President, BCxA Northeast Chapter
From summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro to leading Cadmus Group’s high-performance buildings practice in Waltham, MA, Brad Jones has forged his own path. We asked him to share career thoughts and advice, and some personal experiences. Here’s what he said:
When did you engage with commissioning?
My work as a commissioning provider started when I joined Sebesta Blomberg back in 2001. I had been primarily working in energy efficiency consulting for existing buildings prior to that. Having spent a lot of time working with facility teams and looking at O&M manuals and as-builts for buildings, I knew there was room for improvement in project turnover. One of the last projects I did before switching jobs was a controls upgrade at a manufacturing facility. The team had an eight-hour window for an HVAC system shutdown to install new controllers and sensors, program it, test it and start the systems back up. We worked our way through it, but as soon as I learned about the formal commissioning process my response was “I wish I knew about this three months ago!”
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in this field?
One of the great things about commissioning is that we get to be involved with a wide variety of projects, both new construction through existing buildings. We get to be involved from design through construction and operations which gives us a unique perspective when compared to other project team members we are working with. Being able to provide that broad perspective of the whole building lifecycle at any stage of the project to help identify and solve potential issues is rewarding. And similarly, I enjoy the opportunity to work with other members of project teams from designer, to contractors and vendor reps through facilities staff and project owners. You can learn a lot from the team members you work with if you are open and receptive to it. Finally, I’ve also found that the commissioning industry attracts a lot of good people. From coworkers and industry contacts through the BCA, I’ve met some great people.
Describe the proudest or best moment in your Cx-focused (or other, but related) career path.
I’ve been around long enough to see some of the people I’ve hired as new employees to the Cx profession progress and have successful careers in their own right. Just as I’ve benefited from the support of other people during my career, it’s really satisfying to have helped someone have success. Taking it down to the project level, back in the early days of commissioning, making converts to the value of commissioning was always satisfying. It wasn’t unusual to have project team members who were skeptical of the process and resistant at the beginning of the project turn into proponents at the end once they’d experienced the benefits.
What challenges do practitioners face as CxPs? Can you give a personal example?
Fundamentally, a key aspect of our job as commissioning providers is to make sure other people are doing their jobs. Part of that is to keep a focus on the end results because the simple shortcut today might not be the best option in the long run. But people don’t always want to hear that when there are a million things to do. So, it’s not always easy. In the new construction market, designing and constructing a project is such a big undertaking with so many details it can be hard to get project team members to focus on anything that isn’t the immediate task at hand. I’ve found the best approach is to provide a brief example of why the little extra effort today will pay off in the end. Most people get that, but need some encouragement along the way.
What drives/motivates you every day?
I just really enjoying helping people. And it drives my wife crazy, but I’ve never met a problem I didn’t try to solve. Combine the two and you get helping solve other people’s problems. Being in the commissioning profession makes it easy to spend my time focused on this. It’s easy to stay motivated with a career focused on solving problems with an energy efficiency and sustainability focus.
What advice do you have for people entering the CxP profession?
Not sure that it is specific to the Cx industry, but take on every assignment / opportunity that comes your way and take ownership, no matter how big or small it is. Small tasks and assignments can be a great way to master the fundamentals.
Take the approach of being aware of what can be learned from each experience. It’s ok that you might know it all, it’s more important to be able to ask the right questions of the various stakeholders. Project teams are made up of a variety of subject matter experts and, in my experience, successful commissioning providers spend more time asking questions and getting other people to provide the answers than telling everyone the way it should be.
For younger professionals, look out for opportunities with newer technologies, by their nature no one has experience with them and they can be a great way to establish yourself as a subject matter expert.
How do you think the CxP role might change as a result of the current pandemic?
The pandemic is changing a lot of how the broader industry works, so naturally it will impact the CxP role. Two areas I’m seeing some immediate changes are expanded interest in remote monitoring / monitoring based Cx (MBCx) processes and new perspectives for owners that will get incorporated into their project requirements. The former has been a trend for a while, but it seems to be accelerating. The latter is a natural progression as owners learn from their experience dealing with the pandemic and designers take the lessons learned about space utilization into account in their designs.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
After a few years in the working world, my wife and I quit our jobs and spent four months backpacking/traveling throughout sub-Saharan Africa including a summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We made it to 11 countries and used just about every mode of transportation out there. I still use some of the things I learned on that trip in my commissioning work, such as asking the questions that might seem like they have obvious answers. “Where does the bus leave from?” (when standing in the bus station because it might not be there – lesson learned the hard way) translates easily to “You’ve scheduled the equipment start-up and testing tomorrow, has the electrician wired it yet?”
Good question, Brad!