It’s essential for construction professionals to be BIM literate, and to achieve that goal we have to adapt our approach learning


As we read of British young adults sliding down the international league table for literacy and numeracy, what of our collective BIM literacy? BIM is driven by people, and UK success with our bold BIM strategy hangs on professionals becoming BIM literate at their appropriate level: team member, manager or business leader. It’s a huge educational challenge, to those who teach undergraduates and for CPD providers.

Universities equivocate about teaching practical skills; most don’t see themselves as trainers but as educators for life. But it is necessary to understand your medium if you are to work with it; architecture is after all made out of the means of construction. BIM changes these means and thus becomes part of the new medium. It’s evidence-based design-for-manufacture now, more like product design. Some favour training in a working context and challenge the value of university education for practical professions: it’s seen as both expensive and less effective than learning on the job. New forms of higher education may emerge from the twin pressures of high university fees and the advantage of learning on the job.

The biggest challenge for educators is that BIM is about collaboration. You can’t teach it fully in a silo-based context

Whereas you can fudge a drawing, you can’t make a digital model unless you understand construction. BIM teaches you construction, but it can inhibit designers who limit their ideas to the level of construction knowledge that they have. Courses may need to use the staged level of development idea to bring students up the knowledge curve in steps.

The biggest challenge for educators is that BIM is about collaboration. You can’t teach it fully in a silo-based context. Schools are going to have to reach out and do live exercises with other disciplines, like online project collaboration or the wonderful teambuild weekends where young multi-discipline teams battle to do a speeded-up project for prizes.

CPD writers all over the professions are hard at it and busily invading each other’s turf. The RICS has launched a certification for BIM Information Managers to address this new specialism. Could it be that BIM will become the province of the project manager or technician/technologist rather than of the creative architect or engineer? A German-style split architectural discipline could emerge.

At the entry point to the professions it is encouraging to hear from Alison Watson of ‘A Class of your Own’. She takes laser surveying and BIM kit into schools and helps the 14-year-olds do studies for expanding their school or remodelling their neighbourhood. These digital natives hardly need training and produce credible work rapidly. They also catch the built-environment bug and apply for work experience with contractors and consultants. Perhaps the struggling oldsters just need to draft in the kids to solve their BIM skills problem.

Richard Saxon is the UK’s BIM ambassador for growth