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The Performance Gap. What Can You Do About It?

September 3, 2019

This week it turns out that Kevin has logged 40 years in the lighting industry, having started his technician apprenticeship with Thorn Electrical Industries back in 1978, and by the time you read this he will have met his fellow apprentices who have also completed 40 years, now serving across our industry.  Kevin thinks his own experiences might help give an you an insight into some aspects of this growing problem.

What is the performance gap?

Basically, it is when a building does not perform as anticipated; the “Gap” is the difference between what the client and design team intended and the realities of operating the building day to day.

A building’s systems might be impractical, unmanageable, use more energy, not provide the comfort or components and may not fit or function together as envisaged.

This can be as due to incorrect aspirations, factors, selections and modelling during design as well as poor commissioning, maintenance, investment, or management. It can also be due to the specifications being compromised, misunderstood, or ignored during the tender, approval and the construction process.

Add these “Gaps” of various buildings around the world together, you will see a massive overconsumption of energy.

The “Gap” stems from a general lack of knowledge, skills and practical industry experience.

Does this mean the industry has not been investing enough in itself and its people?  YES.

What can you do about It?

What have I learned? Learn, listen, share, support & be supported.  When I started my apprenticeship there was a government initiative to support apprenticeships within the engineering industry.  The company had its own apprentice training centre in the Lea Valley, North London, where we had a whole year’s hands-on training using hand and machine tools, welding, wiring and electronics, inspection and testing, learning from mistakes, supported by theory lessons from highly experienced people passing on those important practical tips, all this was backed up by a day release to technical college.

We then spent another 3 years doing 6-month sessions in a mix of departments across the business – for me it included lamp making, luminaire and ceiling systems development, building mock-ups, production engineering and process control, quality control & testing, drafting &design of lamp making equipment as well as luminaires for all applications.  Against my will, even the dreaded “office and commercial work” included estimating in the special fittings team, which is where I realised that good engineering is not just a hands-on trade, it starts in the head and needs to be managed through to the successful completion of product or project.

Throughout this training we were assigned to mentors who have become pillars of the industry (I won’t name drop – they know who they are; thank you).  Their reputation was gained because they always made time to listen to questions and ideas, and help channel this to real knowledge and experience, sharing knowledge across the industry and agreeing to benchmarks through standards and codes, plus training courses etc.  It is as important to mix with experts from; other companies, societies and groups such as CIBSE, Society of Light & Lighting, and Institute of Lighting Professionals.

This truly invaluable learning opportunity did not really stop after the 4-year apprenticeship, and people across the industry have continued to share experience and knowledge with me.  By keeping an open mind these things can be put to good use – and the best use is to reinvest this in other people i.e. today's colleagues, trainees, apprentices, customers, and building users. This is what I now find myself doing.  It is very rewarding.

What stops us?

It seems, however, more difficult to build this time and its inherent indirect costs into today’s busy schedules - within shrinking or tightly monitored budgets for individual departments, market sectors, or indeed projects.  We know it is right that we should train others, but it is harder to justify time “wasted” today or within this month’s forecasts & figures.  In today’s competitive commercial climate this can leave you questioning yourself, but it is right to do what you feel is correct; more importantly to question and avoid doing what things that do not seem right to you.

Today’s climate often means that an “apprentice” is assigned only to one job or function, not be given much in the way of training, experience or variety, and most probably used as a means of cheap labour (where there is no budget for a permanent position). This is NOT what an apprenticeship should be. This will not help the industry or close the “Performance Gap”.

Short-term justification has limited skill sharing within the industry, and fuels complacency to “bottom line” decisions - where profit, rather than good practice, and due diligence has been allowed to come first, often by those who do not understand the needs of the industry.

So, I am truly grateful to Thorn for my apprenticeship.  I think that giving back 26 years of service at Thorn helped to pay back their 4-year investment.  Also, I thank all those across the lighting and construction industries for the time and knowledge they have invested in me.  I will continue to pass this investment on amongst others; through the projects I am involved in, my colleagues, our customers, and industry societies and committees.  I’m sure this sort of thanks would also come from all apprentices, students, and trainees that have been helped along their path by many companies investing in their future.

So, how do we close the gap?

Invest in others. Make time and the effort to provide this sort of training to colleagues and customers alike.  Encourage membership of appropriate peer groups or societies to collect and distribute the seeds of knowledge - be a contributing member yourself.

If you can’t – then you, your company & your country will be losing out to others that do.

Ask Questions.  Does asking questions help?  One thing that I have learnt, is that some simple questions can teach you many things to improve the quality and operation of your buildings, their components and systems: -

  • Is it safe?
  • Is this the simplest and most reliable method?
  • Have we done all we can to save energy?
  • Is it the best and fit for purpose? (rather than cheap &just ticking boxes)
  • Has it been properly tested? Has it been proven in this application elsewhere?
  • Has it been signed off, commissioned, and handed over properly? (feedback optimises savings)
  • How long will it last? How long will it be supported?
  • How will you maintain it? Can you do so safely?
  • What is its impact on the users and the environment? (cradle to grave)
  • Do I need specialist help, advice, or training?
  • Can today’s budgets be stretched slightly?  (small steps taken now could enhance the working environment whilst saving maintenance and running costs& waste through life)

Share experiences with others.  Together we can then make better buildings, make them safer and operate them more smoothly, provide better working environments, save more energy and minimise waste.

What is Llumarlite doing to close the performance gap?  

We have helped companies save millions of tons of CO2 with our solutions and have provided the practical know-how to the industry for 25years.

Joe Jannetta, our MD, is a passionate supporter of spreading both his and Llumarlite’s experience to solve problems, improve safety and working environments, providing solutions in buildings and projects around the UK.  So, on behalf of you I’d like to thank Joe for his continued support by being members of the Lighting Industry Association (LIA), allowing me to contribute to standards and guidelines on behalf of the industry through the LIA, SLL & CIBSE, so that Llumarlite and myself can continue to help others with best practice, now and long into the future.  

Where can I get help?

Llumarlite has a team of experts.  We can help you to specify and responsibly choose and fix; lighting, controls, and life safety systems to close the performance gap in your project.  Contact us today if you need help or guidance.

NB - Also, read my other blogs to gain insight into some regular problems and queries.

Useful links

The groups and societies below can further your knowledge& training, they will help you gain and share real-life experience in the lighting and construction industries:

Why join CIBSE?

The Society of light and lighting