Building information modelling is changing the role of the engineer. Will the next generation of graduates have the skills for the evolving workplace?
“The ideal engineering recruit is someone who knows how to be a data scientist, information engineer and a design engineer all at the same time,” says Atkins building information modelling (BIM) strategy and development director Anne Kemp.
Like many employers, Kemp says Atkins is wrestling with a labour market in which there are small numbers of graduates coming through who fit this profile and who are equipped to manage the large numbers of projects that now require BIM.
The upshot of the government’s four year strategy for BIM implementation is that it has created job opportunities for a whole group of graduates who wouldn’t traditionally have looked towards the engineering sector.
This includes technicians from the video games industry. But for BIM projects to be delivered successfully, Kemp thinks these “gamers” will have to be fully assimilated.
“Instead of having our core technicians in one corner of the office and all of our other professionals in the other - we want to see a merging of the graduate talent,” she says. “It feels as if culturally they [the graduates] have changed the way that they’re engaging with the technology but the formal training at the universities hasn’t really yet caught on.”
Aecom BIM director David Philp, who is also head of BIM Implementation for the government’s BIM Task Group agrees with Kemp in thinking that the old university model for training engineers will have to change to meet the industry’s need for more rounded individuals.
“We’re quite guilty of putting individuals into silos at university level,” says Philp. “We say they’re going to be designers, contractors, or a quantity surveyors pretty early on but the big thing about BIM is that it’s more holistic, more about the project life cycle.”
“As we move towards Level 3 BIM there will be more of a need for companies like us that can deliver that whole project lifecycle”
David Philp, Aecom
Aecom often talks about wanting to recruit “T-shaped” individuals, who supplement a strong core specialism (the vertical part of the “T”) with a breadth of personality and expertise (the horizontal part of the “T”) that allows them to operate in a multi-disciplinary team.
“As we move towards Level 3 BIM there will be more of a need for companies like us that can deliver that whole project lifecycle,” says Philp.
“So we’re looking for people to come in and look at how they drive operational outcomes at the asset level, or indeed how they drive social outcomes.”
Kemp thinks there is a danger that the industry will focus too much responsibility in the hands of a small number of people if it continues to develop certification for “BIM managers”.
“We need to get away from people thinking they can become a BIM specialist because that’s not really what we’re trying to do to transform the industry,” she says.
“Instead of managing all of the BIM models, I think the BIM manager should become the source of knowledge, the person who trains the graduate engineers and manages the roll-out of BIM.”
Whatever the nomenclature, Philp thinks the emergence of BIM means it is an exciting time to be a graduate engineer.
“What we are seeing is that career paths in the built environment are becoming a lot more flexible and interchangeable,” he says. “A large part of that is because of the digital-enabled construction industry. I wish I could go back to being a graduate myself!”