"The construction sector is at the precipice of a growth period and must now embrace innovation and technology."
Scotland’s construction industry is set for growth in most sectors over the next five years, according to the latest forecast from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).
This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in the Scottish construction sector. Not only has the last few years seen infrastructure grow at an accelerated level due to several major projects, such as the Queensferry Crossing, but now the CITB is forecasting more growth in the sector over the next five years.
So, how best can we ensure that the construction workforce going forward is equipped to deal with the new opportunities that will present themselves?
The best way we can ensure that the workforce of the future is ready is to embrace innovation and technology now, particularly by taking even the smallest of steps towards working in the “digital built environment” through understanding the process known as BIM.
BIM stands for Building Information Modelling. As specified in PAS 1192-2:2013 by the British Standards Institution, Building Information Modelling is “the process of designing, constructing or operating a building or infrastructure asset using electronic object-oriented information.”
It should be noted that the use of the term “building”, from our perspective, is a verb that explicitly describes the process of creating data rich models for buildings, civil and infrastructure, new builds, and refurbishment projects, etc. These models are a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of projects. Simply put, BIM is a digital twin that contains 3D models, non-graphical data, and other linked data such as electronic documents in a collaborative environment.
There is a great range of technologies available to construction professionals that are already innovating the way the industry works. These technologies and their impacts are only going to grow in the future. Technology like virtual and augmented realities (VR and AR), 3D printing, drones, and wearable technology are already established within the industry.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)
VR and AR are perhaps still most recognised from gaming and entertainment, but they both also have very practical applications in construction.
AR and VR could be used to engage and inform stakeholders – showing plans and progress in a far more captivating and immersive manner.
They also provide a huge benefit to training and health and safety – both for high hazard and hard to access places.
3D printing is another technology that has myriad applications both within and outside the construction industry.
Within construction, 3D printing is a fantastic tool which can be used to enhance the quality of buildings, reduce delays, and improve health and safety processes in general.
Some companies are already taking 3D printing to a whole new level. MX3D is building the world’s first 3D printed bridge for the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam. You can follow the team’s progress here. I feel it’s only the beginning for 3D printing and digital fabrication of functional, durable structures.
A source of new technology that is already saving construction professionals both money and time is drones. Drones can be used to quickly and safely survey building sites and generate maps or plans. Their accuracy and speed allows for a huge reduction in expensive and cumbersome machinery. Drones at the site of the recent fire at the Glasgow School of Art allowed building surveyors to assess structural damage prior to any persons setting foot on site. This type of innovation had positive health and safety implications, and allowed the creation of a video log so assessment of the damage could begin whilst the building was still smouldering!
Another innovation that is improving health and safety process and practices is wearable technology.
Wearable technology allows site managers to monitor the whereabouts and safety of every worker on site, as well as allowing workers to receive hazard alerts in real time.
Where do we go from here?
The task ahead of us is to incorporate knowledge and use of these technologies into our courses now, so that our graduates are beginning their careers with up to date and relevant skills that will give them the best chance of landing their dream job – whether that is in architecture, civil engineering, construction management, or quantity surveying.
I also agree with Stephen Good, chief executive of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC), however, when he says that: “We’ve to think how attractive the industry is for women. It doesn’t have the best reputation or perception, so we work with businesses that are actively trying to improve their attitude and approach around diversity challenges.”
Embracing innovation will help to open doors for those looking to enter a career in a construction profession. However, it will not be enough on its own. We must also embrace diversity and inclusivity in our workforce if we as an industry are to continue to drive forward.
For information on the wide array of job opportunities available within construction, visit Go Construct.
For inspirational stories from our current and former students at Fife College, check out our student case studies.