Analysis

Mixed mentoring plugs the generation gap on BAM project

6 May 2019 | By Denise Chevin

Two construction workers, one at the start of her career, the other with 45 years’ experience, have been helping each other learn new skills. Denise Chevin met BAM site managers, Gary Usher and Natasha Lister to learn about reverse mentoring.

Reverse mentoring – the process by which different generations learn from each other, has been paying dividends at a BAM school project in Hartlepool.

Here, BAM North East senior site manager, Gary Usher and assistant site manager, Natasha Lister, have been helping each other learn new skills. Natasha has been helping Gary get to grips with digital technology; while Gary is providing Natasha with valuable management insight.

Reverse mentoring has often been flagged as a way of bringing an older generation of skilled workers up-to-date with new digital technology and equipping a new generation with more rounded site management and technical skills, which they would otherwise not get studying a degree – but its use has to date not been that widespread in construction.

The project, the rebuilding of English Martyrs School (EMS) and Sixth Form College and demolition of existing buildings, is a £21m scheme, with a 74-week programme due to handover early September 2019 with an additional 38-week demolition project running until 2020.

As part of its digital strategy, BAM has rolled out Autodesk BIM 360 software across its sites. This includes cloud-based BIM management and collaboration product BIM 360 Glue, that connects the entire project team and streamlines BIM project workflows and BIM 360 Field, which collates quality and safety data through on site collaboration and reporting.

The £21m scheme, with a 74-week programme, is due to handover early September 2019

BAM uses both tools on-site to check and monitor progress, check construction against drawings, share information and report defects with site staff and site managers from suppliers, also using the software on iPad to share information – to enhance overall project efficiency.

Usher has worked in construction for 45 years, starting as a tradesman. He says he has been using the technology for a couple of years, but he’s never been very confident and never been able to maximise its capabilities until working alongside Lister nine months ago when they were paired together on the project.

“She’s really extended my knowledge in such a short space of time. The system has sped up weekly inspections – and I’m now saving a few hours of work a week,” says Usher.

“He didn’t even use a smart phone until about two months ago,” quips Lister.

“Although Gary is getting to grips with BIM and the iPad independently, it has been helpful for him to learn little shortcuts. There was an instance where he had rewritten out an entire BIM daily update (site diary) by hand because by pressing the wrong date, he had deleted it and had to start again, but if I’d had the opportunity to show him, he could have copied and pasted in a matter of seconds,” she adds.

“Moving to daily updates versus a previous site diary checklist is so much quicker. We don’t have to input the weather record (important for potential delays) as it is now instantly updated and there is even a separate section for keeping a track of site labour as well as noteworthy events,” adds Usher.

Usher and Lister, who sit next to each to foster this shared intelligence, have also been helping to train subcontractors (alongside a BAM specialist) to use BIM 360, which suppliers are required to adopt under the terms of their contract. There are more than 50 trades being employed

“Usually it’s a difficult transition to go from paper records to virtual documentation, but on the EMS project it had been a battle to convince trades using other technologies or site files to also duplicate onto BIM as a universal platform used by all sub-contractors (BAM-wide) – it’s still easier to transfer than writing out by hand.

“We have many success stories of technophobes (supervisors/contracts managers that previously avoided emails or even smartphones) now being able to use BIM 360 at ease and formulate a good standard of quality assurance,” says Lister.

“Next it would be helpful to link the daily update labour records to our MSITE system which is a fingerprint scanning log recording the operatives on and off site.”

For his part, Usher has been helping Lister with logistics and people management. Now as assistant site manager, she is coming up to her third year with the company, joining on the trainee scheme after college (Construction and the Built Environment Diploma Level 2 at York) and is also concurrently studying Construction Management at Leeds Beckett University in a sandwich degree and is in her final year.

“My advice to Natasha has been to get out on site for the first hour every morning and make sure everything is set up right and running smoothly for the day. It’s also essential to treat all of those on site as part of one team.”

“Because of Gary’s wealth of experience people on site really respect him. Seeing and watching how he works has helped me strike a good rapport too,” adds Lister.

About the project

Alongside the initial groundworks and steel erection phase, BAM is also building a school extension to the art and music block as some of the existing buildings will remain in place, including the Sixth Form College. The new high school building is a three-storey block zoned around an external atrium in a U-shape, with a capacity for 1,750 students and 220 staff to replace the existing low-level teaching blocks.

The initial concept was to build a new “superblock”, including specialist teaching areas for IT and science as well as a new main hall, dining hall, sports hall, activity studio and fitness suite. While outside there will be new playing pitches, seating areas and chapel gardens.