Educating BIM: Changing the face of construction

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The key to the success in transforming the construction industry to operate at Level 2 BIM by 2016 now lies very much with education and training providers. Dr Jason Underwood at the University of Salford provides a detailed overview of the challenges that remain

Within the UK construction industry, the last few years has seen momentum to transform the sector driven by the Government’s commitment and mandate to digital information delivery and Building Information Modelling.

While BIM is presenting a relatively new phenomena/concept for an industry that has operated predominately in the same way for over a century, academic researchers have been engaged with the concept for over 20 years.

Research

Research, particularly in the area of construction ICT, has focused on exploring the facilitation of collaboration through shared data models and exchange between commercial design, analysis, planning, estimating, etc. software.

It has also focused on enabling processes, which has led to the concepts of BIM and 4D, 5D, 6D, and nD modelling, which facilitate the multidisciplinary ‘information’ perspectives of emerging projects/assets.

Such research has been driven in response to government and industry initiatives, including the Latham (1994) and Egan (1998) reports, which highlighted that the industry was suffering from low productivity and inefficiencies.

They also identified that substantial wastage could be driven out from the delivery of assets through significant improvements in adopting a client focus, improving team work/collaboration and changing the culture.

While previous government initiatives have also attempted to support a drive for change, these could be considered as paying lip service in terms of real commitment and there was an expectation that the industry would solely drive the change.

While such initiatives and research focused on responding to the recommendations and on driving industry change, 12 years on Wolstenholme (2010) reported a lack of any implementation progress for the recommendations, pessimism about the future outlook for change, and a culture still very much engrained in avoiding or exploiting risk in order to maximise financial gain.

However, May 2011 brought about a real commitment from the UK Government to drive change and to transform the industry through the launch of its Construction Strategy.

For over a decade, other national construction initiatives have taken the approach of mandating the use of BIM on public procured projects, particularly within the US, Scandinavia, and Singapore.

The UK Government strategy, on the other hand, is also committed to working with the industry to facilitate the transformation through the provision of a set of standards, a classification system and documentation, etc. This Level 2 BIM suite is expected to be completed by 2015 and addresses:

  1. Production of co-ordinated design and construction (CAPEX) information (PAS1192:2:2013);
  2. Process delivery and use definitions for the operational phase of the asset (OPEX) (PAS1192:3:2014);
  3. Interim data definition for information deliveries (BS1192:4:2014/COBie-UK-2012);
  4. Suite of BIM commercial and contractual advice documents and standard forms (BIM Protocol);
  5. Soft Landing policy and processes to ensure the effective involvement of users and operators in the development of the scope, design and delivery. This goes alongside ensuring effective training and handover into operations, and the structured gathering of Post Occupation (Operational) Effectiveness data that enhance both the current and future assets (Government Soft Landings – GSL);
  6. Structured and standardised information Classification System;
  7. Industry-standard method of describing geometric, requirements and data deliveries at key stages of the project cycle (Digital Plan of Works);
  8. Learning Outcomes Framework to ensure the provision of consistent training/education in line with BIM Level 2.

The Digital Revolution

The suite goes a long way to provide elements that help to define ‘what’ Level 2 BIM is; however the key to the success in transforming the industry to operate at Level 2 BIM by 2016 now lies very much with education and training providers who need to consistently support ‘how’ the industry now goes about implementing the suite.

As the UK construction industry indirectly employs over three million people and is highly diverse with a range of discrete sub-sectors, educating, training and upskilling both the existing industry and future professionals presents significant challenges.

We are now well within the midst of the Digital Revolution with the emergence of personal computers, the internet, social networking, ubiquitous computing, etc. The pace of change is accelerating at an incredible rate and is significantly impacting on our daily lives.

Each generation experiences life, including education and work, very differently in that they are influenced both by the social and cultural values of the society within which they mature and by the technologies available.

The Digital Revolution significantly influenced those born after 1981 (Generation Y) and has continued to do so amongst those born between 1994 and 2004 (Generation Z). This differs compared to previous generations (e.g. Baby-Boomers, Generation X) and a generation gap is more pronounced between the digital natives, who have grown up with technology, have no meaningful memory of life without it, and have become fluent in it, and digital immigrants who have adopted it as adults, and have gained proficiency but interact with it in a fundamentally different way, therefore remaining ‘immigrants’.

The generation gap has significant implications between educators and learners and between current industry decision-makers and new/recent entrants; this has to be considered in the education and training systems and the requirements of a transforming construction sector.

Education

From an education perspective, parallels can be made between the challenges the industry is currently facing in beginning to transform, and those encountered within academia in the education and training of existing and future professionals with the necessary skills and competencies required in a changing sector.

As is similarly evident in the industry, early indications from a BIM Academic Forum (BAF) survey, which is due for publication later this year, suggests that the understanding, acceptance and importance of BIM amongst Higher Education (HE) academics within built environment, engineering, architecture, etc. is still considerably low.

BAF was set up in response to the Government Construction Strategy with the aim of creating a dynamic collaborative group to enhance and promote teaching and learning alongside the research aspects of BIM.

As students enter and subsequently graduate from HE, the nature of education serves to reinforce the siloed mentality that remains entrenched within the industry.

Changing such a culture and mindset that exists among many academics presents a huge challenge requiring the transformation of HE curricula from one that currently reinforces a silo mentality, and leads to the development of disciplinary-specific (siloed minded) professionals.

The current curricula also need to evolve to ensure that BIM becomes consistently but not prescriptively embedded and to ensure that HEIs maintain the flexibility and creativity in their delivery of education. A number of initiatives currently focus on facilitating BIM-embedded education and training.

BAF have proposed an academic roadmap to a longer-term vision that embeds BIM learning at the appropriate levels within ‘discipline-specific’ undergraduate and postgraduate education. This also begins to break down and establish the potential learning outcome requirements at each level of HE.

The final part of the BIM Level 2 suite is aimed at third-party education and training providers and is currently under development with the Education & Training Working Group; this aims to enable the consistent capacity and capability of BIM Level 2 in the UK domestic market.

However, adopting such learning outcome framework(s) within HE curricula will also require a change to the culture and mindset of academics to drive change in the current curricula and align with the needs of the next generations of learners.

HE programmes

Accreditation of HE programmes is important in externally demonstrating that course curricula meet the defined criteria and educational requirements set by the professional bodies to prepare students for their future careers.

Incorporating relevant aspects of BIM within the defined accreditation criteria could also serve to further drive BIM to become embraced within HE curricula and thus help the shift from siloed mentalities.

Many of the industry’s professional institutes are embracing BIM through the delivery of BIM training in the form of CPD; however, in terms of HE, accreditation criteria that incorporates BIM is yet to receive any serious attention.

This may be due to the previous lack of clear definition of Level 2 BIM or of industry uptake/demand, or a limited understanding of BIM amongst the professional bodies themselves.

As the industry continues to develop its understanding of BIM and gear itself for the 2016 mandate, the demand for graduates with not only disciplinary competences but also with some level of BIM knowledge and capability continues to increase.

Potential students are also aware of the importance of BIM in further enhancing their employability potential and, along with accreditation, this is important in their choice of an appropriate programme of study. Professional bodies, HEIs, and other bodies, such as the BIM Task Group, BAF, etc., need to come together in order to begin to address the implications for a transforming industry and the accreditation of HE programmes that incorporate BIM.

HEIs are presently in a fluid and transitional period; they need to educate graduates who meet the current needs of industry and are fit for purpose but also future-proof them for a transforming industry.

BIM is now becoming widespread across the various levels of HE education, albeit ad hoc and without consistency. In the main, this tends to be driven by individual academics or schools/departments that have a particular interest in the area of BIM and recognise its importance in the education of professionals.

Over the last few years, a number of BIM specific programmes at Masters level have emerged in the UK. These programmes are experiencing an increase in student numbers and are providing the means by which current industry professionals are retraining or upskilling.

Furthermore, graduates are undertaking such programmes in order to increase their knowledge-base in this area and thereby enhance their employability potential.

Inspiring young people

The construction industry still continues to suffer from a less than favourable professional and low tech image in comparison with other sectors, such as medicine, business, finance, law, ICT, etc.

The Construction 2025 Strategy is committed to improving the image of the construction industry by inspiring young people. The industry transformation that is being driven in the UK presents an excellent opportunity to positively influence the perception of the industry.

Inspiring young people through education will enable the creation of an image of an industry fit for the 21st Century, which is no longer considered dirty, difficult and dangerous but high-tech, highly professional, and a major contributor to the delivery and management of a built environment that significantly affects the everyday lives of society and to UK economic growth.

Initiatives such as that led by Class of Your Own, are focused on transforming the education of 16-19 year olds by targeting a technology savvy generation of learners through the application of pure subjects in solving real world challenges. A number of BIM specific BTEC level programmes have also now begun to emerge.

While these efforts are making great strides in aligning education with the industry transformation, they may actually be considered too late. Therefore, attracting young people into the construction industry presents a key challenge and requires even earlier targeting (as young as 12 or possibly younger).

Such a challenge has to be concurrent with reaching out to the parents of young people in order to influence their perspective of the construction industry as a positive professional career for their children to be encouraged to embark on.

The UK construction industry is at the early stages of a transformation driven by Government commitment and working with industry to provide the required enablers.

Already the UK Construction/BIM strategy is attracting attention internationally and offers an opportunity to transform the UK industry to one that is world-leading in the digital delivery and management of the built environment.

At the same time, if the UK industry is slow on the uptake, the opportunity could not only be missed but exploited by external market(s). A key to the success of the transformation is educating and training both those in the current industry and future professionals.

However, in a similar vein to industry, a number of challenges face education providers in changing the face of construction.

 

Dr Jason Underwood

Senior Lecturer/Programme Director MSc.

BIM & Integrated Design

Chair of BIM Academic Forum

University of Salford

Tel: +44 (0)161 295 6290

j.underwood@salford.ac.uk

www.salford.ac.uk

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