Opinion

Digital skills require a culture of continuous learning

4 April 2018 | By Rebecca de Cicco

Digital construction education lies in collaboration and the continuous adaptation and expansion of our skill sets, says Rebecca de Cicco. 

Rebecca de Cicco

Construction on a global scale is evolving at an exceptional pace and the need to understand digital construction processes cannot be ignored. This, coupled with the changes in our processes and technologies, provides significant challenges to the construction industry all over the world.

Construction is an extremely diverse industry that accounts for more than £110bn a year in the UK and contributes 7% of GDP. However, for such a large industry, which has vital importance to the national economy, there are major gaps in the level of skills and capabilities within our workforce.

The construction industry alone accounts for approximately 3 million jobs, the equivalent to almost 10% of total employment in the UK, and with the continual development and introduction of new technologies there is an immediate need to educate and train industry professionals on the use and benefits of new working practices and modern methods of construction.

Advanced technologies are the future of digital construction, which is why it’s essential to upskill our workforce, not just today, but on a continual cycle to ensure we keep up with the rate of changing technology.

Exporting our skills is critical to this and the implementation of policy driven digital methods is something that is happening all over the world. We need to be actively engaging with global communities to ensure we can transact and trade over multiple regions and projects.

At present we are seeing that the policy driven approach to BIM in the UK, and the plethora of standards and processes which support this drive, are becoming referenced and used in other regions of the world.

Digital construction is many component parts

Digital construction isn’t just one thing, it is a multitude of components fused together to form a greater part to allow the construction industry to inform, collaborate and innovate. It is about virtual design, construction and operation to effectively enforce the intelligent use of data which is one of the most important elements of a BIM project.

Our industry in the UK – and across the globe – has the people, technology, and resources to solve any construction problem or challenge. But we need to ensure we keep up to speed with the rapid changes and evolution of this technology and the soft skills surrounding it. Digital construction and BIM are supported by technology, but the largest barriers are the cultural changes and availability for education and learning on these methods. 

Digital construction is a catalyst for global change, by helping us to leverage rapidly accelerating technologies—including artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics – in innovative ways to unlock solutions that can positively impact upon construction projects today and tomorrow.

How to encourage a continuous learning culture for BIM

It’s important to educate the benefits of digital working practices from a young age, which is why I actively support programmes which educate and teach young people the value of collaboration and team work.

Construction is a vibrant, fast-paced and exciting industry and we need to encourage young people to join us.  We need to not only tap into their curiosity but encourage creativity and innovation, then provide a platform to express this.

We also need a more diverse industry to draw in more young women and people from minority backgrounds who haven’t always been attracted to construction in the past.

By introducing working methods and practices to our young generations now, we will future-proof construction for the next set of innovators and forward-thinkers to create even further progressive technologies.

What new technologies should we be learning about?

Through the introduction and implementation of BIM, our industry has greater collaborative design and project management across the supply chain. However, the current shortage of industry professionals trained in BIM remains a barrier to industry-wide adoption of collaborative working.

These skills shortages not only relate to the BIM technologies supporting design and construction but also to the clear understanding of what is required upfront. We are also seeing a shortage of skills in asset management, which has not yet connected with BIM.

To truly embrace BIM requires not only the learning of new technologies and digital processes, but also the learning of a new way of working and the processes which support this. This means moving from a culture of siloed working to one of integration and the sharing of information to aid project delivery.

This is why collaborative working is key to the success of a BIM-enabled project. It is very much about changed behaviour and becoming familiar with this type of working is a big challenge in the construction industry. 

What do the next few years hold in store?

Digital construction education lies with cross-industry collaboration to enhance the maturity of a global digital economy.

If we don’t address the BIM skills gaps today, and put in regulated measures for the practise of BIM, over the next decade the lack of expertise will become critical and our industry will fall behind other advancing global industries. 

Rebecca de Cicco is director of BIM consultancy Digital Node

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