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March 2020
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The Need for Better Building Management Systems Storytellers

Why the industry’s labor shortage is not just an HR problem, but a marketing issue.


Lauren Scott


Lauren Scott
Director, Marketing
Distech Controls

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We hear it everywhere. Whether reading the latest edition of our favorite trade publication, attending national conferences or attending local association meetings: the Building Management Systems (BMS) industry is experiencing a crippling labor shortage. While business is booming for many in the intelligent building realm, companies cannot attract and retain talent at the rate required to meet demand. This is holding true from roles ranging from field technicians over to the C-Suite, and from engineers to accounting.

Consequently, pressure is put on human resources teams to dive deeper into ways to overcome this obstacle. Online job portals and enlisting the help of recruiting agencies can certainly alleviate some of the immediate needs. College recruiting and product donations to schools can also help in the mid to long-term. However, I would challenge that this labor shortage is not just an HR problem, but a marketing issue.

Much of what we have heard to date regarding the current hiring situation tends to be quite anecdotal: owners and leaders share stories over lunch about not being able to build the teams they need to grow. Industry studies now formally back these claims. But the reality is that our industry has found itself at the heart of a perfect storm: low unemployment rates, an aging (and retiring) workforce, and a new generation of workers that are not being drawn in by the traditional messaging.

The current unemployment rate in both Canada and the United States are at all-time lows. With demand now significantly outweighing supply, workers have the luxury of being choosier regarding where they want to work. They are looking for organizations that align with not only their skill sets but also their personal values. This reality is further amplified by the aging baby-boomer generation that, until these past few years, has held the vast majority of roles within the BMS world.

What is the New Generation Looking for in Career Opportunities?

Studies have shown that the younger generations are looking for career opportunities that allow for them to contribute to society in meaningful ways. Industry trends also highlight the drastic decrease in those going into trades altogether. With classes like shop being dropped from high schools, an entire generation has been encouraged to take the traditional academic route straight into the corporate world. Simultaneously, those that are in fact looking to the tech world for employment are being enticed by the sensationalized glitz and glamour of the Silicon Valley-style companies.

So how can a traditional industry like ours successfully attract and retain talent? Posting yet another opening onto a job board won’t cut it. If we are to stand a chance against other sectors in a demand-driven reality, we need to market it. And boy, do we ever have a story to tell!

The Difference a Decade Makes

Having recently rung in the new year and a new decade, the President of Distech Controls, Martin Villeneuve, recently challenged us to ask ourselves where we were a decade ago. While the personal evolution most of us have experienced since 2010 is significant, it pales in comparison to the evolution of technology.

Who would have ever believed that companies manufacturing HVAC controllers a decade ago would now be launching a cutting-edge mobile app that allows occupants to adjust their ambient temperature, navigate their way around buildings, report their coffee machines not working, and even connect with their colleagues to go get sushi after work? It is mind-boggling! While hardware is certainly still the backbone of our business, what we can do is talk about the fundamental role that BMS technology plays in creating deeper experiences in connected, intelligent buildings. It is also a great message to help reinforce our broader marketing messages.

Build the Future to Have a Future

In 2008, I attended the Montreal stop of Al Gore’s Climate Summit tour geared towards us university students. His opening speaker, environmental pioneer David Suzuki, asked us to complete an exercise. As he called off different faculties, we were asked to stand up in the room of approximately 5,000 attendees. Engineering. Arts and Sciences. Journalism. Medicine. Hundreds, if not thousands, stood up. He then got to Business/Commerce: no more than 10 of us stood up. In a room of 5000, I recognized that I represented a distinct minority of future business leaders interested in sustainability. And I knew that I would end up working for a company/industry that contributed to the environmental moment. In 2013, I was lucky enough to find where I am employed today: Distech Controls.

Fast-forwarding to 2019, Montreal had the largest Climate March attendance in the world with more than half a million participants. This included companies, K-12 students, and even entire universities. This desire from the younger generation to be part of environmentally responsible initiatives goes beyond a one-day walk. The younger generation wants to work for companies that are making a difference. This fact would propel the BMS industry’s message out to those from all academic backgrounds. We provide innovative solutions that not only allow for future-ready infrastructure, but that also reduce our collective footprint whether new construction or retrofits.

Solutions-Focused Verbiage

Reliable Controls At Distech Controls, our conversations are shifting from those that are purely technical to more solutions-focused initiatives with building owners who they themselves are trying to attract and retain talent. What does this mean for us looking to hire in the BMS industry? It means that we now have the luxury to broaden our nets for recruiting to include those who, while perhaps less technical, might be the very best in their respective domain. As the BMS industry masters the ways in which to speak to building owners regarding tenant satisfaction, we are inherently becoming more adept at appealing to the everyday interaction with potential employees and their buildings. Someone being recruited to your accounting team might have less experience with the inner workings of an air handler but will most certainly understand the importance of a comfortable and functional working environment. I would challenge us to collectively leverage the accessibility of this language to ensure our recruiting efforts attract from as broad of a pool as possible.

Intelligent Recruiting for Intelligent Buildings

The shifting tides of the North American labor market have led our industry to our current situation where we want to grow, but our inability to attract and retain talent has us in a bind. Collectively, we have tried the job boards, and we have tried the recruiters. And yet the shortage persists. We therefore need to recruit in a way that is as intelligent as the buildings we are helping to create. We need to tell the incredible story that is the BMS offering.

From pushing the technological envelope to creating a more energy efficient built landscape, our industry is truly one where we can be proud. HR will continue to play a key role in addressing these issues. Perhaps we can all embrace the role of BMS marketers so that we can truly grow at the lightning speed of our awe-inspiring technology and industry. 

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