As the demand for BIM managers goes up across the AEC industry, what are the long-term prospects of such a career?
BIM is the latest game changer as a technology solution. But like any new technology, there is a great need for skilled manpower in this area. Naturally, a number of young students of construction disciplines across the globe are interested in making a career out of it. But how viable a career option is it? How is it like taking BIM as a sole role or task within an organisation? Is there a dedicated ‘BIM guy’ role in a company? What are the long-term prospects for such a person?.
Who are the current BIM people?
With BIM, an accurate virtual model of a building is used in construction. Currently, CAD people are turning into BIM managers. They handle a variety of tasks such as meeting clients and contractors, making sure models are done correctly, running clash detection and ensuring there is no scope for errors. This includes managing all the information and modelling it. They are also helping companies implement BIM by educating them about this new technology.
Contractors are also hiring BIM specialists who can run the project through project goals using BIM software. Sometimes, architects can also turn to be BIM specialists as they also gather information from consultants and models. It is good for candidates to have some construction background because it is mostly virtual construction, project management, and communication.
The new versus old hands
The AEC industry is going through a major transformation. Experienced and qualified BIM professionals will have responsibility to secure the continuity and minimal stability in this period. They will lead, manage and cope with this transformation. Their participation is determinant to its success.
Young professionals educated in the BIM will push the industry forward because young people have fewer inhibitions than the old ones and they put their creativity to use without any reluctance. That said, they cannot do it without backup. Therefore, the senior professionals’ solid experience will always be needed, especially if they can move swiftly around in the BIM environment and comfortably adopt to the change. A young person can be an expert in handling digital information and digital models, but knows not much about the real-world objects. ‘Information’ in BIM is not a substitute for the physical objects; virtuality is not reality. It’s just partial information about the reality.
Another issue is to know the ‘social reality’ of construction, i.e. all the relationship issues, including contractual. And even if the processes and practices change, they will not be built in blank virtual space, but between the same people who are already there, walking on the real ground. The best BIM managers out there are problem solvers for their particular discipline. They happen to use technology as the basic catalyst for solving those problems and training others how to utilise that in a similar way.
What the future holds?
In countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Singapore, the demand for BIM skills are rising and BIM is expected to become the standard practice in the coming years. A number of design teams are planning to adopt BIM within the next three years.
BIM not only adds value to the technology but also changes the process of designing and building. In the near future, BIM/VDC managers and support engineers are likely to work for the owners directly in the facilities department or construction management divisions to manage project teams from RFP to project handovers. Companies which provide construction management services will probably retain the BIM/ VDC professionals the most. The rest probably will migrate to the owner side.
BIM managers have a solid career in the short term, say five to ten years. Beyond that, the game will very likely change. For an experienced person, this is definitely a good option as such people can build BIM-competence on their experience and not just on imagination. Such people should extend their knowledge to all areas where BIM is important, and not only where they come from.
For young professionals, becoming a ‘BIM manager’ is not the most exciting option. Before they gather the experience to be a manager in construction (or design, or both), such a role may cease to exist, and they may end up as a redundant ‘BIM-hand’ since the entire system is likely to be BIM-competent soon.
However, there might be a niche role for the strictly BIM personnel, responsible for maintenance of databases, etc. But then, this belongs to IT and not construction. For instance, new software, design modelling, and Cloud are bringing huge changes to the way the AEC industry works. But, other than an IT professional, would one survive in the AEC industry just on the basis of computer skills? On the other hand, one needs to have computer skills to be a manager. Similarly, hanging everything onto BIM is likely to make a person outdated very soon. BIM is a management process which is quickly becoming the operational norm, and it will take management skills to survive. A degree in BIM is a sought-after commodity but it is not equivalent to a degree in Revit or ArchiCAD etc. BIM support can be rolled up with IT support role in smaller architecture and consultant firms.
To keep short, BIM is a very viable career option. They are in great demand for carrying out projects and operations at various construction firms. BIM managers have a great role to play in AEC tasks — estimating the costs and time for implementation and use of the BIM software. BIM managers also strive to achieve customer’s complete satisfaction as well as maintain and establish relationships and partnerships. However, when it becomes a norm, even if the rest of the workers don’t want to be BIM experts, they are going to become BIM users or work in the BIM environment. Now, when that happens, the ‘solely BIM’ people will not be that valuable. So learn BIM, use BIM, and be a great manager by learning all the other leadership skills that make great managers.