Teach them BIM – A School of Thought to Consider

The Government has plans to make the UK a world leader in the use of BIM, however it could be argued that the current transition we are experiencing in the construction industry could be a reoccurring process, as BIM technologies continue to advance and education and training struggles to keep up. Unless we take action sooner or rather earlier and invest in children currently in school, we might always be working towards a future BIM goal.

However, its not all doom and gloom, we are already starting to see the initiation of BIM courses into a select few secondary schools’ curricula, thanks to programmes such as Class of Your Own, which featured as the keynote speech at the recent BIM Show Live (read posts by COYO’s Alison here). Students as young as 14 took to the stage and inspired many industry professionals to look what they could do to further push BIM in education.

 

We caught up with Rachael Park of Mace Group, who has taken on the role of head of education and training at the BIM2050 Group – a group of young professionals working to help the UK achieve the Government’s four-year strategy for BIM implementation.

 

BIMcrunch: Tell us a bit about your role…

 

Rachael: I work at Mace Group as a Cost Consultant. I also lead the Education and Skills work stream of the BIM2050 Group.

 

The Education & Skills stream is starting to find its feet in regards to education and training. We are looking at what is currently out there with regards to the BIM education situation in schools, colleges, university and the workplace.

 

One thing that strikes me as we are doing this research is that BIM education needs to be infiltrated across a wider span of career roles – BIM is not just for designers – education needs to encompass all jobs that make up the entire project lifecycle.

 

BIMcrunch: What is the current skills gap in the BIM industry?

 

Rachael: I don’t believe there is as much of a skills gap issue, as there is a generational gap. Graduates that are entering into jobs now are used to using new technology and approaching new ways of working, regardless of whether they have experienced BIM or not – technology is part of their everyday lives. There is a need for training to ensure you can carry out your role, but the fact is they are more up for learning and doing, and their open-mindedness allows them an easier transition to using BIM.

 

At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who have been in the industry a lot longer and are experienced within their profession, they tend to be a lot more resistant to change, for varying and valid reasons. Its not that these professionals do not understand BIM, or that they do not see the benefits that BIM bring to a project, they do and can engage in discussions and add the depth of the knowledge to the BIM process, its just a frequent comment I hear is along the lines that they have seen industry ‘trends’ before.

 

I can foresee that there may be a skills gap should educators and industry continue to train/develop students and professionals in the same way that they are doing now, delivering exactly the same topics, in the same way, and requiring the same assessments to be completed. This may lead to a gap if/when those currently developing their knowledge and skills want to expand their experience and move on. Possibly to another employer or country, either way this will create a gap that is required be filled particularly if there is no other person with the same level of knowledge or understanding able to fill the gap.

 

BIMcrunch: What is the current process to learning BIM skills in the industry?

 

Rachael: At the moment it appears to be predominantly self-taught with professionals and students reading about BIM their spare time. Some employers understand the need for continuous learning and development within the workplace and will invest in training company-wide, be this BIM or other subjects; this is happening more often but it’s still not a given.

 

If a student/graduate attends a university that has an element of BIM, their formal BIM education can vary significantly; it be anything from a one-off lecture to a full interdisciplinary module. The latter option is best because it allows students from different course to work together on a project – which is a much more realistic experience of collaborative working. An hour’s lecture in an entire course isn’t enough, the next generation that we will see coming through education need to know more than this.

 

There are fears within industry and education that a move too far across to ‘digital’ education that the industry will lose some of the more traditional skills and ways of thinking. However there needs to be a balance so that students leave education with the right thinking and new skills to complement this. There’s a lot of give and take. This is a transition so will take time but we will get there.

 

BIMcrunch: What did you think of the students from Class of Your Own at BSL203?

 

Rachael: Loved them. Their presentations just showed how easy BIM could be. These were groups of school children who were able to work collaboratively and produce 3D models. They’re still people in the industry who don’t fully understand the benefits of BIM. I think it hit home with a lot of people in the room.

 

BIMcrunch: Is the current national curriculum in school relevant to industry?

 

Rachael: I think it can be, and this is something Class of Your Own is trying to achieve, which is one of the reasons why I support them.

 

The Built Environment can promote an awareness of teamwork, dedication and commitment towards a project. Skills which are really important to learn and understand at an early age and that are transferable to any career in any industry.

 

BIMcrunch: Are graduates having to retrain on the job?

 

Rachael: It can be easy to learn in the workplace as long as employers are keen and support their learning. You can absorb so much by just talking to the right people by attending UKBIMcrew CPD, networking events and social media conversations.

 

There is a lot more awareness now about BIM in higher education, though not quite enough action. It’s mainly up to the individual student to further develop their learning; via routes such as their dissertation. I don’t believe you would find yourself currently at too much of a disadvantage if this was your learning process, because of the current development of BIM within the industry. However, ultimately education establishments cannot ignore or bury BIM learning. A main factor for this is because of the Government’s ultimatum for the UK construction industry to use BIM on all of its projects from 2016. What’s more, young people are now starting to ask to learn about BIM.

 

BIMcrunch: What are good first steps for BIM learning?

 

Rachael: A first good step for the individual is to read around the topic of BIM. Although this does come with a caution, as there is so much information out there, maybe too much, that new learners may become victims of BIMwash. There are quite a few differing / conflicting ideas and approaches to BIM, however developing your own understanding of BIM is all part of the learning curve.

 

A good initial read is the Government Construction Strategy you can get an understanding of the Government’s driver for the use of BIM. Start viewing the Government BIM Task Group Website and the NBS website for updates. Read blogs of those professionals working within a BIM environment, they offer insight in to the practical application, be it good or bad. The practical application of BIM is still in its infancy, there could be a lot more events to give this more exposure. Friendly competitions such as the recent one by North East BIM Hub are great interactive and fun ways to learn about BIM but companies can’t just send along their BIM experts, they must send people who want to learn as well. Twitter is an excellent source also, the speed of communication and points of view is amazing.

 

My advice for Clients and Employers is also to read around BIM and educate yourself as well as your staff, this is very important. Recognise that each profession within the industry approaches BIM slightly differently. Understand this and tailor training to acknowledge it, and then show where in the BIM process the professional fits and train them how to work within that area, as well as the overarching principle of BIM. You need to also understand how your current processes work within a BIM environment, as this may need only minor tweaks rather than a full overhaul.

 

BIMcrunch: What needs to be done in order to achieve the global leadership status?

 

Rachael: The fact that the Government has put the target on has given everyone the kick needed to put plans in motion. We are starting to see more investment in training and this is filtrating into the private sector. We also need to get the people who already understand BIM out there to help BIM newbies.

 

In terms of the BIM2050 Group, after meeting recently with the Minister of Political and Constitutional Reform, Chloe Smith MP, we are currently tackling the challenge set to outline our vision and objectives, and the milestones to achieving them (read a report on what happened at this meeting here).

 


 

Educational establishments that are keen to introduce BIM learning are now looking for involvement from industry professionals. This is because the most effective approach is to create a curriculum that will help shape the industry of the future – the way we want it to work. This means working with education professionals to create a learning programme that is relevant to the working world.

 

To find out how you can support the BIM2050 Group contact Stefan.mordue@thenbs.com, CIC BIM 2050 Communications.

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