Building Automation Careers are Hot!


When it comes to the thermostat in your home or office, what’s your comfort zone? 70 degrees? 72? When your system can’t maintain your preferred setting, it’s an HVAC technician to the rescue – and quite often, it’s one trained at Wake Tech! For years, Wake Tech has been a leader in Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration (AHR) training, and the college is now expanding into the
high-tech world of building automation.

“Building automation technicians are the experts that the industry is dying for because of all the ‘smart’ technology,” says Wake Tech AHR Department Head James Freeman. “They know the equipment, but work mostly on the programming and controls.”

Thanks to a $455,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Wake Tech is developing North Carolina’s first associate degree program in Building Automation Technology (BAT), with five specialized courses. The grant funds will also cover the upfitting of a special lab with the equipment the program will require.

In their first year, BAT students learn the principles and mechanics of heating and air conditioning. Year two includes advanced, in-depth instruction on the electrical and IT components of the controls. Students will learn to wire sensors, connect equipment to the computer, and write sequences to make everything work together to deliver the desired comfort levels. New courses include Logic and Programming, Networking, Integration, and Controls.

“Think about your house. It might have one, two, or even three systems, with a thermostat for each one,” says Instructor Andy Smart. “Commercial buildings have multiple systems and pieces of equipment, and the controls tie all those components together.

Building automation is also a key to energy efficiency, and one of the reasons specialized technicians are in high demand.

“We’re building smart buildings, but there are not enough technicians who know how to work on them,” says Freeman. “We’re spending money on technology that we’re not yet able to take full advantage of.”

Freeman says the ideal student for BAT is one who is tech-savvy. Graduate Nick Kurtz has already been hired as a maintenance technician but would love to learn more.

“This is one of the least understood aspects of this field,” says Kurtz. “This type of training will definitely open more doors.”

Building Automation is one of three new specialized AHR pathways at Wake Tech. Commercial Air Conditioning has been added to the college’s traditional program, preparing graduates to work in residential or commercial settings. Commercial Refrigeration prepares graduates to work in supermarkets, big box stores, and restaurants.

AHR students train in the new Center for Building Technologies on the Southern Wake Campus, one of the most advanced facilities in the state. It offers a unique opportunity to train on equipment from three major manufacturers: Diakin, Mitsubishi (donated by Brady Trane), and LG (donated by Faulkner Hanes). WakeWorks Apprenticeship opportunities are available. Learn more at

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #2000190.