I know that may seem like quite a strange statement from someone like me who has been one of the biggest advocates of BIM over the last 15 years.
We have moved mountains with new technologies but it still isn't enough.
When we started to talk about BIM to a wider audience around six years ago, we used a presentation slide which had the words “people, process and protocol”. Level 2 has helped to set a framework for the protocol and process. The part which still needs more investment is the people element.
As a bit of an old timer my interest in BIM has not been in just technology for technology’s sake but about the impact, it can have on outputs. This comes from my experience of working in the industry since the 1990s. I've seen a determination in culture in this period and a worsening in relationships. My interest in BIM came from how shared information could bring people together, improve collaboration and reduce risk. All of this would make a positive impact on culture. My main driver to use technology is therefore to improve the culture, perception and outputs of construction.
Digital has certainly helped us make progress, however, we will need to do much more to address the culture challenges.
The industry suffers from issues of trust and honesty. It is still a very male-dominated industry and often quite aggressive. Payment by main contractors continues to be an issue with the majority of labour being self-employed, meaning a lack of investment in training. We struggle to recruit great talent into the sector and with these issues is there any wonder?
Whilst we are all patting ourselves on the back as the leading country in the world for Digital Construction many of the cultural issues in our industry remain unchanged. If we really do want a better sector we need to look at how we can move the culture to improve outputs. I certainly don't have the answers and I don't think there is a silver bullet. Culture takes years to change but we need to start somewhere. Here are some of my own thoughts to get a discussion started;
More women in the sector - If we have a larger percentage of women there would undoubtedly be a reduction in the macho culture. We can only encourage more women by improving the perception of construction in schools and colleges.
The Millennial Effect - Many across our industry are Baby Boomers or Generation X. Over the decades these generations have developed their own culture. With an increasing number of millennials joining the industry there is undoubtedly going to be a shift in culture.
Procurement - The greatest influence on culture, in my opinion, is procurement. Our current procurement routes such as design and build are structured to push risk as far down the supply chain as possible. This then creates resentment all the way back up the chain. No one is therefore incentivised to do their best - rather managing their risk whilst feeling resentful towards their employer. This encourages a drive to the bottom where lowest price wins.
Silos - Undoubtedly there is a lack of appreciation across the construction professions. Contractors and consultants generally do not respect each other. Subcontractors dislike main contractors as they have poor commercial trust. Clients dislike everyone as they think the industry is there to rip them off! During the noughties partnering and best value was the fashion of the time. Movement for Innovation was established at a similar time and achieved some fantastic outputs through case studies. Maybe we could dust some of this great work off.
Direct labour - In the good old days, we had builders, not contractors. A builder builds things and a contractor manages the contracts. The fluctuation in the construction market has meant there is too much cost for contractors to retain their own labour. This forces the workforce into a short-termism. It also effects training and investment in people. The only way to address this is for clients to value a stable workforce and recognise companies who invest in their resource.
Leadership - Over the decades, we have had a range of leadership councils or construction forums. It seems few of these have worked or made any impact. Maybe they are focusing on the wrong things or are too disjointed. One thing is for sure those involved are often from the Baby Boom generation or older Generation X and because of the construction demographic, there is a large percentage of men. The older generations are essential for the future of the sector as they have seen it all before and have huge experience, however, we need to include those whose future we are dealing with. For example, emerging generations have a lot to offer in terms of their understanding of the potential of artificial intelligence and robotics in construction – which would not necessarily be the case for the older generations.
I am passionate about our sector and passionate about making it an industry to be proud of. We are on our way but we mustn't rest on our digital laurels. There is still some way to go.
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