BIM: Importance of training

Many of the training issues covered in this post are not specific to BIM & I am certainly not the first to say that training is important.

The challenge with BIM is to go beyond a token short course, and to make the training meaningful and genuinely useful.

Focus on the job, not the tool

Nearly all BIM training is purely software focussed
i.e ‘picks & clicks’ in a particular application, without much explanation of why. It is generally presented as a newer method to produce drawings and does not cover the wider process.

Most training is related to a specific application, rather than a set of applications that relate to a role, process or activity. For example, a structural engineer might need to use a variety of modelling, analysis and model review tools. Although a manager might not need hands-on BIM skills, they do need to understand how BIM affects project work and the team tasks & responsibilities.

Catch-22.

Training is something of a catch-22 or paradox in many organisations. Since businesses typically operate in an oscillating up & down cycle, there are two states with not much in between:

  • When times are good and there is plenty of work (and money) you hear ‘we are too busy’ for training and cannot afford for people to spend time away from project work, miss deadlines etc. So training does not happen.
  • When times are lean and there is not much work, then the issue is that ‘we cannot afford’ to spend money on training. So training does not happen

In other words, it is rare that there is sufficient budget and availability of people at the same time. To deal with this- many organisations have an approach of occasional short bursts of expensive training for small numbers of staff. But this token effort is very ineffectual and of no value at all. Unless the skills gained are put to use immediately and on an ongoing basis, they are quickly forgotten.

What is in it for me ?

The key is to encourage and incentivise people to develop their skills, and to support them in doing so on a continuing basis. It is critical is to communicate properly and convince relevant people why these skills are important to them as an individuals and also to the business.

I often hear ‘if we train people, then they will leave and work for one of our competitors’ This is just nonsense. This is unavoidable, and far better to have a well-trained workforce (even if a few of them leave) than an untrained one.
In addition, most people do want to work for an organisation where skills are actively developed, and also want to work in a successful and thriving business, so I would argue it is a good method of retaining & attracting staff.

The options

  1. Classroom training.
    This is often offered by software vendors & resellers. It tends to work on the lowest common denominator of training pace and existing skills i.e the whole class has to go at the speed of the slowest person. Personally, I find this type of training has very limited benefit and is often very expensive.
  2. DIY
    Preparing for and conducting training is time consuming and is something of an art. The most knowledgeable or proficient people are not necessarily good trainers. Except for large organisations that have a dedicated training room, the logistics of setting up a ‘classroom’ can be prohibitive. However, the benefit is that training can be more than just software and can cover company-specific processes.
  3. Don’t bother with training at all
    Just employ people with the right skills. This approach is surprisingly common, but the danger is that the people who are employed have exaggerated their skills.
  4. Self learn (online or books)
    There are a multitude of online courses in specific applications that are quite cheap and flexible in being able to run at a convenient time to each person. However, the challenges are in making time available & preventing distractions, maintaining momentum i.e complete training and in the lack of ability to ask questions.
  5. Mentoring & on-the-job training
    Of all the forms of training, learning on the job with assistance from a mentor with suitable skills and temperament, is the most effective and beneficial. However, the challenge is to set aside adequate time to learn, accept that project profitability may be affected and allow the mentor to dedicate time to this activity, rather than being dragged into project work.

Training program recommendation

In my opinion, a combination of options 2,4&5 offers the best balance of cost and benefit. So, a training program might look like:
Stage 1: Internal workshop, say 3 hours as an overview of training objective, purpose, program and company-specific processes.
Stage 2: Online training, time to set aside to complete courses within 6 weeks with regular internal workshops with mentor, say 1 hour as opportunity to ask questions & discuss.
Stage 3: Immediately after completion of online courses, mix trainees with skilled staff on a project team and nominate a mentor to assist and guide those people. It is critical to set aside adequate time for both trainee and mentor.

Summary

  1. Decide on a training program, milestones and ongoing program
  2. Communicate (& convince) the need & benefit of training
  3. Training is important- set aside adequate time
  4. Managers need training as much as anyone else.
  5. Training does not have an end date- it should be an ongoing endeavour.
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