Rebecca De Cicco, director of Digital Node and founder of Women in BIM. discusses BIM skills development and how a rapidly evolving industry must adapt to variations in regional terms, processes and requirements

Our world is changing. Technologies – and the processes supporting these technologies – along with skills requirements are evolving faster than we can keep up with. This presents a great challenge in terms of how organisations educate and train employees, regardless of the sector in which they operate.

In the construction industry, the challenge is even greater as the processes and technologies that support BIM are constantly changing. This affects the industry in detrimental ways. How are we to educate young entrants to the industry and equip them with the skills they will need?

This is a concern not just in the UK, but globally. And it is made even more difficult by variations in regional requirements and standards, creating a confusing mishmash of information for those looking to support global working and international projects.

At least in the UK, we have been fortunate enough to be able to work with the framework of Her Majesty’s Government to underpin change and support BIM in a consistent way, at least on the national stage.

With the development and push towards the BIM mandate, we have already seen enormous change in the way that companies work, since they are incentivised through the rules to use consistent standards and drive technology towards the ever-elusive goal of BIM Level 2. This incentive has, in turn, promoted growth in both the public and private sectors.

The UK government commissioned the creation of the UK BIM Learning Outcomes framework to support the delivery of education. It was authored to adhere to the requirements of BIM Level 2 and has supported many institutions, local companies and organisations, guiding them in the way they develop and deliver training. These Learning Outcomes were created back in 2012, however, and we have yet to see an update, raising concerns that they have not evolved as they should have done.

Lost focus

From this, we can extrapolate that the focus on education for BIM has been somewhat lost. Without guided solutions and adequate funding, a vital piece of Level 2A (as it is defined in the Digital Built Britain strategy) has failed, as we are not seeing education being driven as forcefully as it should be to support industry knowledge of BIM.

Industry leaders involved with such groups as the UK BIM Alliance and Building Smart are trying to address these issues, but we still have a long way to go in regards to being equipped to deliver to BIM Level 2. Learning outcomes are a very good way to ensure that education is delivered consistently, but when not updated, they will fail to reflect changes in process or industry practice, and run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

The drive towards BIM Level 2, developed in the UK, has been one of the most globally recognised policy-based approaches to change, in an industry stifled by inefficiency and poor practice. Therefore, when we look back at the UK from other regions of the world, it is recognised as a leader in BIM progression.

How can we measure this, though? There are many education experts and theorists who investigate ways that we can measure the different approach to BIM across different countries. Industry reports are available that show where the UK and other countries stand in regards to maturity, but this is still seen as a sensitive issue. Most reports, after all, provide little indication of the state of the entire industry in their region.

Detrimental factors

One of the most detrimental factors in global skills development is the use of terminology. Many organisations across the world discuss terminology they barely understand and rarely use any kind of ‘point of reference’ when discussing BIM in the context of their own projects.

About the author

Rebecca De Cicco is the director and founder of Digital Node, a BIM-based consultancy working with clients all over the world to educate, manage and support the implementation of a clearly defined process, underpinned by technology.

In Australia, for example, we are seeing that terms and acronyms vary wildly, depending on where you reside. The developing use of the term ‘digital engineering’, for example, has prompted further confusion, with some organisations seeing BIM as buildings only and digital engineering as infrastructure- based solutions. The same is broadly true in America. These variations in terminology cause confusion in an industry already struggling with massive change.

Culturally, there are also variations in the way we educate. In China, for example, many organisations will not support training delivered during working hours. It’s therefore difficult to coordinate time and resources towards upskilling.

And not only in Asia, but also in Australia and New Zealand among other regions, the use of standards is inconsistent. Some organisations are recreating standards in their region with no acknowledgement of the need to look elsewhere for support — to the UK, for example.

Globally, however, the use of UK standards, widely driven by clients and suppliers is becoming more common. For example, the UK standards supporting BIM Level 2, such as the 1192 suite, are now used throughout Europe, Asia and Australia to support more intelligent BIM working by many government organisations.

It is also critical to be aware of the international standard being created to support industry: ISO19650. It has been suggested that although many regions will need to use the standard in different ways (for example, some terminology may have particular legal implications in some jurisdictions), there will be regional annexes supporting the standard in order to alleviate this issue.

In search of maturity

In a relatively mature market, such as that seen in the UK, we have also seen the development of skills measurement and validation of knowledge via certification schemes that provide evidence of knowledge and skill. In the UK, there is a suggestion that these schemes are not necessarily the best approach, but this is debatable.

Measurement of skills is critical to determine, from the client’s point of view, if a team has the proven ability to deliver – and these certification schemes may be one way to achieve this.

That said, we are yet to see the development of similar certification schemes in other regions (such as Australia or China), due to inconsistencies in implementation. This is changing as we speak: Building Smart International, for example, has begun to address BIM skills on a global level and is starting to think about how these might be measured in an intelligent way. The CIOB, meanwhile, has a BIM Management and Technical scheme currently being run as a pilot.

It is critical to address the skills issue, as it will ultimately affect how roles are defined on a given project or within a given organisation when it comes to BIM. Roles and role requirements globally are yet another area of confusion for the construction industry, with a plethora of roles still not clearly defined by standards or predefined descriptions.

For example, the role of BIM Manager is widely misunderstood. Education in this space is critical to ensure that the role and role requirements are clearly documented and managed as part of a project or a wider BIM implementation for an organisation.

To alleviate these issues, many individuals and organisations are clearly documenting the requirements of the BIM Manager role. Although they may vary, it is a good way to ensure that the role is understood in your organisation and/or project team.

BIM skills and knowledge are critical to an organisation’s growth. It is important that variations in terms, processes and even skills be acknowledged, depending on where in the world you reside. This is crucial to be able to grow a business and support projects in different regions.

The international standard ISO19650 will potentially alleviate some of these issues. However there is still a long way to go in driving this standard throughout the buildings and infrastructure space in order to get the global industry working in a consistent and intelligent way.

digital-node.com

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