Hands-on experience is key.
Contractors who use building information modeling (BIM) software enjoy many benefits, including improved collaboration among building partners, earlier resolution of clashing elements, more efficient project sequencing and easier access to up-to-the-minute project information. But while BIM has been around for almost two decades, many contractors still aren’t using it. The 6th annual ConTech Survey from JBKnowledge found that 28 percent of construction industry professionals don’t bid on projects requiring BIM (presumably because they don’t have the capabilities to handle it), while 25 percent have only one or two people on staff who know how to work with BIM.
Part of the problem could be the challenges involved in getting people properly trained in using BIM for the construction industry. Practice makes perfect, according to Julide Bozoglu, BIM specialist and trainer at Environmental Systems Design Inc. and a faculty member of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Armour College of Engineering.
“BIM isn’t something that you should learn in schools or universities without any hands-on experience,” said Bozoglu.
It’s best taught using a combination of modes, including workshops and on-the-job training. And construction companies have an important role to play. According to Bozoglu, it’s critical that the construction industry work with the education community, including BIM course developers, to ensure that BIM training provides the skilled, knowledgeable workforce construction requires.
An example of industry and education working together are the Design-Collaboration Workshops developed by Bozoglu for classes at IIT. They are led by an industry partner and expose BIM students to real-life problem solving. The workshops also help students understand that implementing BIM goes far beyond learning a particular software suite; it requires integrated teamwork and collaboration as well.
Because BIM is used differently by different stakeholders and at different stages of a project, there’s a real risk of information overload for new learners. To avoid it, Bozoglu said, in-house training programs and college BIM courses should be targeted to meet the needs of each group that will be using the software — designers, project managers, subcontractors, schedulers, etc. Every learner group must have enough basic knowledge to collaborate on BIM models outside their own discipline, however.
Every construction company has its own approach to design and construction, so Bozoglu suggested they identify which tools in the BIM program would be most useful for their projects and create libraries of these tools for any BIM training they provide. Companies can specify different libraries for different job roles (estimators, schedulers, designers, etc.) and provide opportunities for the BIM learners to have hands-on practice with them.
Bozoglu has found that one of the most effective approaches to BIM training is to pair young newcomers to the industry, who are usually fairly tech savvy, with seasoned jobsite professionals. This helps the seasoned workers become more comfortable with the technology while enabling the newcomers to gain a better understanding of the industry.
As the use of BIM continues to increase in the construction industry, contractors will need to train more people in it. Using a targeted, collaborative approach can be an effective way to do it.
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.