Creating career paths in Boston for building automation specialists

High-performance, smart buildings leverage the power of automated processes to optimize energy performance and overall life cycle performance. While the concept of smart buildings is sound and forward thinking, conversations with facilities managers brought to light some of the challenges encountered in realizing the full energy efficiency potential of green buildings.

In January 2020, Roxbury Community College held a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its Center for Smart Building Technology. (Photo credit: Roxbury Community College)

The technology required to run smart buildings is complicated, and these structures only achieve superior energy performance if they are operated by technicians who possess in-depth knowledge of both mechanical systems and the building automation system that coalesces the operation of individual pieces of equipment into an integrated and harmonized system.

Because the large number of smart buildings coming online over the past decade led to a shortage of individuals with this unique blend of skills, some smart buildings have had lackluster energy performance. If a hospital, university, or corporation built a sleek, new high performance facility, they weren’t necessarily getting the return on investment that they expected. An added dimension to this challenge: these entities would invest time and money in training operations staff who would then be hired away by other companies. It was a classic case of supply and demand, where employers were competing for talent and willing to pay top dollar for people with the right skills.

Converting challenges into opportunities

In order to gain greater insight, we held a series of meetings with facilities managers at local universities, hospitals, government agencies, school districts and commercial office buildings. Their assessment of the situation was consistent from one organization to the next. They all reported that their newer “high-performance buildings” were using more energy than expected because they couldn’t find and/or retain individuals with the right training to run the building automation systems properly. The positive outcome of these conversations, however, was the idea to create a Boston-area program to train a new generation of building automation systems technicians.

While building automation system programs existed at other community colleges across the country at that time, there was only one such program in Massachusetts, located hours from Boston in the western part of the state. We spoke with several Boston-area colleges to gauge their interest in starting such a program. Roxbury Community College (RCC) was highly receptive to the idea and invited us to meet with them.

At their instruction, we formed an industry consortium that included area hospitals, universities, utility companies, state agencies, the City of Boston and controls companies. We then led this consortium through a series of visioning sessions with RCC’s president, Valerie Roberson, and members of RCC’s senior administration. During these meetings, the concept of creating a building automation systems training program at RCC was tested, refined and validated. It was a true partnership between public and private entities, a model for collaboration that can be replicated in any region and in any sector of the economy.

The Center for Smart Building Technology

After years of planning and fundraising, RCC’s Center for Smart Building Technology opened in January 2020. One of two such higher educational programs in Massachusetts, the Center for Smart Building Technology currently offers courses designed to prepare working professionals for nationally-recognized certifications such as Building Operator Certification®, Building Science Principles and GPRO. Related coursework is also provided in Building Automation Systems Fundamentals; Building Automation Controllers; Best Practices for Facility O&M Related to COVID-19; and BAS Control Devices & Applications.

Discussions between RCC and Massachusetts Maritime Academy have explored the possibility of having an articulation agreement between the two institutions that would allow students who obtain an associate degree in Building Automation Systems at RCC to transfer into the Facilities Engineering degree program at Mass Maritime Academy.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented obstacles over the past year that we’ve all had to overcome—including economic downturns and the reliance on virtual learning—the future of smart building technology is brighter than ever. What better way to rebuild our economy and tackle carbon emissions than to train individuals for high-paying jobs that lead to a more sustainable future? The graduates of this program will be essential participants in the City of Boston’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

A look back over the years

Check out some of the milestones that RCC’s Center for Smart Building Technology has reached over the years:

Last updated: 2/18/2021