The digital revolution that the construction industry desperately needs is at least a generation away, suggests Paul Newby executive engineering services director at SES Engineering Services.
This creates a great paradox: those who can change the industry’s culture forever may have the skills and progressive attitude, but not the practical or leadership experience. Conversely, those who do have practical and leadership experience are apathetic, sceptical or, at worst, cynical about transformation.
There is also a large demography that sits in the middle just watching to see which way the pendulum swings.
While the BIM and digital construction world evolves and the government appears to flip-flop over its declared ambitions, the current skills shortage and customer demand have seen the rise of the “BIM Warrior”, often creating as many problems as it solves.
What is a “BIM Warrior” I hear you ask? They are the new heroes who, despite their tender years and lack of experience, appear to have been given the unfair responsibility of solving the systemic problems and transformational challenges of moving to a digital construction reality. Usually highly motivated, confident and assured, they represent the solution… but there’s a problem.
It’s not all bad news. The millennial generation are the future saviours of the construction industry, with the right attitude and an appreciation of difference and change. Their ambition and skill are the keys to unlocking the industry from its present prison.
Their mastery of social media creates innovative communication channels; application software drives creativity through technology and innovation; parametric thinking creates a culture of problem solvers and solutions providers.
Collaboration, the environment and social justice are important to this generation and it’s this that will make the difference in the medium to long term in the shift towards a digital future.
So, what’s missing? Undoubtedly, great designers need the ability to communicate, influence, create and engineer solutions – all of which come from gaining hands-on experience from working on real projects with real people.
Software proficiency is not enough – strategic influencing, analytical and critical thinking are competencies that are learnt over time. Lack of investment in training and development has blighted our industry for years – now it has caught up and overtaken us. Developing skills through experience takes time to nurture and the school of hard knocks breeds resilience and tenacity.
But there’s more good news: if we can also train and develop the more experienced workforce to use the software and create a culture of collaboration, integrated working and smart procurement we can have our cake and eat it and give our customers what they really want.
It’s not going to happen overnight, though. Mapping out progress of the government’s BIM strategy on the graphic below illustrates my fear that this is a generational issue.
While all this is happening BIM costs on projects have been increasing and the efficiency gains, cost reductions and time savings have yet to be fully realised. I have no doubt that they are there but until we can unlock them through new and improved ways of working they will never be maximised.