Thursday, December 15, 2022

A question of trust

Rab Fletcher, BESA President

Although it has been a challenging year, BESA President Rab Fletcher argues that progress has been made on many fronts not least around the reputation of UK engineers. 

Ukraine, inflation, energy prices, building health and safety, material and skills shortages, economic and political turmoil – you couldn’t say that 2022 has been an average year. And the prospects for 2023 aren’t great, but BESA members do have several reasons to be optimistic. 

There is almost limitless potential demand for our expertise. Building engineering services are at the heart of the twin challenges of energy and climate security, and the new professional culture demanded by the Building Safety Act means clients will have to ensure they only appoint contractors who are demonstrably competent. 

These challenges also seem to be changing the way society views engineers. A survey carried out by the market research firm Ipsos towards the end of 2022 found that almost nine in 10 people in Britain trust engineers to tell them the truth. The only profession with a higher integrity rating is nursing. 

The latest Veracity Index survey looked at 30 different professions and found that engineers had moved up from sixth to second in the ‘most trusted’ list since 2021. 87% of the population trust engineers to be truthful, just behind nurses on 89% and ahead of doctors and teachers. This is our highest ranking since the survey was launched in 1983. 

Unsurprisingly considering the year we have just had; politicians came bottom of the survey with just 12% of the population trusting them to be truthful. They languish behind journalists, estate agents and advertising executives in the relegation zone. 

This result is heartening. The trust of clients and the public will be increasingly important as we tackle the big built environment challenges around energy, carbon, health and well-being, safety etc. 

These issues were at the heart of the first ‘in person’ BESA National Conference and Awards for three years, which took place in October. It broke historic attendance records with over 300 at the conference during the day and more than 450 attending a sparkling awards dinner in London the same evening. 

Over the period of just a few hours, we managed to cram in all the big topics and key challenges our industry and its clients are facing. The BESA team were able to assemble an impressive line-up of more than 50 speakers to tackle our conference theme: ‘Bringing buildings to life’ with specialists from a wide range of sectors looking at current and future skills, the decarbonisation challenge, human health and well-being, and the implications of the country’s economic troubles among other things. 

Our CEO David Frise reminded the industry that its work was important“because 90% of us spend 90% of our time in a buildingso the social good that results from good building engineering services is massive”. 

We took a deep dive into our role in the key area of building refurbishment and re-purposing as the best and most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions. Changing occupancy patterns since the pandemic is a huge opportunity to be more imaginative about the way we use our commercial building stock and several speakers said this would grow into a huge market over the coming years. 

Who knows better than a building services engineer how to retrofit a building and re-set its services to deliver optimal energy and carbon performance without the need for the massive investment and disruption involved in new build – not to mention the impact on embodied carbon? 

“The industry needs to get its head around the fact that refurbishment is where it is happening,” Hoare Lea director Frances Brown told the conference “The market is moving quickly towards re-use and repurpose and that means in-depth improvement of building performance through continuous upgrades.” 

The Conference also saw the launch of the first ever World Ventilation Day – a global initiative aimed at improving ventilation standards in buildings to protect the health, well-being, and productivity of people worldwide. 

BESA moved with impressive speed to pull the campaign together in time for the day itself on November 8th. We worked with 21 other organisations, including professional bodies, universities, and environmental groups from across UK, Europe, North America, and Australia.  

The theme of the day was: ‘Improving Ventilation for a Healthier World’ and this was picked up more than five million times on social media networks in 30 countries. The website attracted over 15,000 visitors from 75 different countries and print media coverage had a reach of 382 million across 12 countries. 

World Ventilation Day (#WorldVentil8Day) took place the day after a coroner in Rochdale confirmed that the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak was the direct result of his exposure to damp and mould caused by lack of ventilation in his apartment. There could have been no more poignant reminder of why ventilation engineers do what they do.  

All of us should go to work in the morning hoping to make a difference – to make the world a slightly better place. The nature of their work means that engineers are in a responsible but privileged position, and it can be easy to lose sight of that when we have to deal with daily business realities like rising costs, contract conditions, legal issues etc. etc. 

Remembering why we do what we do helps us push past the more mundane but necessary aspects of our working lives. So, BESA members should feel a sense of pride and optimism as they consider the year ahead. 

Have a great Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a productive and healthy 2023. 

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