Construction needs to move with the times and continue to embrace the digital era


Digital skills are emerging as an important factor for recruiters when searching for potential employees - reinforcing the fact that, in the UK at least, there may be a widening gulf separating those who have digital skills and those who do not. Digital skills are increasingly sought after and benefit both the individual and the employer. The construction industry needs to move with the times and continue to embrace the digital era.

Increasingly graduates are gaining these skills to help them progress within the industry. In graduate recruitment many companies are considering the wider context of these skills and there value in virtually every discipline, however strangely others see these digital graduates as specialists who are to remain in niche silos.

Digital is now integral to business growth and development and thus should not be treated as a niche subject. As the government’s 2016 Building Information Modelling (BIM) mandate makes very clear we are on an adoption curve and trajectory which will continue to see significant utilisation of digital tools and skills throughout the construction sector.

Despite this mandate and the increasing benefits of adapting digital skills they are not in all instances recognised as a critical tool in the construction industry. For example, one highly recognised University recently listed the content of several courses including: MSc Construction Cost Management, MSc Construction in Emerging Economies, MSc Construction Management, MSc Design and Management of Sustainable Built Environments, MSc Information Management for Design, Construction and Operation and MSc Project Management, with only one of those listed courses including reference to digital technologies (in this case in the form of BIM).

A digitally empowered team can expect to see reduced risks, an optimised programme, improved design co-ordination and no clashes or interface issues onsite

Any close scrutiny of the courses would demonstrate that there is a place for the application of digital tools just as much in project management and cost management as there is in sustainability. While some cultural and resistance issues may appear to be evident “digital” is clearly now an ally and not a threat and in fact all digital tools are here to supplement the grey matter, they are to be used to support and aid and not act as a competing faction.

For instance, a project manager, with the relevant digital awareness training can now deliver across a completely new range of speed, safety and efficiency agendas. They could ensure a fully shareable project execution plan is in place, which captures the methodologies associated with the appropriate digital tools to be utilised. They can ensure team buy-in and that all project members are equipped and trained, with clarity of scope for designers and the whole supply chain and together agree the appropriate actions to lever the potential benefits.

This digitally empowered team can expect to see reduced risks, an optimised programme, improved design co-ordination and no clashes or interface issues onsite, resulting in increased confidence in delivery, a shorter construction period, enhanced safety culture and perhaps the most important benefit, that of cost savings. In essence, fully utilising digital skills can greatly benefit those who work in the construction industry.

Clients too are now harnessing the digital skills within their business – having learned of the importance of digitally managing construction data from original design through to years of asset ownership. That said, not all businesses are up to speed with the rise of digital with one customer recently telling me how their building maintenance operations were delivered by an individual who had no access to a computer let alone BIM so they questioned the need for a switch to digital.

I wondered, however, what the reaction will be when they interview the new recruit once that person has retired: “No computer, nothing digital? Not for me”, I can hear the interviewee say as they check their tablet for the next opportunity.

Peter Trebilcock chairs Balfour Beatty’s UK-wide design community of practice and its UK BIM Steering Group