Building services engineers: job role explained

Job role: building services engineer
Make a building more than just a shell – and greener too. Find out how you can become a building services engineer.

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Building services engineers see that a building has more than walls and a roof. They ensure that the lighting, power, ventilation, heating, cooling, fire prevention, telecoms systems and water systems work and meet health and safety regulations. Put simply, this covers anything from the air con to lifts and escalators. The job involves working with mechanical and electrical systems and processes, so building services engineers can also be called electrical engineers, mechanical engineers or ‘M&E engineers’.

Building services engineers can work on any type of building: one building services apprentice that TARGETcareers spoke to worked on a train station, a football stadium and a further education college in the first two years of his apprenticeship.

The job of a building services engineer differs according to where you work:

  • If you work for a construction or engineering consultant – who designs and plans projects – you’ll work on the technical aspects of designs.
  • If you work for a construction or engineering contractor – who builds the project – you’ll make sure that the design is implemented properly.
  • If you work for a facilities or property management company, you’ll repair and maintain the systems in an already-operational building.

You can learn more about what consultants and contractors do – and how they work together – in our feature on how a construction project gets built.

Would a career as a building services engineer suit me?

It is a good choice if…

  • You want to be at the forefront of technological development – building services engineers work with the most up-to-date ‘building services intelligence’ technology.
  • You’d like to help stop climate change – building services engineers can design and implement greener systems.
  • You like getting into the nitty gritty of design work (for roles with consultancies).
  • You’d like to get out and about rather than be in an office (for roles with contractors or facilities/property management companies).

Do I need a degree to become a building services engineer?

As with any form of engineering, there are routes in for school leavers and graduates alike. School leavers can join an apprenticeship or school leaver training scheme and graduates a graduate programme. Some building services roles are open to those who have studied a HNC (higher national certificate) or HND (higher national diploma) at college.

Some of the apprenticeships available in building services engineering are ‘advanced apprenticeships’, which means that you can start them either after your GCSEs or A levels. There are also higher and degree apprenticeships, for which you'll need A levels or equivalent. Your apprenticeship could cover all of building services engineering or it could focus on one particular service, eg air conditioning, ductworks, or heating and ventilation.

For the university route, there are some building services engineering degree courses around, but you can also get a graduate job in building services with an electrical or mechanical engineering degree. It’s a good idea to ensure your degree is approved by the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and/or the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET).

If you want to get on a degree course or an apprenticeship, you’ll need to take maths and, sometimes, physics at A level (or equivalent). Other useful subjects to take at GCSE and A level include further maths, computing, chemistry and DT.

Should I do a degree?

If you want to reach the top of your profession quickly, your best bet is to do either a four-year MEng degree or a three-year BEng degree plus a one-year masters degree. The Engineering Council regulates the profession and has three levels of engineer:

  1. engineering technician – which you can work towards on the job if you have GCSEs, A levels, an HNC/HND or BTEC/NVQ level 3 (or equivalent)
  2. incorporated engineer – which you can work towards on the job if you have a BEng degree
  3. chartered engineer – which you can work towards on the job if you have an MEng or a BEng degree plus a masters.

Chartership is the most senior level, at which engineers are recognised as able to take the lead on projects and on developing solutions. They tend to receive the highest salaries.

You can start out as a technician and work your way up to incorporated and chartered status (either by gaining an appropriate level of in-the-workplace experience or by studying for a relevant academic qualification with your employer’s support). For this reason, an apprenticeship can lead to either technician or incorporated status. But the quickest way to climb the career ladder is to study for an MEng.

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