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:
- Where do you get modelers that know how to build?
- Once you get modelers, how do you keep them working?
- 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:
- Take individuals that know how to build and teach them to model
- Make your production modelers a separate role from everything else
- 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.