Comment: Peter Trebilcock – On a scale of 1 to 10, can we do this?

How do we refocus skill sets to continue to deliver value? This requires, in my view, more employment ‘mapping’ and better integration of academia and industry. Here, we have a 2 for readiness, and a 6 for difficulty.– Peter Trebilcock, Balfour Beatty

In the second part of a two-part article responding to the BIM 2050 Group’s Built Environment 2050: A Report on our Digital Future, Peter Trebilcock assesses the industry’s adaptability to change

In summary, the thrust of the Built Environment 2050 report suggests:

  • We can reduce our transaction costs by better (digital) information transfer protocols.   
  • If we wish to generate increased value we ought to be prepared to consider fundamental adaptation of our business models.
  • In order to maintain our skill base and people we will need to develop the required (new) education and skills strategies.
  • Clients will soon come to see the lack of digital awareness as a signal of incompetence and inefficiency. Now is the time to move away from analogue!
  • Industry and academia should be more integrated, and we should build stronger links with “digital” apprenticeships and universities.

I’d like to list each of the report’s recommendations and attempt to make an assessment of where we are as an industry (on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 meaning the work is already done) and what degree of difficulty do we face (again on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 as the most difficult).

We will be doing our own evaluation for Balfour Beatty for internal consideration, but this summary attempts a wider construction perspective. I’d also like to invite the academic community to engage and give their own response.

The recommendation on cyber security is aimed at ensuring a high level on the increasing volume of data we transfer – something no one will argue with, especially after the presentation on cyber security at the recent BSI conference! I’d rate our readiness at a 7 – if the banks can do it, why not construction? – and the degree of difficulty as a 5.

Improved interoperability – essential in terms of the physical, data and software platforms, and an ingredient in smart cities. However, who governs interoperability standards? And who really cares? How will the supply chain be motivated to deliver over and above the base line solution? I’d say our readiness scrapes a 2, and the degree of difficulty is an 8.

Behavioural change, ie development of soft skills across the whole spectrum of the supply chain to complement the technical aspects of BIM. Again, I’d say that as an industry we’re only at a  2, and the degree of difficulty this time is a 9.

Nanosecond procurement, or the provision of accurate real-time information to enable better-quality decision-making while facilitating faster response to change and uncertainty. In my view, higher speed transactions are all well and good, but that’s when project life cycles straddle months, not years. Another 2 for readiness, and a 9 for difficulty.

Biological complexity, or getting to grips with new “smart” materials. The report anticipates the increasing use of more complex, smart materials, arguing there is a need to expand the spectrum of knowledge beyond current norms, and perhaps that organisations “include biology and chemistry in their recruitment selection process to manage the infrastructure-human interface”. In other words, you will be assimilated! This gets a 1 for readiness, and a 10 for difficulty.

Lifelong learning. The maintenance and adaptation of skills over time requires better management and more integration with other disciplines and academia. This is, in my view, perhaps the most important recommendation of all – and I think we’re at a 4 for readiness, and a 7 for difficulty.

The space age. We have benefited from the spin-off from the space industry for many years. With increasing exposure of consumers to space travel the spin-off innovations are likely to accelerate and transform what we can do in construction. So maybe we should all be watching NASA and reading New Scientist – but that still leaves us at a 1 for readiness, and a 10 for difficulty.

Sector skills and jobs. The idea put forward is that technology will liberate people’s time to do better things. So how do we refocus skill sets to continue to deliver value? This requires, in my view, more employment “mapping” and better integration of academia and industry. Here, we have a 2 for readiness, and a 6 for difficulty.

Robotics and automation. The report argues that the relationship dynamics with the supply chain will change as processes become more automated, and as the interdependency of design and production activities leads to increased value and efficiency. I’d agree that we’ll be looking at a change in the labour skill set responding to the evolution of plant and equipment. That’s a 3 for readiness, and a 5 for difficulty.

Business in the future. This says that the way we generate value in the future of construction will change away from a decentralised directing of teams to the empowerment of the individual decision-making and creative partnerships. In other words, it predicts a shift from employers “owning” employees to entrepreneurs trading talent as a commodity. However, one could argue that there will still be a need for large companies to integrate the contributions of smaller teams and take the overall risk. I’d put us at a 1 for readiness, and a 10 for difficulty.

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