf of the design and installation team. If you are not equipped to provide that, you will simply not thrive in our changing marketplace.

Energy cost and security have emerged as the driving forces behind a massive programme of building retrofits needed to lower the carbon footprint of our existing commercial building stock — about 25 million structures. This process must be led by a profession with a very broad skills base and an holistic understanding of how buildings and their services work — both at handover and throughout their operating life.

The economics of refurbishment have always been undervalued, and the availability of public funding support for the right solutions makes the case for energy retrofits even more persuasive. However, to do this well we will need a truly multi-skilled industry with a highly professional and flexible workforce.

Clients also expect nothing less. They are insistent that our sector works in a more collaborative and flexible way.

We all recognise that integrated project teams are the way forward, but they are still the exception rather than the rule. Integrated project teams get started on site, on average, six months before conventional supply chains; they deliver sustainable projects on time and to budget, giving far better value for money.

Out with the old and responding to today’s requirements — the former HVCA has proclaimed its scope as including all building services.

The post-handover experience is always better too. They do this by working in a coherent team from the very early stages of the design right through until commissioning and beyond. However, not everyone can work this way. More and more former ‘h&v’ firms realise this is their future and are investing in the necessary management and technical skills to ensure they can contribute fully to a collaborative project team.

We have a longer term role to play than was the case in the past, and the emphasis on lifetime performance and payback means maintenance becomes even more crucial. A good maintenance regime is a critical factor in ensuring long term efficiency of installed products.

New ‘alternative’ technologies might command all the attention, but this must be combined with in-depth understanding of conventional solutions as they remain at the heart of most refurbishment projects. An A* boiler will quickly become a B-rated one if not installed, commissioned and maintained correctly. This is, of course, also true for most other technologies, and our industry can never indulge in a ‘fit-and-forget’ approach if we are truly to deliver sustainability.

Results

Building engineering services firms must, therefore, be able to deliver results from the start of the design process right through commissioning, handover, operation and eventual decommissioning.

On top of all this, the Government wants our industry to deliver buildings and building refurbishment at 20% lower cost to reduce the burden on taxpayers. This is enshrined in its planned Construction Strategy, which is designed to reform the way in which Government procures all its construction projects. Ministers say this new approach will stimulate growth by ‘enabling more to be constructed within the funds available by using its sheer scale in procurement’.

Again, meeting this ‘more-for-less’ target will be completely dependent on multi-skilled operatives and integrated teams. There is no other way to deliver the required quality on time to this reduced budget.

As a result, a new working agreement has been drawn up by B&ES on behalf of several major contractors, which between them employ 6000 mechanical, electrical and plumbing workers. This agreement enshrines and promotes integration and multi-skilling in place of the outdated working practices and conditions that were established back in the 1960s when the industry was structured totally differently.

Technology is moving, green funding is growing, and skills are evolving. The truth is that we are already a multi-skilled industry — the sustainability projects we have completed prove it. A new name might just look like a label, but it is far more. It is also a statement of intent. The association might be 108 years old this year, but it has never been afraid of making big changes at key points in its history.

This is a new era and, with the unprecedented amount of change around, it is rapidly becoming the era of the building and engineering services contractor.

Blane Judd is chief executive of the Building & Engineering Services Association — formerly the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association



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