Sector - skills
Integrating digital skills in construction
The skills crisis in construction is well-documented. With the industry currently subjected to pressures from Brexit and Covid-19, we spoke with Professor Adam Boddison, chief executive of Association for Project Management (APM) about the current state of employment within the industry, and how the sector will equip itself for the digital annd green skills needed for the future.
What challenges do you currently see in the construction industry?
We recently asked 1,000 project professionals across a range of sectors about their greatest concerns, and the results made for interesting reading. Our research shows that, while the project profession as a whole rates the impacts of the pandemic as its biggest challenge, respondents in the construction sector identified the development of more innovative and digital services as their biggest challenge.
There’s no doubting the huge potential of digital tools to improve construction delivery, but universal adoption is still to be fully realised. That’s not to say progress hasn’t been made so far; the sector is evolving at a fast pace and catching-up with other industries further down the tech path.
For example, 5D BIM (five-dimensional building information modelling) technologies are being used by some firms to deliver better project outcomes. Furthermore, combining these systems with the latest AI software and internet-enabled devices enables interoperability and a degree of automation by allowing multiple platforms to speak to one another. This achieves more efficient processes, resulting in higher quality outputs.
In other organisations, we have seen how digital project controls have helped to compress the construction journey, enabling completion below budget and on time, despite aggressive schedules and delivering greater margins.
Then of course, there are the benefits of technology to communication. In an increasingly collaborative and remote working environment, contractors and developers that don’t get on the digital train soon may risk being left behind. It’s about more than keeping in touch; online collaboration creates an inclusive environment, bringing together diverse professionals from a range of backgrounds and disciplines. The result is clearer dialogue between the project team in real time, reducing risk and likelihood of error through miscommunication.
The benefits of digital construction are proven and tangible. It is important to remember however that, as more firms implement a broader suite of digital tools and services, the focus should be on outcomes, rather than the draw of the new. Although the latest innovations offer exciting possibilities, they need to be relevant to the business strategy and objectives, as well as the sector’s highly specific needs, otherwise they risk being of limited value.
In some organisations or project teams, lack of knowledge and awareness can be a barrier. It’s here that an effective project manager can step up to offer advice to make the right choices in terms of tech capabilities.
What new skills are going to be required throughout the construction industry to tackle climate change, productivity and digital transformation?
- A more holistic understanding and approach to sustainability
We know that climate change is an ongoing challenge. With mass urbanisation continuing at pace, the construction sector will be crucial to improving and establishing the infrastructure required for our future cities, whilst reducing pollution and delivering Net Zero by 2050. Crucially, we need a more holistic understanding of sustainability. Possessing only a rudimentary awareness risks approaching this issue as a mere box ticking exercise.
It’s widely accepted that sustainability is a broad term, commonly defined by three pillars: social, economic and environmental. Crucially, when considering each of these aspects, there needs to be a shift away from narrowly minimising negative impacts (e.g. on the environment or on society), towards encouraging tangible, positive change.
Further, solely using existing green building standards as a metric for measuring an organisation’s contributions to sustainable construction doesn’t challenge the status quo, account for how slowly content tends to be updated or adequately cover embodied carbon.
- Harnessing the power of data analytics
With technology as a major driver of future skills needed across the project profession, data analytics will be especially important in construction. Data is proliferating at an exponential rate, making this skill all the more valuable, whether for its role in informed decision making, increasing project sustainability or knowledge management.
APM’s new guide, Getting Started in Project Data explains how data analytics can help project professionals or senior leaders of project-based organisations improve project delivery.
- Professionalisation of project management
Construction is facing challenges of unprecedented scale. Overcoming them, and finding the opportunities in their midst, will mean greater demand for project professionals. I’d go so far as to say the future of work is ‘projects’ and that there needs to be greater professionalisation of skills. Only with such professionalisation – formalised training, accredited Continuous Professional Development (CPD) schemes, recognised qualifications and chartered status – can project practitioners deliver change of the type and scale needed to overcome the challenges faced by the construction sector.
- Lessons both learned and applied
It’s been ten years since the London 2012 Olympics and the start of the Learning Legacy project, marking the first time a UK construction project aspired to such large-scale knowledge management.
The learning legacy baton has been passed onto megaprojects like HS2 and Crossrail, where the bar is being raised for how knowledge is shared. At HS2, along with starting the legacy significantly earlier in the project cycle and greater supply chain engagement, focus was on sharing learning and learning from. Cultivating a reciprocal flow of knowledge-exchange has the potential to improve project performance and productivity across construction.
How can the industry promote itself to new talent?
We recently asked construction project practitioners what needs to be done to promote the profession. The most common responses were increasing awareness of project management amongst employers; letting people know that the work is financially rewarding; and increasing the visibility of project professionals within the C-suite, to show how far careers can go.
Beyond this, employers need to continue investing in people through training and certification. While the majority of project managers in construction say their organisation places high value on CPD, nearly 70 per cent think greater professionalisation of skills is needed.
This suggests there are lots of new recruits drifting into project roles accidentally, without a formal qualification. Construction companies should be promoting project management as a career of first choice, recruiting on that basis and promoting recognised certification to reflect the value of the profession.
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