Young or old, we need to work together

31 March 2017 | By Peter Trebilcock

The young generation has the tech skills, the older generation has the experience and life skills. But how do we exploit both for construction's mutual benefit, asks Peter Trebilcock.

Peter Trebilcock

In September 2014 the CIC BIM2050 Group published a report titled Built Environment 2050: A Report on our Digital Future. The report is the result of the group’s research into what an interdisciplinary scope of work may look like as construction technology develops to BIM Level 3 and beyond, towards 2050.

The report illustrated the need for organisations to consider new (digital) skills, new processes (including nano-second procurement) and to develop strategies around emerging technologies (such as the interoperability of products) with the aim of helping the UK to be the vanguard of construction in a digital future.

Perhaps the most important of all its recommendations was that organisations should provide life-long learning using free, open and online resources. This is fundamental in the world of BIM as the vast opportunities and enormous benefits which can come with large-scale innovation and game-changing new technologies will, I believe, only be realised if the industry is able to cope with them.

More than two and a half years on from the report, what has changed?

I have witnessed three main barriers to the adoption of new technologies and the changing of business practices to deploy them. They are:

John Maynard Keynes said: “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.”

There is a plethora of software to help realise business efficiencies, but the problem lies not in the digital tools, but in the capability and willingness to exploit (implement) them. Contractors have project demands and contractual responsibilities and while they want improvement, they are generally conservative (risk averse), demand clear business case models against new investment, and are very cost conscious.

The old and the new

The new generation of workers, meanwhile, are much more comfortable with the use of new technologies to help resolve problems, reduce risk and improve efficiency. It’s easy for this new generation to find fault with the old guard — and it’s easy for the seniors to maintain the status quo. But how could the two generations help each other a bit more?

I would suggest two simple approaches:

Both parties have to accept it is not an overnight exercise.

If we can grasp the right mechanism for life-long learning so the concepts, technologies and changing practices can form part of the core ongoing learning, from board level to graduate, then we can understand, evaluate and take these new technologies in our stride.

I suspect, given the historic lack of R&D and education and training within the construction industry, we will struggle to deal with any accelerated change and given the challenge many SMEs have in understanding and investing in BIM, what hope have they got with the onslaught of new methods of procurement, data sharing and digital tools?

By embedding new thinking, developing the talent in our organisations and, perhaps more importantly, by being able to keep our finger on the pulse with ever-changing technologies, significant value can be added to our businesses.


The old and bold amongst us actually need to accept that technology has evolved, and stop living in the past, which is probably why the younger generation are so reluctant to join the industry because they see it as been a bit long in the tooth, with some site/project/contracts managers not willing to try new approaches.

Paul, 3 April 2017

Great Comments Peter.
As a champion of Age Positive senior workers and a CIOB construction man of a lifetime of international projects, I support your view. The way forward is to benefit BOTH young and old.
Let's Share Experience!!

victor cooper, 3 April 2017

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