Note: Post was written pre-Brexit and Farmer Review, although both developments support the points below.
This post answers to four areas regarding Building Information Modelling (BIM) education. These include; responsibility for training, current practice and how can it be improved, advocacy both within organisations and in the industry, and responsibility to meet challenges of BIM in the future. This will respond with a content review that includes; construction industry skills gap, industry education, pre-Higher Education and university education, specific BIM vendor training, accreditation programmes, professional bodies training and a conclusion on these findings.
Skills gap and government efforts
The concept of a skills gap has been defined by American Society for Training & Development (American Society for Training & Development, 2012) as a “significant gap between organisations current capabilities and skills it needs to achieve its goals” (2012, p.4). This report goes on to say that worldwide there will be a possible global shortage of 38 to 40 million high skilled workers by 2020 and this translates down to a national level. Figure 1 illustrates the reasons that a skills gap is believed to exist by respondents to the report, this suggests that skills gap is split across a number of areas and therefore each may need addressing to increase skills.
Figure 1 (American Society for Training & Development, 2012, p. 7)
Further to this there is an interesting comparison between unemployment and a shortage of skilled talent; “the low levels of employment during the recession actually may mask the way that changes in the industry, especially the growing green job market, require new skills and better training” (American Society for Training & Development, 2012, p. 10). As the construction industry has been through a significant change of the last five years this appears to be congruent with the current loss of skills being experienced.
Recent news regarding the construction industry and skills has been published that indicates that respondents believe there is a skills gap within the construction industry and with 180,000 additional construction jobs needed between 2014 and 2018 in the United Kingdom this is a cause for concern (Ukconstructionmedia.co.uk, 2015). A solution proposed for this is an expansion of construction apprentices that should focus on increasing the quality and quantity of personnel at the same time. Abdul-Wahab (2011) investigated the role of apprenticeship training in the British construction industry and found that there is a poor training culture currently. To assist the development of training Abdul-Wahab proposes the use of virtual learning environments which could be used for “enriching classroom activities and an enriching space for student interaction in 3-D” (Abdel-Wahab, 2012, p.150). This focuses particularly on the workplace in relation to training and exposing people to issues such as health and safety risks. This was posed as an alternative to apprenticeship training however, it does require capital investment which presents a challenge in a market with traditionally low profit margins. One solution is the use of mentoring from experienced operatives who could help develop apprentices, and there is no reason why this would not be the same within the professions and consultants on a job. A final point that Abdel-Wahab makes is that policymakers need to consider alternative ideas to overcome the problem and this may be the greatest hurdle when considering with skills and training as nationally all departments are under pressure to reduce spending. However, it is understood that although there is a requirement to fund training, the possible benefits in terms of productivity and creation of high-quality internal teams should be a good return on any investment (Ukconstructionmedia.co.uk, 2015).
Skills training is not the sole concern of the construction industry itself but should be approached at a Secondary and Further Education level and University level. To meet this need the BIM Academic Forum is an attempt by the BIM Task Group to promote a “dynamic group to develop and promote the training, learning and research aspects of BIM through strong collaboration and cooperation” (The Higher Education Academy, 2013). With this in mind a report has been published that is available for universities to embed BIM within higher education. However, this was published in June 2013 and it appears that the take-up and implementation of this has been limited to those universities with a special interest, such as Middlesex University. Further integration at this level is required across the University industry in order to support the skills required by employers. One innovative partnerships that has progressed a bi-lateral education and university relationship this is the BIM Academy at Northumbria University, in order to achieve this they have partnered up with an architectural consultants Ryder Architecture to provide the necessary understanding and innovation required and maybe a model for other universities to adopt, particularly as it is a consultancy service (Collab.northumbria.ac.uk, 2015).
Other companies have foreseen an opportunity to take advantage of the education gap and engage with young people as a business proposition supporting by a passion for learning and development. An example of this it Class of Your Own who deliver one day workshops and built environment student support in schools and colleges (Design…engineer…construct, 2015). As the construction industry will be reliant on these new ‘millennials’ to progress the BIM implementation required, training and support at this level is very welcome. Another organisation that works similarly is the B1M (TheB1M.com, 2015) which aims to engage with video content; “Millions of people need to adopt BIM to realise its full potential. We can wait until everyone reads up on it, or we can reach out to them with engaging video content. We’ve chosen the latter” (TheB1M.com, 2015). This website shares video content to assist BIM adoption. This appears a valuable development and supports new learners as well as those working already to adopt change. Of particular note is the global reach of this as it establishes the UK as a leader in BIM adoption and information sharing.
Accreditation and partnerships
One of the key resources for training and information currently is the government BIM Task Group website (Bimtaskgroup.org, 2015) which is a resource supported by the government for BIM implementation nationwide. A Learning Outcomes Framework provides a checklist for training and education courses which will enable companies to choose what they should be considering for training and education (Bimtaskgroup.org, 2015). This checklist allows companies to formulate what is required for a BIM training programme, in particular there are now three companies which have an accreditation program which support this framework for BIM Level 2 adoption (Bre.co.uk, 2015). The companies that provide this currently are the Building Research Establishment (BRE), Lloyds Register and Ocean certification. These programs allow companies to be assessed and claim to be compliant under the certification scheme. However, there has been some criticism of this regarding whether a company can be BIM compliant in itself, as this is dependant on those working on a particular job, or whether it should be following a quality management system such as ISO 9001 (Gough, 2015) to demonstrate quality assurance levels. It would appear in the first instance that accreditation is useful to allow companies to understand the basics of BIM Level 2 and to offer clients and other consultant’s confidence in their skills. In time it would appear that a quality management system should be able to offer confidence that a consultant can deliver what is required.
The BIM Task group has also created and implemented a group of BIM Regions (now part of the BIM Alliance) which were an attempt to disseminate information across regions and disciplines to support the promotion and adoption of BIM. The success of these groups is largely dependent on freely given time and expertise from enthusiastic supporters however this program cannot provide the breadth and depth that is required based on this alone.
Software and CAD consultancies and resources
An area of opportunity for training also currently offered is the use of software companies. There are a multitude of options on offer from companies such as CADline however these tend to be specialised around their own native software and therefore the usefulness of this and the broader industry issues are potentially not addressed. There are events however that are very forward-looking such as Autodesk University (Au.autodesk.com, 2015) which office future gazing and innovation for the construction industry. This type of event although focused around one software company, means that there is huge potential and innovation at work to support the skills gap and clients.
One area of training that all interested parties can undertake is the use of the Internet and free tutorial tools and videos that are on offer. These include free YouTube videos to specific companies such as Lynda.com which offers paid for and free training on software (Lynda.com, 2015). This would mean that a motivated and interested workforce would need their own initiative to engage and learn and a formal qualification is not on offer as part of this. Another concern here is the quality of the information imparted as this has not been vetted by a professional or accredited body, which may risk imparting inaccurate or incomplete information which can further exacerbate the issue of a skills shortage.
Professional bodies have also a place within the training and development of their members in the adoption of BIM, for example the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has created a certificate in Building Information Modelling/project management as a distance learning course for any person who may wish to take part in this with the required minimal background (Rics.org, 2015). This demonstrates leadership by a professional body, although there is a price attached to this. It would appear that the RICS organisation has recognised the benefits that BIM can offer to its members and it has recognised that they can take a leading role over time. In comparison to this the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) appears to have a lower level of commitment to BIM adoption and leadership and training for its members and this is a concern, as architects could be left struggling to retain any influence.
Therefore, it appears that the responsibility for BIM education lies across organisations, government departments, professional institutions and education establishments and can be provided from a number of sources dependant on the skills level required and the quality to be attained. Current practice is fragmented in a disparate industry with many different organisation types. This does allow choice from the market but may appear incoherent and challenge the view that there is a shared approach to reach an agreed BIM Level 2 competency. This could be improved with greater Government guidance, although the Level 2 mandate is the clearest target that allows companies to work towards this without onerous government guidelines.
Advocacy for change appears to be split between those coming into the construction industry and those already working within the construction industry. Universities, colleges and schools should be preparing young people for their future career choices and the lack of skills identified illustrates that this could supported with enough advertising for young people. For the existing construction industry worker it is important that BIM sharing is conducted through the BIM Regions as well as advocacy groups such as the B1M.
In order to move BIM to ‘new heights’ it would appear that there are a multitude of issues when trying to reduce the skills and training gaps, however there are some proposals which could overcome this. For example pairing new entrants into the Industry with more experienced and mature workers could support change at both ends of the spectrum and increase skills. Further to this, communicating the skills gap to the construction industry is seen as one area which would ensure that it is at the forefront of any organisation considering developing and meeting market expectations.
Abdel-Wahab, M. (2012). Rethinking apprenticeship training in the British construction industry. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 64(2), pp.145-154.
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