In the commercial real estate industry, we have fared well with every recession resistant job. We are still a little thinner in staffing, and we have learned true conservation methods through this recent five-year period. We have leveraged technology, lowered operating expenses, increased competitiveness and adjusted to a more litigious world, where loss prevention is as important as ever. New regulations, sustainability and concierge level customer service drive us to raise the bar in this service industry every day.
To remain competitive in a service industry, building owners have many considerations. The “brick and mortar” is an obvious large piece of the commercial property business model. Building looks and the curb appeal are what gets the customers in and keeps revenue up. Keeping customers happy in a well-maintained and managed building is critical. Let’s look into the future of our industry. Engineering services is one of the most critical components of our industry. To see where we are going one must first look back to see where we have been.
OSHA came on the scene in the ’70s, and the work place has become safer, albeit, much more litigious. In the ’70s and ’80s, we had dispatchers and paper work order systems. We had single-building HVAC control systems. We graduated to pneumatic and DDC building control systems and more zone control in the ’90s. We had timers that ran the top of the line incandescent and sodium vapor efficient lighting in the ’70s and ’80s. Water was cheap and plentiful. In the ’70s’ building, there may have been free asbestos, absent fire sprinkler systems, no addressable fire panels; and yet we had building engineers for the boiler systems, plumbing systems or keying systems. The fact is; we had engineers with specialties and more of them.
The ’80s and ’90s brought us much more complex systems in commercial buildings. Engineers became responsible for keeping buildings in compliance with ever increasing code changes and efficiency drivers. We had cyclical recessions that had the effect of driving engineers to uncover more efficiency and integrate more technology in the performance of our jobs. Engineers were asked to cover more square footage when staff size had to be reduced, which in turn required the engineer to have a broader skill set.
Today the average engineer has to come equipped with many skill sets and is required to be much more professional. Engineers today have high-level building automation systems, instant smart phone communication and connectivity, and automated work order systems. Over the last 10 years, we have seen major advancements in lighting and control technology, along with other technologies that mean less ladder and wrench time. Less ladder and wrench time means more face time with customers. Additionally, we have seen increased regulation from multiple directions driving compliance expectations to new, higher levels. Engineers are expected to maintain the assets, all while maintaining the safe, comfortable and productive work environment with concierge-level customer experiences. Engineers wear the company name on their shirts; they are the marketing army for the company.
With less down time, there is a lot more on an engineer’s plate than there used to be. While working to help plan the program for the BTO breakfast this year; veteran engineer Jack Kennedy with Childress Klein illustrated quite a few of the challenges that todays’ engineers have.
“Engineers have to attack the day, anticipate situations and prepare,” Kennedy explained. “They have to own a project, look the look and walk the walk. They should think as if their name is part of the company and the name on the building. A next generation engineer must see a problem, have a solution, create need, and add value. Tomorrow’s engineer will have to understand what management expects of them, and they have to want more and get more to have professional growth.
Trent Patterson provided input from a different perspective. Patterson has a degree in business and began his career in property management as an entry-level engineer. Patterson represents the second generation in his family after following his father into commercial real estate and property management. Patterson is now a property manager and aligns himself squarely in generation Y.
In his view, an engineer’s function and activities will be much more cerebral. Patterson explained that technology and liability are merging, and from the property manager’s view, they are charged by building owners to increase revenue and limit liability. In his experiences as an engineer, he knows first-hand how many skill sets, both technical and professional, engineers have to possess today to remain viable. The next generation engineer will have to be the most dependable and knowledgeable professional that the building owner and property manager have as a resource.
Looking back at the early examples from the ’70s and to the engineers of today, you catch a glimpse into the future for building engineers. When you look in the mirror do you ever wonder if you or your engineers will walk the walk and talk the talk of the next generation engineer?
If you are an owner or property manager, have you ever wondered, “What if I invest in education for my engineers and they leave me for another company?” I submit, “What if you don’t invest in education for engineers and they stay?”
Will you have the next generation engineers?
Mark Gallman, SMA, LEED GA, has been a BOMA Georgia Member for 14 years and is a BOMA Georgia Foundation annual donor. Gallman is an instructor for the SMA and Building Engineering 101 education programs. Gallman is also the maintenance manager for Highwoods Properties.