Increasingly skilled and valued professions
“Construction professions now require a higher level of qualification. I am thinking particularly of digital practices, the use of BIM, etc., as well as of questions related to energy efficiency and performance measurement,” reports a French recruiter in the sector in a study published by the Observatoire des Métiers du BTP (Civil Engineering and Construction Trades Observatory)*.
According to her, this increase in skills has some very positive sides: “Today we have craftsmen who are looking for meaning. Who take pleasure in their work and do it because they enjoy it.”
And what better way could there be to find meaning than to fully embrace the environmental challenge? The quest for a zero-carbon construction industry is no longer only relevant to major economic players like Saint-Gobain – craftsmen are also tackling the issue at their own level.
In any case, do they really have a choice? The climate challenge is essential both for their private customers and distributors of materials. It is now impossible to run a worksite without paying close attention to these issues, including the choice of materials, techniques, waste management, reuse, optimization, etc. Craftsmen must become both specifiers and users of sustainable construction solutions.
Build fast, build better on more efficient worksites
Except that for today’s craftsmen sustainable construction often involves completely new construction methods…
A fast construction method that allows a real time-saving thanks to prefabricated modules, plasterboard delivered pre-cut to the right size and augmented reality tools that make it possible to preview a paint finish or the positioning of a partition in a particular location...
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These improvements can still present a challenge, since they are very different from traditional approaches, the ones craftsmen know and have always used.
What do you do with a prefabricated module already installed in position? How can you understand and embrace the characteristics – and advantages! – of lighter construction? And do you really work in the same way on a timber-frame house as you would on a building made entirely from cinder blocks?
The arrival of digital
In fact, the key to more efficient worksites, tailored to new construction approaches, lies partly in digital tools. Tools that are increasingly being adopted and which could well profoundly transform how small trades operate.
Because while the traditional stereotype of a craftsman has long been that of an expert, very strong in his specialist area but sometimes rather closed to the changing world around him, that is no longer the case. Or almost. All over the world, craftsmen are now as digitalized as the rest of society.
And a good thing too, since more and more worksites are now reliant on digital tools. In the future, 3D printers could become commonplace on worksites, allowing parts to be manufactured directly on site. Some craftsmen (particularly electricians) are already using drones to scout locations, preview difficult-to-access areas and gather valuable data.
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Use of these types of digital tools is likely to become increasingly necessary for craftsmen – even the smallest. But to bring construction professionals fully into the digital age, the technological tools available to them will need to be entirely suited to their needs.
The BIM challenge
Take the example of BIM. Digital construction offers an extraordinary opportunity to reduce waste – of time, money and materials – and reduce the impact on our planet. That is no doubt why this digital, pooled approach to construction is gradually being adopted by most (large) construction projects. For “small craftsmen”, however, BIM remains a challenge.
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A powerful and surprising tool, but one which remains difficult for many craftsmen to master, since they see it as too expensive and overly complicated. And yet, those who take the plunge appear to be convinced. “The benefits of BIM include time saved, better organization, access to files wherever you are, information that is always up to date and the ability to produce 3D plans,” explained Gilles Mailet, the boss of a small electrical firm based near Paris, in an interview with Artisans magazine. “In any case, it’s something we are going to need to learn to master, because it will end up being forced on us for insurance, warranties, etc.,” added another French craftsman, Loïc Vazquez, to industry news website Le Monde des Artisans.
An urgent need to adopt BIM has been identified by governments all around the world. Austria and Norway, for example, were the first European countries to require the use of BIM for all public projects. France has launched an ambitious “BIM 2022” plan, particularly aimed at craftsmen and small businesses in the construction sector. The UK government has encouraged the use of BIM since 2016, so much so that 62% of small businesses are now actively using it. In Singapore, Asia, there has no longer been any option since 2015 as BIM is mandatory for all projects over 5,000m2***.
So how can we steer all artisans towards BIM? With free, collaborative and readily interactive software and, above all, a change of mindset, with a more widespread culture of collaboration and data-sharing. This presents a real challenge – and not a technological one this time!
Because this change of mindset requires communication between peers and training.
Continuous discussion and training
Because more and more dedicated forums and connected spaces are facilitating knowledge-sharing between professionals, while online and mobile management tools are simplifying day-to-day management of their activity.
Moocs, along with virtual reality simulation tools, are enabling training in new techniques, to learn how to use innovative materials and understand regulatory points. These courses are often offered by material distributors, with whom contractors say they want a long-term collaboration of trust.
This appetite for lifelong training is no longer very surprising. Indeed, according to a study conducted by the insurer Axa in the UK***, half of young professionals in the construction trades have a university education and 80% are high-school graduates (i.e. obtained A-levels or an equivalent qualification in the UK). And the number of those who have completed an apprenticeship has also almost doubled.
The construction professionals of the future are clearly already here. These are the construction professionals of 2022, who dare to reinvent themselves, adapt to other techniques, other materials and other ways of doing things and even other ways of managing their worksites. These craftsmen, who are curious, open, highly expert and continuously trained, embrace exchange in order to keep up to date, actively participating in the communal effort to create a more efficient, more virtuous construction sector.
* Quantitative study on the profiles of new recruits – Observatoire des Métiers du BTP
** United BIM
*** 'New tradesmen' are the future of UK construction
Credits photos : wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock et procédé Norper Joseph Melin/SGDB France