Where to Get Construction Modelers

In this weeks post I don't plan on taking anyone to task. But I do intend to make what I think is a bold proposition. It has the potential to be a bit divisive. The proposition will be a solution of how to handle the issue of model production during the construction phase. I will setup the problem first and then propose my solution.

The problem with the creation of models for construction purposes is figuring out who is going to do the modeling. This is not an issue for the paper pushers. Someone else is always responsible for the actual work in their world. This is a problem for contractors that actually self-perform work.

Self-perform contractors create models for a number of reasons. But first and foremost, it's about productivity. The models created are about making sure the work is put in place correctly, rework is kept to a minimum, and productivity is kept at a maximum. This means there are two things a modeler should be familiar with in order to produce a model: how to model and how to build.

The big problem is that this is a rare skill set. There are some out there that can do this, but there are many more that cannot. Finding one is like striking gold. These individuals are almost always the byproduct of their own initiative. I don't know any school or program that actively teaches both skills. This leads me to three problems that need to be solved in order to ensure the industry has an ample supply of construction modelers. They are as follows:

  1. Where do you get modelers that know how to build?
  2. Once you get modelers, how do you keep them working?
  3. What do you do with modelers when work is slow?

The current solutions to finding modelers are as follows:

  • Outsource to 3rd party modelers (no construction expertise)
  • Hire modelers from design or tech schools(no construction expertise)
  • Use on-site staffing to model (no modeling expertise)
  • Hire kids out of college to model (no construction expertise)
  • Use construction workers to model (no modeling expertise)

None of these options provide long term viable solutions. I won't take the time here today to explain my issues with each approach. I'll just state that I don't believe any of them provide long term success. But when looking at the list above an answer presents itself. Each category is missing one skill. Find a way to teach one group the other skill reliably, and you have your answer. So which skill is easier to teach? I say it is much easier to teach modeling.

I see modeling for construction as production work. It takes skill and knowledge, it takes time, and the actual product relies upon it. I think of it a lot like a machine operator. Every second an operator is not moving his machine, you are losing money. The same is true with modeling. Every second your modeler is not working, you are losing money.

But modelers are often enlisted to do many other things. The skill lends itself to solving many problems in construction outside of production models. BIM/VDC requires a lot of work beyond modeling. I think it only represents about 25% of the BIM/VDC equation. In order for our modelers to be productive though, we can't stop them to perform other BIM tasks. They can't model, plan, support, and implement the work. That would be like asking you machine operator to be productive as well as be superintendent, project manager, and quality control guy. The production modeler must exist as a separate role from the rest of BIM/VDC.

Modeling does not have a very good career path. It is going to take a lot of modelers to do all of the work BIM/VDC is heading towards. What does a company do with all of these modelers as work waxes and wanes? How can they all be supported when work slows down?

Production modelers will not be able to be kept on when work slows down. This is a fact that I can not get around. I have looked at it from many angles and it always comes back to the fact that their role is a fluid one. Companies that use production modelers will need to be able to bring them on and let them go as the work changes.

If you have been keeping track, you will have noticed that I have provided the answers to my three questions. They are as follows:

  1. Take individuals that know how to build and teach them to model
  2. Make your production modelers a separate role from everything else
  3. Hire and layoff modelers with the work

Does this look close to anything else?

How about it construction people? Do you hire anyone else that is well-trained in a particular production function that you layoff when work is slow?

How about your trades people?

I think that the best solution to this problem is to have the unions claim virtual work and provide the labor that knows how to both build and model. I suggested above that it is much easier to learn how to model than it is to learn how to build. Unions are a few training programs away from providing the industry with a much needed labor force that has a growing demand.

I will leave it here for discussion and follow-up in a future post with why I think this will be good for the unions.


  1. Excellent article to read…Thanks for sharing this post

  2. The union is the only place I know of that actively TRAINS their apprentices both modeling and construction at the same time.

    I think the main problem with the design side, is they're used to paying someone a pittance for old 2D drafting, and are absolutely FLOORED to find out what a Union Detailer with 10+ years of Detailing experience actually costs.

    BTW, I know of 1 guy in LA thats looking for a new project šŸ˜€

  3. BIM modeling is indeed a trend these days. Many companies are using this already. This helps so much in having and creating a more dramatically improved understanding of the building to be constructed. Choosing the best people to the BIM process is one of the key factors that would create a great impact. Experienced modelers are absolutely great for this especially those who really have field experiences. These are the people who have a better understanding on the real thing. Anyway, this post helps a lot, too. The ideas shared are brilliant.


  4. Please take a look at the Construction Management BS and MS programs at NYU-Poly. We focus on teaching our students how to use a BIM for Construction Management.
    BS: http://www.poly.edu/academics/programs/construction-management-bs
    MS: http://www.poly.edu/academics/programs/construction-management-ms

    • I am sure your program is great but that's exactly who I don't want doing my production modeling. They have little experience and I would rather develop young talent into management positions. Some modeling ability is always a bonus in young new-hires but I don't want to waste their time with the years of modeling that will be required for production.

  5. The BIM department in my organization has individuals comprised of many different skill sets. I for example, work on the self-perform models and drawings, virtual MEP coordination, virtual skin analysis, constructability reviews, laser scanning with post-processing, logistics planning, etc. I came directly out of school with only on the job training. I made the effort to go out to jobsites and learned as much as I possibly could. I believe having a diverse employee can keep them all busy even through slow times. The contractor should encourage their employees to get as much experience as possible. They need to determine who their talented guys are and make sure they keep them on board. Having a high turnover rate will only make it more difficult to find qualified individuals. They might as well outsource the work if the plan is to let guys go during slow times.

  6. I come in on the MEP engineering side for my comment… where I have to look objectively at how some contractors are coming to us from our work in Revit and are saying they would like to delete this or that item, change a duct size, etc… and we have to tell them NO because of x or y reason.
    So to extrapolate on the discussion, I agree that someone with construction experience makes a better modeler, I would also like to see some engineering AND estimating experience so the person knows how long a piece of pipe or duct needs to be to be most efficient…. AND cost less to build.

    I don't think anyone really fits this role very well… there are too many hats to be worn in a short period of time before becoming to old or becoming too valuable in other roles.

    If I were hiring, I would be considering who I might use in this kind of role over a 10 year period… a phase of a career with a start, middle and end… and try to pay a much higher wage if I find that person.

    On the construction side, value engineering capabilities would be primary based on experience in the field.

    Then again… if I could hire folks to do engineering and drafting at the MEP firm level that were pre-value engineered… wouldn't that solve most of the problem for you?

    This is a very interesting discussion to me because I would like to provide that service.. but realistically the fees don't support us doing that as engineers.

  7. @Unknown you didn't read the top left. You also went through a bit of trouble not to show your name creating an unknow account and all.

  8. I may be biased but I always say the best BIM people have field experiance. I do see where some firms would have "modelers" working in a "production shop" enviornment due to lack of experianced talent. Yet there are too many subtleties that a construction modeler needs to know about building. If they don't have the experiance it's similar to doing coordination and then installing it where ever you feel like.

  9. We use our VDC BIM staff for both modeling, construct-ability study, logistics, and field liaison purposes.
    Most of us have experience in the design world and are gaining experience from the construction side. We also try to pair a design-experienced team member with a field superintendent as a collaborative subset team unit. The designer/modeler/BIM guy learns construction from the field guy and the field guy gains an understanding of the BIM perspective and how it serves his needs for information. If this is managed well and both parties are open to the experience, it can create a very strong team.

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