Graphisoft study finds young graduates may not have the right skills

Finding the right fit; employers may not always be satisfied with the pool of new recruits but they’re searching for young employees and understand the need for ongoing training.

The acceptance of BIM through the last decade has been astonishing. Once a slow-growing luxury for large construction firms, BIM is now accepted as a requirement on large projects. BIM has been around as a concept since the 1980s and began to gain regulatory traction in the 2000s. The technology got a leg up from European government bodies, which had been calling for established standards and data management for large projects. It’s not easy to pin down the first BIM mandates, but the UK usually gets credit for Digital Built Britain in 2011, which called for Level 2 BIM compliance on all public sector projects by 2016.

Probably nothing has done more to bring BIM to the AEC industry top to bottom than the presence of a mobile phone in every pocket and on every site. The construction industry has demanded to be part of the information flow. The mobile phone isn’t just a tool for democratization, it’s the ultimate mediator as workers on-site can show the designers what’s not working and owners can bring all sides to the virtual table to understand what’s really going on.

Current estimates put BIM use at close to saturation in large construction companies, around 70% in mid-range companies, and limited in small companies. Clearly, the technology is established in modern AEC workflows. What’s fascinating now is that as BIM is more broadly used, its use deepens exposing and more opportunities for digitalization and yielding efficiencies. That’s the good side, the bad side is complexity, and the difficulty of finding skilled workers and managers.

Between August 20, 2021 and September 6, 2021, Graphisoft did a hiring survey and followed it up with a discussion among educators about the best way to teach BIM in universities. The survey went out to firms in over 54 countries and they got more than 1100 responses with 60% representation in large firms, 18% representation in medium-size companies, and 22% in small companies. That’s about the opposite of BIM use, which has the widest penetration in large companies, so perhaps it’s not too much of a leap to see the strong participation among small companies as heightened interest in response to need. (Though, it’s also important to note that people in large companies may not feel empowered to speak for their employers in a large company.)

The study found that 39% of the employers who responded said candidates for employment lacked a “BIM mindset.” They were lacking in skills such as digital mindset, specific software skills, engineering mindset, and artistic sense and creativity. Obviously, software skills can be taught, but the rest of it is tricky.

Graphisoft followed up the survey with a panel discussion. There was some discussion about how to teach architecture students, and, in general, the panelists felt that it was not the job of universities to teach software. Students have to know the software in order to complete their assignments and the better they know how to use their software the faster they can accomplish tasks. However, says Eduardo Rolon, of the Digital Studio at Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, “the students aren’t at school to learn software and drafting.”

Employers want it all: BIM/CAD software expertise as well as professional experience.

Marco Casini, Assistant Professor, Sapienza University of Rome, adds, “based on my experience, I believe BIM should be fully integrated” into architecture education. “BIM can’t be left to post-graduate work,” he said; that would be more like retrofitting.

The professors on the panel were well aware of the challenges waiting for students after University. The demands on BIM are shifting as the world comes to grips with issues such as sustainability, and now remote work.  Rolon points out that universities are just now addressing the competencies educators must have in order to teach BIM, which makes sense when you think about how fast BIM has taken hold and spread during this era of digital transformation.  There was a time, not too long ago when BIM was being driven by architecture firms, now it’s construction firms and the workers on site are demanding to be let into the process.

As the responsibility broadens, there has to be continuing access to training. In the Graphisoft survey, 69% of employers recognize the importance of on-the-job training, 53% support continuing internal training, and 40% see a role for third-party training.

The study found that employers were looking for young talent, which explains their openness to continued education.

Employers are very interested in hiring people fresh out of school.

The study also identified the best resources for hiring. It reported that employers rely primarily on referrals 55% or so, not totally. Forty-four percent also mentioned university networks, 40% checked social media, and 27% cited job boards.

An interesting part of the questions around recruitment was the question about companies partnering with universities for recruitment.

If employers were more involved in recruitment, they would be better able to advocate for specific skill sets, but creativity comes through as a major qualification. While employers want to see their new hires come with good software skills, they say they’re looking for a balanced set of skills including artistic sense and creativity as well as engineering proficiency.

What might also be interesting to know is what jobs are the new recruits accepting. The AEC industry is shifting, and young talent is sought after for their technical skill as well as their creativity but are they fully getting to exercise their skills? For all the demand for creativity and artistic sense as well as engineering skills and technical chops, what happens when they accept jobs from large practices? Young architects frequently complain that they’re not doing work that demands creativity. Rather, there is much more drudgery than glamor in their work lives. Going to work for a smaller firm might offer a more open path to advancement but according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, hiring growth in the US is at pretty dismal 3% from 2020 to 2030.

There will be jobs

In the US, there is new money for infrastructure and BIM expertise, as well as engineering skills and data management will be a requirement. The US trails much of the world in the use of BIM, but government agencies, as well as companies in the industry, are aware of the need to tool up. As the Graphisoft study found, there is a worldwide demand for skilled workers. It may turn out to be wiser to get good tech skills and specific training. A university degree is increasingly necessary, but often it is just as valuable to nurture the network that comes with a degree as it is to have specific credentials.