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Rise of BIM puts specialist skills in demand

Interest in building information modelling is on the increase, particularly on public projects thanks to the Level 2 2016 mandate. But is this interest translating into increased recruitment of BIM experts?

BIM is certainly a hot industry topic.

There’s plenty of talk about how to reach the government’s target that all public projects should be compliant with Level 2 BIM by 2016.

And there are several early adopters in the private and public sectors whose projects get scrutinised for tips, pitfalls and successes.

Has this interest translated to an increase in recruitment of BIM experts?

Different approaches

Many main contractors report a rise, rather than an explosion, in recruitment, which is perhaps unsurprising since BIM is a new, growing discipline. 

Contractors are taking a variety of approaches to developing BIM expertise.

ISG director Phil Brown says the firm is mostly recruiting managerial staff while training its existing staff and suppliers in BIM.

“We’re recruiting at all levels – from operational BIM co-ordinators through to BIM managers”

Malcolm Stagg, Skanska UK

Skanska UK head of BIM Malcolm Stagg says: “We’re recruiting at all levels. This includes operational BIM co-ordinators, through to BIM managers who take a more strategic view, together with high-level, very specialised information managers.”

In addition to this approach, Balfour Beatty Construction Services UK design and BIM programme director Peter Trebilcock points to the importance of training IT-savvy people on company graduate schemes.

Skills in demand

There are a variety of roles for BIM experts requiring slightly different sets of skills.

There is a particular shortage of people with a deep understanding of how to manage data, including producing high-quality transfers – data drops – that meet the client’s requirements.

“They need numeracy literacy with Excel – they do not have to be BIM modellers or 3D fly-through specialists or designers to do that, but it helps to understand the context of the information,” Mr Trebilcock says.

This shortage of people with the right skills is pushing up salaries.

Contractors are rather reluctant to say what a good BIM manager might earn, but one suggests £35,000 to £55,000 depending on experience as a typical range and a glance at job advertisements confirms this.

Government deadline

The increase in demand for BIM experts is being driven by the government’s 2016 deadline, Mr Trebilcock adds. Will recruitment increase more as the date nears?

“I think the step-change will come mid-next year onwards as more of those projects [come forward] and contractors develop their expertise in expediting them,” he says.

“The industry is also likely to change, with most people having a greater level of expertise in BIM, whatever their role. People without BIM in their title will have BIM competence”

Malcolm Stagg, Skanska UK

Skanska’s Mr Stagg also expects a near-term increase in hiring, but that it will be followed by a drop. “I think there will be a period of expansion for two or three years,” he says.

“But I think we could then see recruitment tailing off. The industry is also likely to change, with most people having a greater level of expertise in BIM in the future, whatever their role. People without BIM in their title will have BIM competence.”

Mr Brown at ISG agrees that an understanding of BIM is becoming part of many other roles such as estimating, planning, design and engineering.

Make a name for yourself

There is also more demand for BIM from private clients, although it is much harder to predict than the public sector’s requirement.

“The pull for BIM implementation comes from many directions and across both public and private sector customers,” Mr Brown says.

“Owner-occupiers are recognising the benefit of BIM in terms of lifecycle costs and the commercial sector is certainly driving BIM implementation; however, uptake can be dependent on many factors and is bespoke to every situation.”

His company’s fit-out business is using BIM on new-build office schemes constructed using the technology.

“The opportunities and training for young members of profession to enter this area are enormous”

Peter Trebilcock, Balfour Beatty CSUK

Contractors look for a variety of skills in their BIM experts.

For some jobs a knowledge of BIM software is a must, but the extent of this depends on their role. Information managers need to be good with spreadsheets and perhaps not as adept in specialist BIM software as, say, a fly-through expert.

People skills matter too, as persuading people to move to a BIM-friendly way of working can be part of the task.

As Mr Stagg from Skanska says: “We look for the ability to influence, great knowledge-transfer skills, an appreciation of what good BIM data looks like, knowledge of the supply chain and a multitude of technical skills and hands-on experience.”

BIM is a new area where there could be opportunities for people to make a name for themselves. “The opportunities and training for young members of profession to enter this area are enormous,” Mr Trebilcock says.

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