Should I develop my technical or project management skills?

A question from recent graduate Ewan is answered by George Mokhtar, associate director of Turner & Townsend’s BIM and analytics team, Jon Harris, head of BIM at Mace and Rob Garvey, senior lecturer at the University of Westminster.

Question: I have recently graduated from a CIOB-accredited BSc in Construction Management and Engineering and as part of this I wrote a dissertation on 4D BIM for material delivery management. I am currently considering further study in BIM as I have interest in its ability to accelerate and improve design with Revit, and to collaborate models from various disciplines to a federated model. I’m also interested in using relational databases to link information from various sources to produce automatic schedules. And I’m also interested in its ability to perform analysis on models.

What is the best direction to go with BIM? Should I develop the technical skills, or go for an MSc in BIM and Project Management? I am looking at a number of courses but I am unsure which kind I should go for.

George Mokhtar: For anyone considering a further course, I would be wary of limiting yourself to the study of just one type of software. While Revit is the industry standard for most property projects in the UK, the most employable BIM experts have a truly open and agnostic approach to technology, collaborative behaviour and interoperability.

In terms of fields of study, the research into federated models sounds promising – and I’d suggest that Ewan explores:

  • How to integrate and analyse BIM from different sources and disciplines;
  • How to develop and improve models that support the right decision-making with the right data. This could be an in-depth look into multi-tool, or cloud based BCF [BIM Collaboration Format] management;
  • A study into what opportunities are offered by a quality, holistic and unified dataset. This is very timely and could be focused on the second part of the BIM mandate – which many in the industry are grappling with now.

Having strong BIM skills will make you highly employable in the current market, and you may decide to start work immediately to gain a thorough understanding of how BIM is being applied in practice. Learning through doing will give you a more practical and less theoretical grasp of BIM, and this is a fascinating time to be working in the field too.

The arrival of the BIM mandate is forcing the industry to fundamentally change its culture, and to adapt its view of BIM, so there are many career opportunities to be had for those with the right skills and drive. In particular there is great potential for progression within organisations that have yet to fully grasp the importance of BIM.

Whether you learn your BIM skills through academic study or on the job, the challenges and changes that BIM is facing make this a fascinating and rewarding time to be working in the field.

Jon Harris: On the one hand you can’t beat experience, but on the other hand someone who came to me with an MSc in BIM would be very desirable. The demand for employees that have a theoretical, written understanding of BIM can be useful for people who want to move into using BIM on a strategic level.

However, if you have a strong interest in BIM, then you can use this in many practical areas as it’s becoming more and more integrated with all areas of our business.

Graduates need to work out which area of BIM they want to focus on. This of course depends on the individual, what interests them and how flexible they are. One possible solution would be to apply for a graduate programme at one of the main contractors. This would allow him to spend a couple of years experiencing a wide variety of different areas of a business and gain some practical hands-on experience. This could help him decide which area to focus on.

Of course, many contractors fund employees to do MSc degrees, I know that we do, so this may be an option. Working part-time while taking a masters can be very demanding, but this may be the best way of gaining practical experience of BIM and specialist theoretical knowledge.

Rob Garvey: This graduate is obviously quite switched on and has developed a good grasp of the issues related to BIM. I would suggest that any graduate should look to do both, and develop their technical capability at the same time as considering an MSc. Although whether a BIM MSc is appropriate, might be debated.

I’m looking at developing the MSc we run at Westminster to incorporate more practical, database-related material, and there are of course several good MSc courses at other universities.

Alternatively, maybe Ewan might want to consider reviewing other MSc courses in data management, there are three different options available from the University of Westminster, for instance on Database Systems and Business Intelligence and Analytics

Ultimately, it is down to each individual to review each course and determine exactly what they are looking for.

The BIM mandate is forcing the industry to fundamentally change its culture, and to adapt its view of BIM, so there are many career opportunities to be had for those with the right skills and drive. In particular there is great potential for progression within organisations that have yet to fully grasp the importance of BIM.– George Mokhtar, Turner & Townsend

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  1. i would speak to a number of large contractors to see what the perception is out in industry.

  2. Many other issues come to my attention over and above the points mentioned in this discussion.Yet there is sure proof of success if any student focuses his education in improving his attention towards efficient communication and collaboration between project team-members. Sending and receiving data or information is communication; this enables understanding of one another, and this often seems to be the biggest flaw in our industry regardless of the technical or project mangement skill.
    Universities need to start including more knowledge and information on comminication management in a BIM enviroment. We all to often rely on the SaaS platform or document managment platform of choice on the project to manage data and information. Instead of educating team members and post graduates on the fundamentals of commuincation processes. This is what forms the basic principals that are all to often forgotten when multiple teams are involved on a project…without it, it’s still selfish BIM

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