Global demand for smart and sustainable buildings continues to grow, making the skills gap in electrical and mechanical systems an increasingly dire situation. Skilled labor is needed to build more efficient buildings that will help reduce the 40% share that buildings contribute to overall carbon emissions. The recent Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will only increase this demand for skilled labor, as it supplies the largest-ever investment to fund sustainable building and tackle climate change, offering roughly $370 billion to promote green technology.

While the skills gap spans specialties and industries, it’s especially high for system integrators and system designers, which are some of the most in-demand roles as more buildings adopt smart technology. To fill these gaps, companies will need to rethink their traditional talent pool.

The Great Resignation spurred changes to the labor market and continue to present an opportunity for companies looking to attract and train new employees in electrical and mechanical skills. Coupled with the recent surge in layoffs in the tech industry, there isn’t another time in recent memory that this many people were reconsidering their career path and looking for new opportunities, whether just starting out or looking for a career change.

Ultimately, it’s in the hands of companies in the energy and construction industry to market the desirability of these roles. We must lead a push to attract and train new workers to help close the skills gap and ensure there’s enough talent to design and construct the buildings of the future that will help reduce emissions and combat climate change.

The Path Without a 4-Year Degree

While a four-year degree has become more common among applicants to system designer and integrator roles over the last five years, it’s not required to enter this industry. Typically, an associate degree or trade school education is sufficient to successfully start working in the field. Trade schools teach the fundamentals in electrical and mechanical skills, offering an alternative to a traditional engineering degree. Many companies in the industry also offer robust learning curriculum to help workers take what they’ve learned in trade school a step further and specialize in an area such as system integration.

For those looking to change careers later in life, returnships can offer a great opportunity to gain experience through full or part-time work. Similar to their internship counterparts that are geared at those just entering the workforce, returnships offer workers returning from a break in their career or looking to switch paths an opportunity to learn on the job. For companies, they offer an opportunity to attract and train new talent to help address the skills gap and provide mentorship opportunities for existing employees.

Beyond the opportunities to receive foundational training and learn fundamental skills through trade schools, internships or returnships, soft skills can also provide a leg up for people without a four-year-degree as they look to move into these fields. Soft skills, such as communication and accountability, are crucial because they’re transferable in nearly every industry and role. These attributes help to create high-potential employees, which is an asset in system integrator and mechanical engineering roles and beyond.

Addressing the Gap

Ultimately, the responsibility is on companies and leaders in the construction space to do a better job of marketing the field and attracting talent that will fill the electrical and mechanical engineering skills gap. This includes providing training opportunities to a wider talent pool; one that doesn’t always fit the mode of the traditional candidate with an engineering degree. Not only can this include younger workers that may not have a relevant degree or even know these opportunities exist, but also anyone looking to embark on a new career path.

Making the industry more desirable is crucial to closing the skills gap, and something that can be achieved by redesigning the types of work these roles complete. By finding ways to automate more mundane tasks, companies can focus on centering skilled labor towards meaningful and attractive work. For example, creating digital libraries that people can draw from for graphic development can make their jobs easier and provide opportunities to devote time to more creative pursuits.

Another way to market the industry is by showcasing the crucial role it plays in combating climate change and reaching sustainability goals. As people look to find meaning in their work, being able to make strides towards a larger goal like this can make the industry attractive to new talent that can be trained in the relevant skills needed to build smarter and more efficient buildings.