Comment: Peter Trebilcock – BIM2050 has given us wake-up call

There is a strong cultural viewpoint that collaborative education results in the dilution of key skills. However, we can, and should, do much more as an industry to facilitate collaborative learning.– Peter Trebilcock, Balfour Beatty

In the first part of a two-part article, Balfour Beatty’s BIM director Peter Trebilcock says that Built Environment 2050: A Report on our Digital Future is a window on a fast and furious future 

For businesses, developing even a three-year plan is difficult, so forecasting 36 years into the future is impossible. However, here is a valuable report which looks at current trends and encourages us to adopt a direction and speed of travel which will enable us to embrace change with confidence and maintain sustainable businesses. 

The BIM 2050 team has been researching innovations in other sectors and countries, and explored the implications for our social and economic infrastructure. The quality of thought is evident and gives encouragement in the expectation of a more enlightened future leadership.

In Andrew Wolstenholme’s report, Never waste a good crisis, one of the big themes for action was “to Develop a New Generation of Leaders who can communicate their vision and drive change in culture and behaviours”. Wolstenholme’s research showed that the younger generation has the right aptitudes and desire for change. If anyone needs further evidence of it, it is here in this much-anticipated report.

The BIM 2050 Group researched three key areas, arguing that together they can work systematically to deliver value and increased business success:

  1. Education & Skills, considering the adequacy of the education of entrants to the labour market (education) and the relevance and adaptability of existing skills in the market (skills)
  2. Process & Technology, where they examined the processes (eg building a wall) and the supporting technology (eg the bricks).
  3. Culture of Integration, which looked at the people interfaces and commercial environments in the construction sector

I will consider one aspect of each of these themes

1. It’s about life-long learning

Never waste a good crisis challenged the leadership in the industry to “Up your game by attracting, training and retaining your future leaders” because a lot of them were choosing to bypass our industry altogether. The 2050 report reinforces this point, and from their perspective little has changed.

How do we provide an attractive yet affordable career learning platform for our employees? Most of us have our own learning strategy to meet career and role needs, or simply to comply with mandated professional CPD requirements. However, it is quite another dimension for companies to set a little more structured learning for its staff to keep pace with emerging technologies including, if we believe the 2050 report, molecular biology!

I’m glad they issued a glossary of terms with the material as I suspect that many senior construction personnel would not fully understand the report if they were not readers of New Scientist. Plus, the terms  nano-second procurement, Moore’s Law, and protein synthesis were not included in the glossary provided, so it was a case of Google to the rescue!

In the UK, it appears that whilst we are avid internet users, we underutilise WEBex and other online learning tools readily available. We seem to feel training means booking an away day in a conference room with a facilitator. No wonder the Industry invests so little in training and development, we make it so expensive for ourselves. We forget how much data we each have access to from our own portable devices.

Recognition of changing roles and sustainable training regimes is an integral part of life-long learning. I’m pleased to note as part of the government’s apprentice reforms (known as Trailblazers) an employer consortium is looking to develop a new apprenticeship standard for a BIM Engineer. A good start, but we all have so much more to do.

2. Process & Technology: there is a need to recognise the acceleration of change

In Never waste a good crisis Wolstenholme states that “our challenge is to speed up the natural pace of evolution”. The BIM 2050 group emphasise that the rate of change will increase, largely driven by technology. They themselves are not creating the change nor governing its speed, they are simply saying “wake up and smell the coffee”.

As an industry we are typically slow to adopt new ways of working and almost refuse to invest until it becomes necessary in response to some statutory or client mandate. As advances inevitably increase in speed and scope we need to consider the cultural implications of rapid and radical changes. Technology will cope but can we? This is something they did not address, nor can we have expected them to. 

There have always been spilt generations with people being left behind, but as we move forward will those left behind become the majority? So what will we do about it? In BIM, we are already seeing the haves and the have-nots. Where will we be in thirty six years time? We had better board the right train. 

3. Are we really collaborating?

The BIM 2050 report refers to “lacklustre attitudes to collaboration… siloed training and skills development”. This has been a dilemma in our industry for some time. Society expects certain core competencies at qualification for practice of doctors, architects and solicitors before they become specialists in dermatology, conservation or mergers and acquisitions.

Yet we know already that given the increasingly complex world of components and systems we need a better grasp of each other’s work including the ability to enter each other’s province in order to achieve better results.

Unfortunately, there is a strong cultural viewpoint that collaborative education (particularly at an early stage in a career) results in the dilution of key skills. However we can – and should – do much more as an industry to facilitate collaborative learning, as that is probably the only valid/secure/certain mechanism for a life-long learning path which achieves best practice. CPD is typically mandated by a professional body, but who mandates inter-disciplinary working? 

There is also a perception and apparent contradiction regarding the focus of academic institutions. The report states that “education is still focused on professional institutions’ needs and requirements (qualifications)”… but later argues that the “education system itself is distinctly removed from professional practice”, inferring they are less engaged with post learning qualification. 

Institutions are not immune from the struggle to cope with the scale of change in professional training and how to address the examination of it. The RIBA continues to explore new ways to assess the contract administration skills of its potential members when there is a myriad of procurement routes and forms of contract, with the architect in 2014 seldom acting as contract administrator.

Are we are destined to continue to do what we have always done. When will things change, and can the Construction Industry Council knock some heads together?

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  1. Interesting points here Peter, especially in regard to collaboration, which is an area of research I’m concentrating on going forward. HEI’s are taking the issue seriously and here at Liverpool John Moores University we have developed a multidisciplinary BIM workshop for our students with an emphasis on working collaboratively. Students from a range of professional programmes including Construction Managers, Architectural Technologists, Quantity Surveyors, Building Services Engineers and Civil Engineers have been working on a BIM model purposely developed and created by the academics within the School of the Built Environment. Students are also provided with exposure to industry standard models as the employer bodies associated with the programmes actively engage in the workshop. This is all carried out in line with the BAF (BIM Academic Forum) learning outcomes in relation to BIM, which may address some of your concerns on mandating inter-disciplinary working. An area I would like to see some discussion on is intra-company collaboration. A lot has been written on collaboration between project stakeholders from other organisations but from past experience I think looking a little closer to home is also a must.

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