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Building services engineering: construction area of work

Building services engineers design and implement essential systems.
Play a key role in ensuring projects are energy efficient.

Building services engineers are responsible for the services that make a building function: the lighting, power, ventilation, heating, cooling, water services and so on. Their input begins before construction starts and extends well into the operational life of a building. Before land is even purchased by a client, building services engineers assess its suitability for construction, looking at such factors as whether the land is contaminated and how easy it will be to connect services to supply lines.

They then work with the client, architects and structural engineers to develop and agree a brief for the building, which is then turned into a design to be installed by a contractor. Once construction begins, building services engineers monitor the performance of the installers to ensure the services are completed according to the design. They may also manage the maintenance of the services when the building is completed.

A career for mechanical and electrical engineers

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need a building services engineering degree to work in this sector: a mechanical or electrical engineering degree is also usually accepted and some employers accept other engineering degrees if you have taken relevant modules.

Areas of specialisation for graduate M&E or building services engineers

There are two main aspects of building services engineering: mechanical and electrical. Mechanical covers things such as air conditioning systems, ventilation and heating; electrical is concerned with aspects such as power, lighting, fire alarms and security. It is also possible to specialise in a particular area, such as lighting. There are also a number of ‘bolt-on’ specialisms for building services engineers, including sustainability, IT, acoustics and fire consultancy. Larger organisations are able to offer these services to clients in house, while smaller employers buy them in.

Building services engineering’s role in sustainable development

Building services engineers play a key role in ensuring that projects are energy efficient and sustainable. There’s a lot of research being done into new types of technology and building services engineers look at how these can be applied to make energy savings.

The emphasis on sustainability does not just extend to new-build projects. Since regulation has become more stringent, building services engineers are increasingly concerned with how existing buildings can incorporate sustainable development appropriately, for example by using wind and solar power. This is a particular challenge on historic buildings.

Graduate career routes in building services engineering

Many building services engineers work for consultants and contractors but there are also openings in companies that provide design-and-build services and, occasionally, with property developers. The type of job you do will depend on the type of employer you join: consultants tend to have more input into a project’s pre-construction stages, while contractors usually get involved on site, installing the services.
When you start, your managers will concentrate on making sure that your technical skills are up to scratch and, if you work for a consultant, you’ll probably begin by doing simple calculations under supervision and turning the designs into installation drawings using a CAD package. You should also begin to work towards your professional qualification. The traditional career route for a graduate is to start out as a graduate engineer and progress into management, but increasingly there is scope to progress within a technical position or to specialise in research and development.

Skills required by graduate recruiters

  • Interpretational skills (the ability to turn computer outputs into practical solutions)
  • Numeracy
  • Strong communication skills
  • Teamworking

Highs and lows of life as a graduate building services engineer

Deadlines are occasionally tight but the range of projects keeps the job exciting; each client will have different needs and priorities and gauging these is an important aspect of the job. Once you are chartered you can work anywhere in the world and the salary is generous too.

We would like to thank Paul Caton, MCIBSE and a director at AECOM, for his assistance with this article. He has a BEng in building services engineering and has been working in the sector for more than 30 years.