Game on for a career in construction

The industry increasingly needs digital skills, while gaming experts are looking for different outlets for their talents. Why don’t we marry these needs up, asks David Glennon.

The construction industry is facing a severe skills shortage. With an ambitious pipeline of UK infrastructure projects, growing capacity remains a significant challenge across the sector. But given the rise of digital innovation and the importance of emerging technologies, attracting and nurturing vital skills from outside the industry could be key.

Enticing the best talent from the games industry provides an exciting opportunity to reimagine the construction sector as highly innovative, technology driven and diverse. And attracting games developers away from their typical roles may not be as difficult as some might assume.

Despite being a young and progressive industry, games development is also highly competitive. Many graduates looking to join the profession are frustrated by the lack of quality jobs available, and those lucky enough to secure a position with the industry’s largest companies are often disappointed by the reality of video game development.

AAA games – those with the highest development budgets and levels of promotion – typically take around three years to create. With thousands of people working on each game, the majority of roles are focused on tiny elements of the title. Rather than spend years working on a certain surface texture for a new game, such as grass or a brick wall, lots of games developers are looking for alternative opportunities to use their skills.

In contrast, construction – by tradition a slow-moving industry – is experiencing change at a rapid pace. The emergence of building information modelling (BIM), augmented reality and other immersive technologies is encouraging a global drive towards a digitally enabled sector. The potential impact of immersive technologies is huge, and there has never been a more exciting time to join the industry. 

The challenge now is for construction companies to make themselves attractive to those entering digital professions. Industry must demonstrate a rewarding career path if it is to entice new people and different skills. A key selling point is the opportunity to work on real-life projects that make a genuine difference to society.

A job in construction involves creating models of buildings and infrastructure that are then constructed, used and enjoyed in the real world and this is something the games industry is unable to offer.  An employee is also likely to work on a number of projects concurrently, adding to the variety and appeal of construction.

Exploring immersive technologies

Aecom first looked at the games community as a potential talent pool to fill a specific position on a major infrastructure project in Sweden. We appointed a games development graduate and the project team were amazed by how quickly he picked up the necessary tools. To assess his modelling capabilities, he was asked to create a simple model of a bridge. Within two days he had created a complete model of London’s Tower Bridge, demonstrating the value he would bring to the project.

While these types of visualisations in no way replace technical models, immersive technologies can supplement conventional working practices and bring many benefits to the design process. Importantly, their use improves communication.

Aecom recently deployed Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality devices to a number of its offices and is already using them on real projects. Through lightweight headsets, HoloLens technology adds holograms of 3D objects into a user’s view.

We can feed 3D engineering models of large or complex projects into the HoloLens environment, allowing team members in different locations to simultaneously explore the same holographic projections. The technology is helping to speed up the engineering design process, giving team members the ability to point out potential difficulties in an evolving design.

Bring digital models to life

But you don’t need to be an expert to use and understand the models created for use in immersive technologies, which can improve collaboration with clients. Immersive presentations and sign-off experiences, for example, give clients greater clarity earlier in the design review process, which helps them to better understand the impact of their decision-making and aids problem-solving.

Games developers bring valuable skills to the creation of these types of visualisations. The games industry produces entire cities for its consumer products, so those joining construction from the sector will be likely to have excellent spatial awareness. Games developers intuitively add life to digital models, which gives an entirely different perspective on how a space will feel or be used. Crucially, they help tell the story of a proposed project in a language that everyone understands.

As immersive technologies evolve, elements of games and construction will continue to merge. The games industry has identified construction as an important market and there are likely to be further technology advancements focused on the design-to-construction process.

To fully embrace these emerging technologies, industry must attract the right skills. With an abundance of talent in the games community, construction companies would be wise to target this largely untapped resource.

David Glennon is director of digital project delivery in Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at Aecom

Games developers intuitively add life to digital models, which gives an entirely different perspective on how a space will feel or be used. Crucially, they help tell the story of a proposed project in a language that everyone understands.– David Glennon, Aecom

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