Future of Construction

logo

A central platform to exchange best practices and ideas guiding the infrastructure and urban development industry in its transformation, and helping it to address its key challenges.

TARGETING THE ‘SKILLS TRAP’: Emerging Portfolio Professionals

Professional Institutions tend to reflect the industry roles of the early nineteenth century when they were established: Builder, Architect, Engineer. It is not enough to hold one of these roles: the modern construction professional must be multidimensional; engaged, diverse, adaptive, always learning. A Portfolio Professional.

How do we find the best consultant to develop a brief for our new building: including flexibility, long-term sustainability and operation? Who do we call to advise us on how that information and the build process should be designed, recorded, stored and updated during the whole lifecycle of the asset? How can we be sure our consultant has the portfolio of skills we need? Our existing institutions, accreditation, education and audit systems for tracking industry skills fall far behind the requirements of contemporary practice.

Let’s not discount professionals. These are individuals who have signed up to a code of conduct, who have undertaken to behave ethically and in the public interest, who won’t scam a client or consultant with hidden fees, won’t endanger lives or livelihoods through cutting corners, who understand sustainability and who only undertake work they are fully qualified to undertake.

But how do we articulate professionalism in an increasingly heterodox reality?

dotBuiltEnvironment is an informal group of built environment agitators. Drawn from across the professional spectrum, these individuals found common ground in their hybrid skillsets and their wish to work together to develop these abilities. As part of an ongoing, open-sourced research project, the group has developed SkillsRadar: a multifaceted measurement tool that allows participants to demonstrate their varied qualifications and skills graphically. The tool builds on previous industry debates regarding ‘T-Shaped professionals’ and ‘Specialists vs Generalists’. An individual can self-certify learned experience, and add externally-certified educational achievements: producing a unique graphic identifier that accurately demonstrates areas of competency relevant to clients, employers, and project teams.

 

PALE, STALE AND MALE?

Built Environment Institutions are making huge strides forward in diversifying their image and reputations, struggling valiantly against constitutions founded in the nineteenth century and still exhibiting many of the trappings associated with that time: linear hierarchical (patriarchal) organisation; bureaucracy fuelled by pomp and circumstance; a commitment to ‘common good’, yes, but also an intrinsically introverted and eristic wish to cultivate and protect one’s own. These behaviours are (thankfully) an anathema to so many in the industry today.

As the construction industry evolves, so professional roles expand and contract, previously solid boundaries between areas of activity becoming fluid and overlapping. Multiple industry studies have shown that our workplace is changing at a speed that mandates continuous learning and retraining for everyone in the industry, throughout their careers.  Engaged individuals already know this, and are taking the initiative themselves to diversify their skillset.

In this way, a services engineer becomes a sustainability expert, then works with a contractor and develops an expertise in digital measurement and recording. Or an architect advises colleagues on contracts, engages with research at universities, and then becomes an expert invited by government to input into framework policy. The aim of the SkillsRadar research study is to capture this increasingly common multidisciplinary experience: mapping individuals whom we have dubbed ‘portfolio professionals’.

This ‘experience’ data is extremely helpful to strategists assembling a team, and to colleagues working together for the first time. Unbound by the disciplinary silos of education and institution, individuals are able to immediately identify a shared competency in another area, and/or by overlapping a number of charts, see areas where a team’s knowledge is weaker.

Overlaying the charts also reveals the extent of shared knowledge or competency across teams: the graphs can demonstrate a minimal overlap between two or more otherwise highly-qualified individuals, highlighting an increased possibility of miscommunication due to a lack of common ground.

 

A ‘MINIMUM VIABLE’ SHARED EXPERIENCE?

When innovating sustainably, we talk about the ‘minimum viable product’: so when discussing the sustainability of our industry, what then is the ‘minimum viable experience’ for contemporary professionals? We are familiar with statistics that point to construction productivity falling 33% behind that of other industries, and contributing to an eye-watering £1.6 trillion of inefficiencies, or 2% of Global GDP (Changali, 2015). We know from multiple studies that most construction inefficiencies have their roots in misunderstandings, in lost data, and in litigation: issues of communication that fail to be solved by the insular efforts of professional institutions.

Every member of the industry requires, at minimum, a knowledge of the roles of other professionals in the built environment: but the best professionals build up an understanding, and ultimately an ability to analyse and synthesise across multiple disciplines. This ability not only breeds peer respect, but is key to developing shared language and minimising miscommunication. It has significant potential to significantly reduce the shameful inefficiencies in our industry.

 

GOODBYE ‘LOLLIPOP PROFESSIONALS’

Exposed by this technique is the specialist individual who is expert in his field but declines to build a network of experience around that specific expertise. Their radar graphic displays a single deep learning vector, and a small circle of ‘awareness’ of other disciplinary roles: it looks like a ‘lollipop’.

Valuable as these individuals can be, their inability to communicate effectively outside of their silo requires them to work with others who overlap their specialism, and also have a more diverse spread of skills and experience. The self-aware Portfolio Professional supplements their deep, specialist learning with an increased experience and continuous learning across disciplines: a skill that allows them to collaborate, communicate and innovate in the fertile environment that is the contemporary construction industry: ripe for disruption and modernisation.

 

PARTICIPATE IN THIS RESEARCH

The SkillsRadar tool is freely available to use. Reflecting on your own profile is revealing. Perhaps graph will assist you in explaining your abilities to others, for example incorporated in a CV, or in a discussion on LinkedIn.


The dotBuiltEnvironment SkillsRadar beta site was launched at Digital Construction Week in October 2017. Individuals or organisations wishing to contribute directly to the research project should contact mailto:alexm@dotbuilte.org .