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Now Is The Time to Fill BIM Skills Gaps

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The demand for BIM (building information modelling) process and technology has risen dramatically across the globe. Even in the Middle East, where traditional methods still dominate, there is a noticeable increase in contracts that have specified BIM from an early stage.

Across the region, however, there is a shortage of professionals with BIM-related skills. As demand for BIM technology increases, this is set to become a major issue. The recent buildSmart conference in Abu Dhabi confirmed the immense market interest in BIM, while at the same time highlighting the huge disparity in understanding what BIM actually means and the lack of consistent and reliable information on the subject.

One of the major conclusions reached by buildingSmart ME at the conference was that when the market realises the power of BIM, collaboration and interoperability, there will be a massive demand for resources. Unless we are able to ‘upskill’ our professionals, the construction industry faces the real prospect of being unable to capitalise on construction opportunities, because the skills needed to action the solution are not available.

Why is there a problem?

BIM Journal and The BIM Hub has consistently reported a lack of understanding of BIM – both of the process and the technology. There is an inherent belief in construction that new technology tools can simply be integrated
into existing processes. Of course, with many applications this is true – a better or faster version of existing software can easily be adopted with minimum training.

In fact, BIM is a process supported by suitable technology – a process first. This does not sit well in business as process change can mean upheaval.

The idea that new tools can simply be integrated into existing processes, has led to possibly the biggest problem of BIM implementation. The industry is used to the premise that technology can be enhanced simply by using the best tools available. This, in turn, leads to the assumption that, in the case of BIM, simply adopting the latest ‘tool’ will facilitate the best outcome.

Given that market demand leads supply, vendors, consultants, service providers and Filling BIM skills gap is need of the hour academics have largely ‘fallen in line’ with this notion. This is totally understandable as the purpose of business is to provide a solution that the market wants. Put simply, there has been no commercial reason to change. 

Who provides BIM skills?

BIM-related skills are provided by the industry as a whole, technology vendors and academia.

• The industry as a whole: Trade associations perform an excellent role in both representing and advancing standards and skills. However, generally, quite rightly, this is confined to the discipline they represent. Given that BIM is a cross-discipline process, identifying ‘ownership’ of the process tends to be a problem. Consequently, trade associations can only have limited input.


• Technology vendors: BIM is a collaborative process and communication between stakeholders and their individual technology solution is core to its success.

Some vendors have their own solution to the requirements of BIM implementation, usually involving nominated partners or complementary products within their own portfolio. This can cause some conflict of interest with the ‘Open BIM’ approach (that is, the process of enabling seamless data transfer to other systems).

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It is totally understandable, from a commercial point of view, why vendors promote their own integration process. It is also workable if everyone involved in the project adopts the same solution. However, in large projects this is rarely the case, so the process of how to integrate different technologies (rather than how to use them), becomes the main issue.

Vendor-specific solutions to BIM implementation can have great value. The major drawback is when individual organisations within a project use different vendor tools to deliver their own solution.

Whilst there is no such conflict of interest with vendors who supply only discipline-specific products (open BIM having obvious benefits to their process), different approaches of the two ‘camps’ can cause confusion in 
the market.

• Academia: Academic programmes are invariably driven by industry demand. Their focus, therefore, is how to employ the common tools to produce the discipline-specific solution. Again, this is totally understandable.

This is the critical area, in many respects, since it is easier to mould new minds than to change established thinking. The future of construction is in the hands of today’s students and a way must be found of addressing
the problem at its bedrock.

Given that there is a growing demand for integrated BIM expertise, combined with little incentive to promote the need for BIMspecific skills, who will take responsibility for making sure that these skills are available?

Future skills

In order to meet future skills needs, it is necessary to predict what they will be. This is a global issue for all industries. Although in the Middle East there has not been a formal skills needs assessment focused on BIM,
empirical evidence strongly supports the widely held view that demand for BIM-related skills is high and growing.

BIM has, without doubt, opened up new frontiers in construction. However, a lack of appropriately skilled professionals represents a significant obstacle in terms of applying the technology. Clearly, this needs to be
addressed as a priority.

It is important to appreciate that within the construction industry, there are skills ‘gaps’ – where those already working in the industry do not have the necessary skills and skills ‘shortages’ – posing a problem in recruiting appropriately skilled professionals. As an independent, not-for-profit organisation, buildingSmart is taking positive steps towards providing a solution to current skills requirements, by developing a comprehensive programme to train and accredit individuals already working in key industry disciplines.

A mix of expert practitioners and product/software vendors deliver the training modules. All modules are accredited by buildingSmart and successful trainees will be officially certified (see table). However, there is no definitive plan in place to address the provision of future skills needs.

BIM in academia

It is evident that in order to meet future skills requirements, the involvement of academia is critical. Action taken now will take time to ‘feed through’ from classroom to workplace and so needs to start as soon as possible.

If academia does not take steps to prepare future professionals, the industry will struggle to match supply with demand, as practitioners will not possess the necessary skills. 

Of course, it is not entirely down to academia. Industry and academia must work together to ensure that programmes developed meet ‘real’ industry need.

buildingSmart is helping to facilitate a link between industry and academia through its membership programmes. It is also working with academia to define a curriculum that can best serve market needs.

A properly constructed building information model visualises in real time, the form, function and performance of the facility under consideration. It also enables the stakeholder to assign attributes and data to each element in the model.

It is the fundamental distinction between BIM and other kind of models that defines the platform on which academia should base future development. With this in mind, a typical BIM programme should encompass (but not limited to) the following:
• Modelling for visualisation;
• Engineering construction and cost management;
• Data and digital management;
• Business process; and
• Interoperability.

Resources needed include tools for: architecture; engineering, construction, geometric modelling and digital data. It is therefore important that the software vendors continue to offer support by providing free licences for learning.

Incorporating BIM into academic courses will not be straightforward. Constraints and obstacles will include: the broad scope of BIM; rigid graduation requirements; lack of ‘space’ in the curriculum; rapid evolution of new technologies; shortage of knowledgeable and experienced tutors; availability of resources (software, add-on tools and hardware); and uncertainty regarding appropriate BIM platform.

These are ongoing challenges that can be overcome if deliverers and decision-makers collaborate and focus on the goal of matching future skills supply to future skills demand.

How academia has responded In many parts of the world, academia has responded to the construction industry’s adoption of BIM technology and process. These include a number of prestigious universities such as the UAE’s American University in Dubai (AUD), the UK’s Salford University, the US’ Georgia Institute of Technology, Australia’s University of New South Wales and Humber College in Canada.

Salford University has been preparing for the industry upturn in student demand by creating new training facilities, including a £1.3 million ($2.06 million) ‘Think Lab’, fitted with state-of-the-art research areas, plus a high-power ICT suite. ‘Think Lab’ director Professor Terrence Fernando is attempting the integration of different applications into a virtual environment, thereby facilitating the sharing of design information such as BIM data. 

The Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta has included BIM as a key part of its curriculum for several years. Its involvement with BIM studies is extensive, an example of which is the ‘BIM Case Study’ courses from 2006.

The University of New South Wales has included BIM courses for its undergraduate architecture programme. Students are introduced to the techniques of BIM using standard industry software, as well as associated processes including: good model building practice; model auditing; model exchange technologies and interoperability; design analysis; and design presentation, both documentation and visualisation.

Humber College in Toronto offers an advanced level BIM course designed for students who are already familiar with the basics. The purpose is to master advanced techniques in 3D modelling, custom content creation, design development, developing design options, evaluating design sustainability, phasing, work sharing, presentation and documentation.

Tahir Sharif Biography

Tahir has been influential in encouraging the adoption of BIM with Governments, Developers, Consultants, Contractors, Service providers, Vendors and System Integrators. He has advised on BIM usage and Integrated Project Delivery implementation for Iconic Projects throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Tahir is a senior BIM advisor on leading projects where the use of the BIM models are being used for preventative measures to reduce costs, allow better planning, and improve quality and asset management throughout the lifecycle of the project.

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