While Silicon Valley is laying off thousands of workers, companies in the smart buildings industry (SBI) are facing serious workforce shortages in almost every field. Businesses of every size, from systems integrators (SI) to equipment manufacturers, are fighting over engineers and developers. It’s the perfect time for laid off, bored, or disillusioned workers to give the smart buildings industry a serious look.
One might assume: “Well, with such a worker shortage, the SBI must be a crap place to work.” Far from the truth. The SBI actually pays well and offers challenging, meaningful work. It also holds some of the largest companies in the world, yet it’s an industry often “hidden” from most people. That’s because building operation is one of those things that, when it works well, goes unnoticed. The air conditioning keeps us cool. The lights turn on. The toilets flush. It’s only when these events don’t happen that we notice…and we notice fast.
So, while the SBI doesn’t produce a “sexy” ride share app or disruptive social media platform, it’s an industry with far-reaching and more profound impacts on our lives by comparison. Far from being a boring vocation, building automation is an exciting, innovative industry that’s seeing significant acceleration due to the growth in AI, analytics, and digital twin technologies. In an attempt to bring SBI out of the shadows, here are some facts and ideas that shed light on one of the tech world’s best kept secrets.
Buildings are a big part of our lives. We live, work, and sleep within them (when not camping) about 90% of the time. Houses, malls, schools, hospitals, skyscrapers, and other facilities require enormous amounts of space and energy to operate. Together, the built environment has a major impact on the actual environment. And the impact is growing larger. Consider these stats:
- Buildings make up nearly 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions world-wide.(1)
- Of that number, 27% come from building operations alone.(1)
- Global building floor area is expected to double by 2060.(1)
- There are close to 6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. alone.(5)
But where there’s a big impact, there’s a big opportunity. By automating building systems like lighting, HVAC and security, we can operate facilities that use fewer resources and emit less carbon. Several studies estimate we could cut energy consumption within commercial buildings by 30% using smart building systems.2, 4 Think of the environmental implications. However, only 10% of the 6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. have a building automation system (BAS). 3
Tech adoption and innovation can solve the energy efficiency problems of wasteful buildings, and the potential energy savings is real. There is important work to be done, and the engineers and developers who design future smart buildings are key players in reducing GHG emissions. By choosing a career in the SBI, you’ll be on the ground floor of some of the most environmentally impactful work being done today.
Building automation is a critical part of giving people with special needs better access to facility services. Automatic doors activated by sensors provide easy access for people who have mobility issues. Elevator systems provide access to occupants who can’t use stairs. Assistive technology like automated voices and Braille labels help people with visual impairments navigate spaces.
However, these technologies pale in comparison to what’s possible once future technology matures. Imagine designing a smart building that could track the movements of a visually impaired person, guiding and opening doors throughout an entire multi-storied building.
Smart building professionals work with cutting edge technologies like advanced data analytics, digital twin technology, AI/ML, and VR/AR. These advanced tools along with greater interoperability present endless possibilities for improving the safety and lives of building occupants.
Imagine designing an automated security system that could detect and respond to an active shooter situation. AI and security cameras could provide real-time analysis of a building’s exterior, using facial recognition or similar software to identify threats. The system would then command building access to lock down the facility, set off alarms, and lower lighting and window covers within exterior facing rooms. Real-time analysis could track first-responder locations and help guide occupants to safe exits away from intruders. Such a system would likely save lives.
The future of automation is exciting. Getting into building automation now will assure you’ll have a hand in shaping the future of how people live, work, and play.
The name of the game in building automation is interoperability. Devices and software must integrate and share data seamlessly to optimize a building’s operation. Interoperability becomes difficult or impossible when specific companies limit customers to their specific tech. Similar challenges face the smart building industry. For decades, propriety software from a few manufacturers have limited customer choice for design and maintenance of building systems.
However, things have changed dramatically over the past few years, and the industry is moving aggressively towards more open systems and standards that make data transmission and device integration possible.
Job security within the smart buildings industry is strong because of multiple factors, including industry growth and the high demand of workers. One report estimates that the global building automation system market will grow at an annual rate of 10% by 2026, from $75.0 billion in 2021 to $121.5 billion.(6)
Both developers and engineers are in high demand in the building automation industry, with some occupations like software developers growing at a projected rate of 25%.(7) The industry is also bracing for a large staffing turnover. Within the next five years, around 35% of the workforce will retire and create an even larger demand.(8) The result will be higher wages and greater work flexibility. It’s the perfect time to win leverage over negotiating your salary and benefits.
Building automation offers plenty of career growth opportunities. Engineers and programmers can grow their careers rapidly as they gain experience and expertise in the field. Some examples of career growth opportunities within the building automation industry include:
Systems Engineer: Responsible for designing, implementing, and maintaining building automation systems. They work closely with clients, contractors, and other stakeholders to develop solutions that meet their needs, and are involved in all stages of the project, from design and implementation to testing and commissioning.
Software Engineer/Developer: Responsible for developing the software that runs building automation systems. They work closely with systems engineers to design and develop software that meets client needs and ensures the smooth operation of building automation systems.
Technical Sales: Responsible for selling building automation systems and services to clients. They work closely with clients to understand their needs and develop solutions that meet those needs. They’re often involved in the design and implementation of building automation systems.
Project Management: Responsible for overseeing the design, implementation, and commissioning of building automation systems. They work closely with clients, contractors, and other stakeholders to ensure that projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the client’s satisfaction.
Research and Development: There are also opportunities for engineers and programmers to research and develop new technologies and solutions for building automation systems.
Even though building automation is an “hidden” industry, it’s impact on our lives and environment is anything but. As a building automation tech, you have the skills and knowledge to shape the future of the built environment. Even though a career in building automation isn’t the flashy “dream job” of Silicon Valley, it is important work that focuses on the fundamental needs of humans—where they work and live. When we design dwellings to be safe, comfortable, and functional, we are directly impacting lives on a level from which everything else flows. That is real change.
1 WHY THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT?