If you're interested in design and like putting your analytical and problem-solving skills to the test, then a career as a building services engineer could suit you

Your role as a building services engineer will be to design, install and maintain the services that are needed to allow a building to do what it's designed to. In any building, this includes:

  • acoustics
  • health and safety
  • heating
  • lifts and escalators
  • lighting
  • power and supply
  • security.

Sustainability is an important issue and you'll be at the cutting-edge of designing, developing and managing new technologies that help to reduce the carbon emissions of a building.

Types of building services engineer

You may specialise in an area, such as:

  • electrical engineering
  • facade engineering
  • heating, ventilating, refrigeration and air conditioning
  • lighting
  • mechanical engineering
  • public health
  • sustainable and renewable energy.

Responsibilities

As a building services engineer, you'll need to:

  • negotiate and develop project contracts and agree these with clients, if working in consultancy and putting out tenders
  • commission, organise and assess the work of contractors
  • work with detailed diagrams, plans and drawings
  • use specialist computer-aided design (CAD) software and other resources to design the systems required for the project
  • use and develop Building Information Modelling (BIM) to ensure systems are coordinated in a complex construction or refurbishment project
  • manage and forecast spend, using whole life cycle costing techniques, ensuring that work is kept to budget and energy efficient systems are implemented
  • design site-specific equipment as required
  • oversee and supervise the installation of building systems and specify maintenance and operating procedures
  • monitor building systems and processes
  • make decisions about expired systems equipment and the appropriate location of new equipment
  • liaise closely with other professionals, including structural engineers, builders, architects and surveyors and in-house project teams
  • attend a range of project group and technical meetings
  • ensure that the design and maintenance of building systems meets legislative and health and safety requirements
  • advise clients and architects on energy use and conservation in a range of buildings and sites, with the aim of minimising the site's environmental impact and reducing its carbon footprint
  • work on a variety of projects within a short period of time.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for graduate building services engineers are generally in the region of £26,000 to £28,000.
  • Experienced engineers can earn £40,000, with those working at a more senior level earning more than £55,000+. Having chartered (CEng MCIBSE) or incorporated (IEng ACIBSE) status will generally increase your level of pay.
  • Partners in a firm of consulting engineers or highly experienced building services engineers with chartered status may earn over £80,000, and in larger international consultancies this figure could be in excess of £110,000.

Rates of pay can vary substantially across different regions. Pay rates are generally similar to those within civil engineering and are affected by the current economic climate of the construction industry, as is the availability of jobs. At present, there's high demand for construction professionals.

Income data from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE). Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours usually exceed average office hours but shouldn't include weekends or shift work. Some roles, however, may demand call-outs in the case of emergencies. Part-time work is often possible as many contract staff are employed to respond to peaks in the workload.

What to expect

  • Your time will usually be divided between office and site work, the amount of each will vary depending on your role and sector. Some jobs are mainly office-based, where much of the work being centered around design and estimating and only a short amount of time is spent on-site planning and coordinating installation.
  • You could work on a range of building types, from brand new developments to ancient heritage properties. There'll be many opportunities to develop specialist skills.
  • Self-employment and freelance work is sometimes possible. Those with chartered status and extensive experience may establish themselves as independent consultants.
  • The profession has been traditionally separated into electrical and mechanical roles, but the job is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and diverse, with opportunities to specialise in many areas and an emphasis on low carbon technologies.
  • Overseas work or travel is available, with UK-qualified building services engineers being in demand across the globe.

Qualifications

Entry into building services engineering is typically via an engineering qualification. In particular, a degree in one of the following subjects will be useful:

  • building services engineering
  • built environment engineering
  • electrical engineering
  • energy engineering
  • mechanical engineering
  • other engineering degrees.

Engineering or technology HNDs/foundation degrees can fulfil all the academic requirements to become an engineering technician (EngTech), or part of the requirements to gain incorporated engineer (IEng) status. Appropriate further learning to degree level would then be needed to progress further in the job.

Chartered engineer (CEng) or incorporated engineer (IEng) status can be gained through membership of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), or other engineering institutions licensed by the Engineering Council. For chartered status, an accredited first degree in engineering or technology, plus an appropriate accredited MEng or an accredited integrated MEng degree are usually required. You can search for accredited degrees on the Engineering Council website.

Individuals with qualifications not listed on the Engineering Council website are assessed individually and may still qualify for incorporated or chartered status.

CIBSE offers student membership to those on relevant courses, which can lead to valuable networking opportunities at industry events, as well as discounted prices on publications and other resources.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of:

  • problem-solving ability
  • analytical skills
  • communication skills
  • your ability to work as part of a team
  • a good grasp of numeracy
  • time-management
  • 3D visualisation, computer modelling and IT competence.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is not formally required, but if you can gain relevant work experience during the holidays or through industry sponsorship, this will enhance your job applications and help with making contacts in the sector.

Employers

Building services engineers can find opportunities with a variety of employers including:

  • consultancies providing services such as building services design, sustainable energy systems, installation inspections, specification and cost control to a variety of client companies
  • multidisciplinary construction companies requiring specialist design and planning skills for a range of projects
  • major house building companies advising on energy efficiency in design
  • universities and other educational institutions requiring ongoing building systems support and maintenance, in addition to occasional customised design work
  • local authorities requiring systems maintenance and design support across a range of facilities
  • public health and healthcare sectors - including hospitals and care homes
  • self-employment - working as a consultant is an option for those with significant experience.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies, such as Hays Building Services, also handle vacancies and short-term contract opportunities.

Professional development

You can work towards becoming a professionally registered building services engineer with the Engineering Council. To do so, you must be a member of a licensed institution, in this case CIBSE.

You will need to prove that you have the necessary competencies and knowledge required for CEng or IEng status, usually through relevant qualifications and experience. Consult CIBSE for more information.

It's important to keep up with changes in technology and processes in building services engineering, as these are developing all the time. There are many helpful short courses, conferences and workshops available. Professional bodies, such as CIBSE, and trade associations, such as the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) provide opportunities in areas such as:

  • design legislation
  • changes in standards
  • amendments to UK building regulations
  • UK/EU health and safety regulations.

CIBSE also has the Young Engineer Network (YEN), which consists of regional centres that provide a forum and support network for engineers new to the profession.

Career prospects

Progression routes within the industry are fairly clear cut. When working for client/end-users or contractors, career progression is usually from engineer to manager.

In consultancy, usually more in companies rather than partnerships, career progression is typically as follows:

  • graduate engineer
  • project engineer
  • associate
  • partner/director
  • senior partner/managing director.

However, career patterns are not fixed and you can determine your career development through your choice of employer, size of the company and chosen specialisation.

It's important to be strategic at an early stage when choosing the type of qualification to take and the areas in which to gain practical experience, as they may lead on to your specialist area. Building services degrees with a general focus provide a useful overview of the whole sector, while other types of degree, e.g. mechanical or electrical engineering, allow the development of more specialised skills.

Promotion is dependent upon gaining professional qualifications and appropriate experience, so it's advisable to gain relevant qualifications and become a member of the appropriate professional body as early as possible. Chartered and incorporated engineer status is recognised in the UK and overseas.