Human Factors

The largest industry in the USA is real estate including design, construction, facility management and building operations. It is 13% of the USA GDP and its share of GDP is $2,265.7 billion. However, for many years, there have been an absence of qualified facility engineers and technicians in the USA as well as globally; the result being a major labor crunch. Given that while building owners need staff with the traditional skills such as HVAC, electrical, automation, energy and security, there are new skill sets needed to manage and operate a building and its systems that are innovative and technology laden.

During the last decade, many construction and facility workers either retired or left the industry. While there are some government programs for technician training, skilled and specialized workers are in demand

Some of the analytic software and artificial intelligence (AI) applications can help and support facility staff. We can expect some companies to take analytics and AI applications to another level and develop software that will not only detect faults but automatically remedy some of the issues, such as changing set points or changing values or flow or pressure, by extending analytic rules for the building systems.  At some point however, a trained, competent human being will be required to diagnose and remedy problems or issues with equipment, tools and know-how.


A study in 2011 by IFMA found the average age of a facility manager is around 49 years old and rising. A 2012 survey by “Health Faculties Management” and ASHE found that 40 percent of facility managers were older than 55 – an increase from 35 percent in the 2009 survey

Yet the percentage of people in their 20s and 30s in building operations is relatively small. We face a dearth of qualified personnel worldwide.  The industry needs and must come together to address how to attract younger tech savvy people to the industry and how to train and retain people. Some of the potential avenues maybe include the educational system, trade associations, vocational schools, unions and internships.


Some in the industry have tried to define the “Electrician of the Future” or the “Facility Engineer of the Future”. The expectation is that a person would not only be knowledgeable or an expert in mechanical, electrical, security, etc. but also proficient in information technology. It’s fair to say that the next generation of facility personnel will have different approaches to communications and collaboration, using tools as social media, gaming, video and numerous apps, as well as potentially being attracted to the building industry by the energy and environmental aspects of buildings.

The construction industry is bracing for a dramatic reduction in workforce. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that 74 percent of the total respondents believe there is a crunch in skill trades, and 53 percent said they were unable to hire construction professionals such as supervisors, estimators, and engineers.

Transformative periods in the building industry occurred several times in
the 20th century with the introduction of mechanisms and devices such as
plumbing, construction cranes and elevators. Forty years ago, just prior to
the mass introduction of personal computers for businesses, the amount of
technology in a building was meager. Technology has transformed the
building industry. The expectations are more innovations and upheavals,
and the current is artificial intelligence (AI), the one that will “change
Companies related to healthcare, financial trading, insurance, fraud
detection, etc. are already using Artificial Intelligence(AI). AI mimics
cognitive functions of humans. The machines “learns”, solves problems and
identifies patterns. A few buildings are operated on machine learning, but
most of those are buildings for the large technology companies that have
the understanding, staff and tools, and are likely to develop AI into their own buildings. However, adopting such technologies in buildings could be a heavy lift for some building engineers. Many engineers may have a traditional or repetitive way of doing things. Engineers would have to have some experience with AI before they see it as another tool, but the results of AI can be compelling. The FDD analytics created by
NIST and other industry experts a few years back has been a very useful
tool for facility management, but FDD is not in the league of machine
learning, self -managing networks, or robotic process automation.

It’s likely that artificial intelligence will soon supplant the traditional building
management systems from the major building automation manufacturers.
The AI platforms are likely to deliver more reliable building information and
building performance showing better operated buildings; employee
productivity, energy consumption, comfort, etc.
OFFICES AND MOBILE EMPLOYEES  Will mobile employees result in fewer commercial buildings? Buildings enable their occupants to work, play, meet, shop, sleep,
eat, socialize, educate, learn among a host of other activities. But today building owners are not likely to have many offices and instead may use hoteling to keep the number of offices to a minimum. Today’s mobile employees have many venues to work: coffee shops, home; the library, parks, and “drop-in company centers”. Everyone is working via mobile devices, day and night. Roughly 45% of employees work from home; 24% said some of their work is at home. IDC is predicting that by 2020, 72.3% of the USA workforce will be mobile. However, recently some major companies, such as IBM have done away with “mobile workers”, and instead required all the employees back to offices to build a better collaborative workplace.
Internet virus retail stores?
There is also a meaningful change on how people are shopping.
The “old” way was to go to a store and buy what you want or
need. The new shopping is to look at things on the internet and
buy it on the internet. The benefit is you don’t have to get into
your car and waste time.
Amazon has 300 million users. They have 480
million products in the USA. They add 485,000 new products
every day, now including Whole Foods. It’s no wonder that Jeff
Bezos was the second richest man in 2016 and has a net worth of
$67 billion. In 2016, the sales via the internet were estimated at
$394.9 billion, an increase of 15.1 percent (±1.8%) from 2015.
Total sales from retail stores just increased 2.9 percent (±0.5%)
Internet sales in 2016 accounted for 8.1 percent of total sales. The loss of an anchor tenant at a mall can impact many other stores, especially at malls that have been struggling for years. Green Street Advisors predicts that several hundred malls may close over the next decade. According to a 2016 report in Bloomberg, properties
reliant on Macy’s, Sears and JC Penney are the most vulnerable. One in
six American malls are expected to disappear in the next decade. That’s
scary news for many communities. In three years’ visits to malls declined
50%. Mall closures has significant implications for local communities.
The challenge of the building industry adopting AI may be a heavy lift, but
the AI opportunities may transform how buildings can be operated with very
sophisticated tools, unlike we’ve ever seen for building performance. A very
positive innovation for building owners and facility staff.
The absence of qualified facility engineers may improve as buildings
become more tech laden, and millennials find tech careers in the building
The issues with mobile workers, and retail stores and malls was that mobile
workers may depressed commercial office construction, while internet sales
may depress construction of retail stores and malls.



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