You Presidential Theme was about personal and professional growth. How strong is the system of structured and unstructured mentorship in the HVACR industry? Or, are we seeing far too many job changes that don’t sufficiently allow for a master-apprentice relationship to blossom?
We moved away from a formal mentorship programme and wanted to inspire the members of the industry to do it more informally, because many times a mentorship becomes a very personal relationship, and to try to formalise that is harder, because the match of personalities, the match of interests and the match of the people really need to occur – and occur very well – for a true mentorship to happen. And so, I would say that ‘Feed the roots’ has resonated throughout the industry that people have taken that on, and they have done amazing things with individuals and with other groups. And we have seen it now begin to flourish, and the impact has been extremely positive, and we look forward to more of that occurring.
When you say they have done amazing things, could you give an example or elaborate on that?
Sure, I have three examples that I have presented in the past. In our Srinagar, India Chapter, which is one of our newer chapters, there is a chapter technology transfer chair, Mani Khan, and Mani has a team that works to develop what is presented to the chapters. During the year of the pandemic, he and his team put together 43 different events, and they were all virtual. Then, starting this [2021-2022] Society year – our society year begins in July – by November, he had a 12-series Webinar and additional HVAC training sessions; and in November, when they were first able to get back together, they didn’t do a technical session, but they did a networking session, where the people were coming back together and networking and being mentored.
Another example is our Cincinnati Chapter trying to connect to different generations. And there, they have interviewed past presidents of the chapter, and they have used that to connect with the newer professionals entering the industry, so we can not only share information but also share the expertise between generations. Because the younger generation has skills that people who look like me – I am going to be 64 in a couple of weeks – don’t have. I don’t know how to do some of the technical things that the younger members do, so the mentorship goes both ways; it’s not just from more vintage to younger; it’s newer ideas, newer technologies coming to people who don’t know about them yet.
And the third one I very much like, and that is our ASHRAE Ireland Chapter, which partnered with CIBSE, which is another organisation like ours, and the relationship is becoming stronger. And they put into place a formal mentorship program, and in May, I was able to meet with the Ireland Chapter and CIBSE leaders in Ireland, and also both mentors and people being mentored. But in addition to that formal organisation, they had sponsorship, and that sponsor is sending two of the people being mentored to our annual conference, beginning next weekend in Toronto [Editor’s Note: The event took place from June 25 to 29, 2022]. So, not only are they doing local mentoring but they are also allowing people to view outside of the local area and see the breadth, width and depth of ASHRAE in the industry, and that bodes very, very well for new professionals entering the industry.
How much do you think the industry has really grown? How much more mature has it become? It seems like we tend to be so caught up in commercial compulsions every day as HVACR professionals that this, at times, tends to invalidate or dilute well-meaning socio-economic and sustainable development goals for better building performance? So, have we really grown over the years to the extent we would have liked to? Or, do you think we could have done better in terms of technical growth and understanding the nuances of different applications?
That is a great question! I think the technical growth has always occurred. There are so many training programmes, educational programmes and certifications available, and with the ASHRAE handbooks, guides and guidelines, there is an abundance of technical materials, and people can consume them in many different ways. And technology is being used, so it can be more broadly viewed, more broadly taken.
So, the technical growth has always been there. What is improving is the so-called soft skills. When I came out of getting my graduate degree at the university, there were so many things I didn’t know. I could learn technical aspects and I could do some of that on my own, and be mentored by others, but not those other skills so important in business and so important in communication with others – those had to be mentored, like how to present, and conflict resolutions, which always occur during projects, and there are always negotiation going on.
The ability to lead, the ability to organise, the so-called soft skills are necessary for the full person to grow, and we have seen a significant increase in the understanding of that in the last 5-10 years, and also the importance of the melding of the technical and those personal skills. And that’s why when we refer to feed the roots, it is personal, professional and technical, and it is all encompassed. And I see a very bright future, particularly for the young professionals coming into the industry – they bring a lot of skills with them from a technical point of view, and they network differently than people from my age, and we have much to learn from them, on how to use technology to gather information and to crowd-source ideas collectively.
You said, ‘crowd-source ideas collectively’. That’s interesting.
Okay, let me give you an example. So, we were working on something with the group, and as more vintage persons, we were thinking we need to put together a survey and need to make sure the questions are right and that it is going to take a lot of time. And there was a young woman in the group, and within a week she reached out to people she knew throughout the world, networked, got feedback and was able to provide that feedback within a period of two weeks. I looked at that. My generation has so much to learn. Because in the past it always had to be so structured. We had to go through certain steps. There is value in that, but that also gets in the way of the speed to business and the speed of implementation. So, there needs to be the balance… and the way she did was also very thorough. It was not just one small group she interviewed. She was able to reach out to wide groups that were very diverse. So, the speed and the information she brought back using those techniques and technical communication that are available today have a lot to add to our industry.
For the past year or so, we as a magazine have been focusing on building tracing for evaluating and certifying IAQ performance of buildings. Do you think that could be the answer to improving – and not only improving but continuously improving – the IAQ of buildings?
I would like to predicate this with the response that as ASHRAE President I am not the technical expert on everything. And for this particular answer, I would go to our environmental health committee and to our bodies that refer to Indoor Air Quality with respect to the efficacy and with respect to the long-term trending, the information exchange, etc. From a general standpoint, we have certainly seen whether it’s been Indoor Environmental Quality or Indoor Air Quality. President Gullick [2020-2021] last year talked about having a digital twin of a building – and that is not only are we monitoring a building in the aspects, but we also have a digital representation, and when the real time data starts to move away from the analysed, digitised information, we know that something has changed, so it informs us to investigate that. Now, whether or not we can do that by following viruses throughout a system and airstreams, I am not smart enough to know that, but I know there are people in the industry who could answer how effective it can be and the type of information that can be shared, but we all know that the science has shown the virus that has been around the last two and a half years is spread by aerosols. What we can learn from the last two and a half years is going to help us when there are future events such as this, and will help us respond more quickly, and there will be lot fewer people’s health affected and fewer people will die. That has been the tragedy over the last two and a half years.
We may have the best possible designs and the best possible equipment installed and perhaps even properly commissioned, but over a period of time, building undergo change, they are probably repurposed in some instances. In such circumstances, who’s checking their efficiencies – the efficiencies of the chillers and the pumps? Where is the budget coming from? Or, are FM people frustrated at not being able to change things for the better? And are buildings being de-rated, technically speaking, and in terms of outcomes? What do you think can be done to improve the overall building industry ecosystem to empower FM professionals?
I was speaking with a person who used to be in FM at a university in the United States, and he has moved to a different position, a different business since then. They are now doing the retrofitting and recommissioning of existing buildings, and they are routinely finding that there are 30% savings from an energy standpoint by just getting the buildings back the way they were supposed to operate. And the people he is working with are building their business on that. Therefore, it tells us that it is economically feasible to do this with existing buildings, and between two-thirds and 70% of the work in our industry is in existing buildings.
Now, what can get in the way is that often-times, from a building standpoint, the capital budget is separated from the operating budget, and therefore, if the people who make the capital decision want to reduce costs as much as possible, they will do things that adversely affect the operating budgets. So, the most effective places have started to make sure those budgets are under the same umbrella, somehow, so the capital and operating expenditures are considered together; and when they are, it becomes pretty clear that investing in the building stock makes sense.