BIM Automatons and The Risk of The Unmotivated Workforce

With the recent AGC event about the human side of BIM I thought I would write a post about something related that has bothered me for some time.  As part of BIM we all know that often what we are trying to do is solve the issues before they happen.  While trying to solve some workflow issues a problem occurred to me that I don't think is a usual consideration.  We don't really think about the fact that by solving issues virtually we remove the need to solve them in reality.

What I mean by that is that some thought has to be given to the effect of the removal of problem solving in the field rather than just the celebration of its removal.  In my experience some of the most intelligent people I have ever worked with are those that have a vast understanding of construction and how to achieve building something successfully.  A lot of those same individuals are not college educated and could be considered by general society as being less educated.  But in my experience they have more empirical knowledge than a lifetime of college could teach.  And yet through the BIM process it seems to me that the end goal is to solve issues so that those same individuals don't have to use their experience to solve issues in the field.  I have to ask myself if this is a good idea.  What is the effect on these individuals if we remove their ability to make judgement calls about putting work in place at the time work is installed?

My concern is that this will remove the one thing that I think keeps them motivated to be excellent at their jobs.  I think that at the end of the day people want to be able to go home to their spouse and crow about what problems they were able to solve that day. To show to others that they have provided something special through their ability to solve problems and provide answers. I worry that when we solve those issues in advance, down to the smallest detail, that what we are doing is removing the ability of the individuals putting work in place  to solve those same problems.  Essentially turning our workforce into mindless automatons that are just supposed to follow instructions.  Where's the motivation in that job?  What are those individuals supposed to brag about to their spouses when they get home?

There is some precedent to this question that I plan to investigate but I find the question no less interesting.  It seems that manufacturing has already walked this path.  That industry has seen an incredible increase in production as a result of automating their workflows.  Does that mean that the morale of the average UAW worker is higher or lower as a result?  Should this even be a consideration of the AEC industry?  Should we care about the individuals need to feel effective if we can increase productivity through virtual methods?

I seriously struggle with this idea. I don't see that we have effectively gotten to the point where this is an issue but I think it is the inevitable result.  My only solution to date is to involve those putting work in place as much as possible.  Bring them in as soon as possible so that they own the solution to the virtual problem as much as the physical problem.  I just don't know if it is enough to keep our workforce motivated.  In an industry with a workforce that is decreasing in both size and competency I am not sure that removing simple human motivating factors like pride in individual achievement is a good idea.

I could see how one might disagree that this is an inevitable result.  I could even argue that if it was an inevitable result, that it is better overall.  But neither of those ideas help me reconcile the fact that we could unintentionally be decreasing the morale of our our workforce while trying to increase their productivity.  I have been given the privilege to work with some amazing individuals and I am not totally convinced that even the best BIM /VDC process is an acceptable substitute for their construction judgement.  If there is a human side of BIM that needs to be considered, it's that of the individuals who on a daily basis try to make real the plans of those that do not fully understand the skill and dedication it takes to achieve them.

4 Comments

  1. Marek,

    I like your point. I feel that is important to note, that despite how much we want to automate the process we will never be able to make it automatic. Especially BIM in it's current form.

  2. I see the opposite -it is now that we have so many automatons, just without automation. Without engaging those relatively few having actual knowledge based on experience, there is no point in making change. Best of the two worlds – knowledge we have and the new technology should be combined, not replacing each other. I think 'IPD' allows to achieve that

  3. Damn… got kicked off leaving a comment…

    Great post Connor…! The previous comment is also filled with great information.

    What I was trying to leave; As previously pointed out, we are transitioning from an industrial nation to a knowledge or information based nation. The skilled work force is just changing, and despite the rhetoric, we will most likely survive this. What we are experiencing collectively is most likely the "Adoption Gap'. Where we struggle with the impact this change has on everyone. We will see some drop off into the hole it leaves, remember early adoption is not for everyone.
    If you want to get some insight into how this was handled in manufacturing so you personally and as an organization are prepared. Start here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Production_System).

  4. The same process has been going on at least since humans began to centralize commerce in towns, and some (now most) lost food production skills. The industrial "revolution" brought on the loss of some kinds of ingenuity for some (now most) of us. I think it is in our nature as humans to "make things easier."
    I'm not so worried about individual loss of problem-solving skills as I am about the loss of those skills in the society. Farmers are incredibly ingenious, and were more so when everything was less available, farther away, and more expensive in terms of real time and effort needed to obtain them. They "made do".
    Individual problem solvers do need to be brought into the BIM process soon, and permanently, so they can teach what they know to the next generation of virtual construction problem solvers. It benefits everyone: The more experienced, because it will keep them employed, productive, and motivated to solve problems; the incoming virtual problem solvers because they just might gain an appreciation for how buildings really go together; and the organizations who employ them both.
    I don't think we should agonize over the late coming of a more organized and predictable design and construction process. I think it is inevitable; as I say, in our nature.

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