Staying ahead of the game

Paul Daynes, regional director, UK & Northern Europe at Newforma discusses how firms can stay competitive in the skills crisis

Buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do, and thanks to a lack of new houses being built over the past decade it has not got any easier. It’s hardly surprising then that so many 20-40 year olds see themselves stuck in ‘generation rent’. To try and solve this, the government has promised to build an extra 275,000 affordable homes by 2020.

That’s just five years from now, a blink of an eye in construction terms. The key challenge for the construction industry as it looks to achieve this target is the lack of skilled and trained people in the industry. 2008 saw a major cull in talent, with up to 50% of the skilled workforce leaving the industry as construction work ground to a halt in the face of the recession.

With so many experienced personnel across the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry leaving, a huge skills gap now exists – one that needs to be filled in order to meet increasing demands.

The skills gap is not only bad news for David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson and their affordable homes targets; it also represents a major issue for the AEC industry, with 66% of firms confirming that they have turned down work due to a lack of skilled staff. Recent figures released by the Office of National Statistics show how damaging this can be with the construction industry shrinking by 0.2% in the third quarter of 2015.

The skills gap is not just limited to the traditional skills associated with the AEC industry. As technology and IT become more ingrained in the day-to-day process of building and construction, these skills are also in higher demand. A recent Newforma survey highlighted the growing need for digital skills, finding that 80% of organisations see digital skills as a requirement for new hires. In addition as we approach next year’s BIM Level 2 deadline, designers and of course BIM technicians are going to be in even higher demand.

This demand for digital skills will continue to be driven by the growing use of mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads by the construction industry, along with the data explosion that we are currently experiencing as a result of the proliferation of innovative technology across every part of the supply chain and project lifecycle. With some projects now generating terabytes of data, managing all of this along with handling the additional data generated by BIM processes means that tech is now at the heart of building and engineering.

Plugging the gap with upskilling

One solution that will help to cover the skills shortfall is upskilling. Training existing staff with new skills, especially in IT, can increase a company’s flexibility and agility. Providing staff with new IT skills in particular can have a long term benefit as more processes are transferred to computers. However, upskilling can only go so far. To really get the most out of staff it is important to look at the tools they have at their disposal. Technology will therefore play a major part of bridging the skills gap, in particular when it comes to managing information on large projects.

Project managing the right way

Project Information Management (PIM) systems play an integral role in today’s AEC landscape. These combine a number of project resources such as email, models, electronic documents and images for access and storage in one place. This makes project information and documentation much easier and quicker to find, track, update and share – saving time and freeing up staff for other tasks.

On large projects with multiple businesses needing to interact and work together, the amount of information and data being generated has significantly increased over the past ten years. For instance, a similar project that in 2004 contained around 100GB of data will now be generating over 60 times that amount but without a corresponding growth in the number of people working on it. Understandably this is bringing about a fundamental change in how projects are executed and delivered. Thanks to the internet, cloud and PIM, project information can be easily accessed remotely by multiple users at once, increasing the ability of organisations to work together more effectively.

The BIM deadline

With the BIM Level 2 deadline fast approaching, PIM systems are already a necessity for managing and storing all the extra information that is created. To increase the value of BIM, teams will need to collaborate more than ever before. From start to finish it will require input from the client, consultants, contractors, subcontractors and other specialists, who traditionally are engaged later in the project lifecycle. With so many teams and individuals involved in a single project it is vital to have an easy and simple way to share information.

Both the skills gap and BIM Level 2 certification create some major challenges for the construction industry. However, by using a combination of upskilling and the use of the latest technology, organisations can actually come out of this ahead, ushering in a new generation of skilled professionals that combine traditional skills with digital ones. The future for the construction industry needs to include agility, flexibility and greater collaboration. Those that fail to deliver will find themselves left far behind in winning projects and delivering value.

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