In observance of World Youth Skills Day, the UN aptly describes the challenging context in which it takes place this year, with the “worldwide closure of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions”. Distance training and virtual teaching have become the most common way of enhancing skills during the pandemic, but it has brought new challenges with it. A lack of equipment to deliver or receive training online, connectivity issues and assessments or certification processes, are just some of the issues cited by the UN.
Without any other option, educators and students adapted to a new way of teaching and learning virtually. Parents and guardians were multi-tasked with working remotely and home schooling, while educators engaged with their students completely virtually. Construction educators believe the experience means students will emerge stronger in their construction careers in the future. In some cases, educators taught the industry how to use specialist tools to collaborate on projects remotely – including TU Dublin, Ireland’s BIM educators – who ran a webinar to share best practices on digital collaboration in construction with the industry.
The AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry has also faced fresh challenges with the move to an entirely remote workforce, collaborating in the cloud and introducing new safety guidelines on site. It has shown remarkable resilience in adapting to new ways of working and on-site safety. Through these shared experiences, industry and education can work together to determine how the sector can evolve for the better.
Rebuilding the UK economy
Last month, the prime minister outlined his plans to kickstart the UK economy through a £5bn investment to ‘build the UK back to health’. The government will focus on large infrastructure projects as well as building new schools, hospitals and homes.
The plan reaffirms the importance of the AEC sector in driving the UK economy, though globally, it has struggled with inefficient processes, delayed projects and a disconnected workflow. Research conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC) with Autodesk last year – to understand the digital transformation journey of global construction firms – found that just 40% of those surveyed have invested in BIM workflows. Indeed, BIM has previously been viewed as a tool for design teams, but its value to contractors is becoming more apparent. BIM and digital tools can add real value to the construction process, especially when partnered with industrialised construction.
The outlook for BIM is promising too. Almost a third (27%) of UK firms are planning to implement BIM in the next 18 months, meaning over 90% of the industry could be actively using the technology by 2021.
The future of work in construction
In 2018, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) introduced a new training model and grant in a ‘Vision 2020’ programme. It aimed to reform the process of industry training, mandating modernisation and enabling employers to get high quality training, while reducing red tape to ensure SMEs and micro firms could get training grants. This has played a critical role in closing the gap between education and industry and something we must continue to build on.
The construction industry faces a convergence of new challenges and opportunities. The world population is expected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050 and to accommodate this growth, we will need to build an average of 13,000 buildings per day in major cities. Not to mention the demands to renovate infrastructure and improve access between major cities.
Industrialised construction is one such area with huge potential for the industry. By adopting design-to-make production processes, it can bring much needed certainty of cost, schedule, and scope to the AEC industries. Along with certainty, industrialised construction creates a more sustainable and resilient industry, while addressing skilled labour shortages, waste, diversity, and worker safety.
The new generation of designers, engineers, and builders emerging from universities and other industries, will have a critical impact on this new way of working. Their skills and education will shape the built environment and further the transformational change that industrialised construction will bring.
BIM WorldSkills UK Competition
Despite the awareness and enthusiasm around BIM and digital construction tools, there are still a number of limiting factors slowing the uptake of its technology in the construction industry in the UK. One of the main barriers is the lack of practical skills of those entering the industry. To address this issue, WorldSkills UK and New College Lanarkshire are working in partnership with Autodesk to run the largest BIM competition in the UK.
The WorldSkills UK Competitions are run annually and designed to enhance a young person’s training and help them develop the world class skills-set and mindset to build confidence and reach their potential. The BIM competition is open to all that are currently studying or have recently completed their qualifications. It builds on what the students are learning at college and reflects real life practical scenarios, providing essential experience that employers and new recruits are looking for.
Tools to match the skills
The Construction Leadership Council’s Covid-19 Task Force recently laid out its proposal to secure the future of construction business across the UK, outlining how the industry can accelerate the process of adjusting to the new work environment and delivering better, safer buildings. Training and skills development play a key role in the industry, while the proposal outlines that having the right tools in place should not be underestimated to enable the quick adoption of new processes.
The ecosystem needs a multi-pronged approach, with collaboration between academia, industry and government, to sustain a strong future for the construction industry. We are embarking on a new era of agile construction.
Olly Williamson, Digital Construction Specialist at Autodesk