Treat yourself to training

This year, build a career habit to invest in sharpening your skills.

03/16/2011


Do you remember how much money you spent on your college education? You likely spent tens of thousands of dollars to learn the fundamentals that, in the end, probably taught you more about how to think than how to design a system or manage a team, project, or business.

Now, how much have you spent on training? I’m talking about good training—the kind that builds retention because you had to invest time in study, homework, or realistic projects.

Most licensed engineers have to obtain 15 hours per year in professional development hours (PDHs). That’s not a lot, and many engineers pick away at their requirements by attending one-hour Webcasts and lunch-and-learns. These are perfectly valid ways to stay on top of emerging issues, changes to codes and standards, and new technologies and products.

Other opportunities for continuing education are conference sessions. Again, these generally impart knowledge.

What I’m recommending is that you invest in training that helps you develop skills. Given where the market is and where it’s headed, here are four recommendations on what might help engineers today.

1. Economics: How to perform a variety of economic analyses on investments for making building systems more energy efficient. Engineers most often calculate payback periods; however, owners might make decisions based on return on investment (ROI), internal rate of return (IRR), net present value (NPV), or some other economic parameter. The better you can translate system performance into economic performance, the more you’ll sell better-performing systems.

2. Controls: How to design and specify controls for building systems. From laying out elegant and effective sequences of operation to minding the details for integration and interoperability, engineers generally need more training on controls. Most of the “movements” impacting building design and operations are putting enormous pressure on controls, including smart grid, energy efficiency, IAQ, measurement and verification, and monitoring-based commissioning.

3. Commissioning existing buildings: Retrocommissioning and monitoring-based commissioning are where a lot of energy services are going. Trane, Honeywell, Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls, and Siemens, which have traditionally been active in performance-based contracting, have been steadily expanding into existing-building commissioning. Because of the new-construction recession, so are many engineering firms. Look at recommendation No. 2 and do the math.

4. Communications. Whether English is your first language, you can use some training on technical writing, public speaking, and situational diplomacy (conflict management, etiquette, leadership, etc.). I’ve been a professional communicator in the buildings industry for more than 15 years and I need training, too. Just because you can form words with your mouth or keyboard doesn’t mean they’re the right words at the right time in the right way. Polishing your communications skills is probably the most cost-effective training investment you’ll ever make.

As for how to find good training, here are a few suggestions. First, look for training programs that include practice. For technical training, such as on commissioning and controls, you’ll want hands-on, in-the-field programs, or your retention will falter on the job. For communications, there are a lot of opportunities at colleges and seminars. The key advice is that you may want to build a relationship with someone who can coach you when you need it—to review a report or article, role-play an interview, or preview a presentation. The coach could be a paid professional, a mentor, or a colleague.

So treat yourself to training this year. You’ll not only acquire the PDHs, you’ll develop skills that will advance your career and your business.

Ivanovich is the president of The Ivanovich Group LLC, which provides research, analysis, and consulting services to the buildings industry. Read his blog at http://theivanovichreport.wordpress.com.