The Future of Mechanical Contracting

Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
Written by Claire Suttles

The mechanical contracting industry is involved in heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, plumbing, piping, and mechanical service – vital elements in the construction or renovation of any building. The industry’s importance to the construction industry is a given, but the exact role it will play in the future may shift as technological advancements and social changes force companies to evolve – or fall behind.
Recognizing that we live in a rapidly changing world, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and its foundation, the Mechanical Contracting Education and Research Foundation (MCERF), saw a need to assess the future of mechanical contracting. They asked Atul Dighe, Principal and Senior Futurist with consulting firm Social Technologies, to determine what is in store. The resulting report, “Five Key Trends for the Future of the Mechanical Contracting Industry,” predicts where the industry will be in 2020. A decade after the report was commissioned, the predicted trends continue to be relevant as 2020 closes in.

First, the industry must continue to recruit more young people and minorities into the workforce. The current workforce is graying and younger generations have shown a dwindling interest in the trades as the educational system shifted priorities to emphasize academic degrees over trade certificates. To recruit Millennials, the industry must promote the advantages of careers in the trades and provide pathways into them. The report also emphasizes the importance of attracting Hispanics, who are predicted to become the largest population group in the construction industry’s prospective labor pool. Suggestions include hiring Spanish-speaking managers and launching bilingual outreach programs within Hispanic communities to recruit Spanish-speaking workers.

A second emerging issue within the industry is the evolution of jobsite roles. The report points out that the responsibilities of mechanical, electrical, and sheet metal contractors are becoming less and less defined as their roles overlap more and more. The recommendation is to identify and strengthen areas within your company that give it a unique edge, such as Design/Assist capabilities or Fast Track approaches. The report also suggests partnering with other specialty contractors on project bids or expanding your organization’s capabilities into additional sectors.

The industry should enjoy a boost from increased building, the report predicts. A good deal of our public infrastructure was built during the 1960s building boom, and those buildings are at the end of their intended lifespan. In addition, many municipal facilities have not been properly maintained, creating a significant market for water and wastewater treatment facility renovations. Updating and renovating 1960s era facilities is creating a substantial amount of work for the industry, and should for some time. The report also foresaw today’s trend for downtown revitalization efforts. These mixed use, high-density projects will likely continue as increasing numbers of people relocate to urban centers.

Technology is marching forward at a rapid pace, and the industry must always be one step ahead of it. Smart systems are becoming increasingly common, creating new requirements for contractors. From smart cars to smart meters, it seems that almost everything is becoming connected in today’s world. Buildings are no exception, and the industry will need to continue to stay abreast of networked mechanical systems and how to handle them, the report insists.

The report also recommends that the industry prepare for the changes that material science breakthroughs will bring. These advances will seek to improve synthetics, alloys, and plastics used in exterior, interior, and systems applications. Nanotechnology, which manipulates atoms to create new materials, is often associated with healthcare and pharmaceuticals, but it can also be used to improve building materials, the report details. Look for construction materials to be lighter and stronger in the future, and to even utilize nanorobots to create self-healing materials and systems.

Nanotechnology is already being used to improve a wide variety of construction materials, including concrete, steel, glass, coatings, and wood. Nanomagazine points out some specific examples: nanotechnology can improve fire resistance in a material, make indoor lighting more efficient, drastically increase energy efficiency in solar panels, and allow buildings and bridges to sense weaknesses that could eventually lead to structural failures. details a number of specific building materials benefitting from nanotechnology: Carbon nanotubes can be used to fill voids in conventional concrete, extending the concrete’s lifespan. These nanotubes stop cracks from forming in concrete by keeping water out of these voids. Adding nanoparticles of silver to paint inhibits the growth of bacteria and mildew, keeping buildings cleaner and healthier. Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) apply solar cells directly to windows in a special coating. Nanophotonic materials cool a building by radiating heat back into the atmosphere as infrared radiation, reducing the need for air-conditioning. When laying tiles, a leveling compound that contains nanopores will lessen the chance that tiles will crack. Lastly, points out that the leading edge material, Aerogel, is an extremely efficient insulator composed of silica nanoparticles separated by nanopores.

The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) is helping the industry prepare for current and future challenges, from the adoption of leading-edge technology to overcoming workforce shortages. Founded in 1889, the MCAA represents over 2,800 mechanical construction, plumbing, and service firms throughout the United States, as well as leading manufacturing and supply companies, the association’s website details. The association includes the Mechanical Service Contractors of America, the Manufacturer/Supplier Council, the Plumbing Contractors of America, the Mechanical Contracting Education & Research Foundation and the National Certified Pipe Welding Bureau.

Commissioning the “Five Key Trends for the Future of the Mechanical Contracting Industry” report is just one of the many services that the MCAA has delivered. Dubbed “The Education Association,” the MCAA boasts a wide range of programs, courses and conferences to keep members at the top of their game. In addition to national events, the association’s programs include a number of local offerings for convenient educational opportunities, according to the association website.

The MCAA’s foundation, the Mechanical Contracting Education & Research Foundation (MCERF), executes leading edge research and has published multiple studies on critical industry issues. MCERF also supports emerging student chapter grants, student internship grants, and student chapter of excellence grants through the Funding Educational Excellence program, the association website details. This support is an important component of the MCAA’s efforts to recruit and maintain a strong workforce within the industry.

The MCAA also keeps members wired in to the latest industry news. The association’s website helps members stay connected and includes a Member’s Only section with tailored information and support, from safety tips to updates on advocacy efforts. An online directory provides member listings, local affiliate contact information, and a buyer’s guide. The weekly email newsletter, National Update, updates members on MCAA programs, events, and meetings, as well as on important federal legislation and regulations, the association website reports. Another newsletter, MCAA Reporter, is published ten times a year and also shares key information on federal legislation and regulations, MCAA programs and services, and other important news.

As the mechanical contracting industry prepares for the future, the MCAA will be there every step of the way. No one knows exactly what the future will bring, but many of the predictions laid out in “Five Key Trends for the Future of the Mechanical Contracting Industry,” have already come to pass. The recession provided some bumps along the way, but as we near 2020, the industry is picking up speed again – and is ready to take on the challenges that the next decades will bring.



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