A new academic forum aims to establish standards for BIM-related curricula for Australian universities in a bid to bridge the gap between graduate BIM education and evolving industry requirements.
The Royal Adelaide Hospital, Perth Stadium, Sydney Metro Northwest, the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal – many major infrastructure projects around Australia have been delivered using building information modelling (BIM) workflows.
BIM – the digital modelling of buildings or infrastructure – is essentially a shared knowledge resource for information about an asset, which creates a reliable basis for decisions during its complete lifecycle, from design to construction to operations and maintenance.
BIM processes are increasingly becoming commonplace in both horizontal and linear infrastructure projects, with major rail transport projects such as London Crossrail exemplifying the time- and cost-saving possibilities available to designers, constructors and operators.
While the use of BIM workflows for infrastructure projects is evident internationally and on major projects in Australia, increasing uptake of these digital methodologies presents the construction sector with many challenges. One such obstacle is the rising market demand for sufficiently skilled professionals to keep up with the number of projects adapting and adopting BIM.
Last year, the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council, together with the Australian Construction Industry Forum, released its BIM Knowledge and Skills Framework, which has helped facilitate BIM benchmarks around the country. A new academic forum aims to build on these frameworks already in place to help bridge any skills gaps between the tertiary education level and industry demand for BIM-skilled professionals.
In September, Dr. M. Reza Hosseini from Deakin University and Prof. Josua Pienaar from CQUniversity attended the 42nd Australasian Universities and Building Education Association Conference (AUBEA 2018) in Singapore to announce the formation of a new academic forum that aims to advance the consistency and quality of BIM curricula in Australian universities.
“We’ve been working on this for quite some time and, at AUBEA 2018, we took the opportunity to start talking to Australian universities, of which there were about 30 represented at the event,” Prof. Pienaar says. “For us, it was a soft launch.”
The academic forum – the Australian BIM Academic Forum (ABAF) – stems from an idea developed by Dr. Hosseini and submitted as an application to the Australasian BIM Advisory Board, which acknowledged the need to an academic forum to support BIM in Australia.
The aim of the ABAF is to bring together BIM educators to develop and promote the training, education, learning and research aspects of BIM and address the need for industry collaboration and consensus on BIM across Australian universities.
Prof. Pienaar says similar bodies exist in the UK and US and they have successfully aided in the promotion of BIM throughout the tertiary level, but he says Australia still has a long way to go before reaching the same standard.
“We’ve seen a lot of examples and learnings coming from the UK and the US, which means we’re not having to reinvent the wheel,” he says. However, he adds that the aim is to move universities away from working individually and toward sharing information and collaborating on the development of BIM in Australia.
“One of the main questions that pops up for universities is: ‘what about intellectual property?’ But this forum is wider than that – it’s not just one single university. Rather, it’s an academic forum. It’s open access, not exclusive and not about membership – it’s about sharing resources and ideas.”
The ABAF has a few key aims such as exploring the challenges of BIM education around the country, creating standards for BIM-related curricula and creating and standardising baseline performance measurements for BIM education accreditation at Australian universities.
“The thing is that many universities are already incorporating BIM into their curricula,” Dr. Hosseini asserts. “The problem is that they do it in their own way and we have so many resources we could converge into one.
“We already have many innovative people and companies in the industry active in BIM and we need a productive outcome for them so they have the best talent to meet their requirements.”
Are the graduates of these universities adept enough at BIM to meet the requirements of the industry? The forum aims to ensure graduates have these skills by not just establishing education standards, but also engaging directly with the industry.
“The forum is definitely not limited to the higher education sector as there are some really big opportunities, especially for the industry bodies and employers. They are the ones at the forefront of the opportunities BIM presents for the industry,” Prof. Pienaar asserts.
The working group will include not just universities, but industry representatives too – those that know what is required of construction and engineering professionals to deliver the growing number of BIM projects in Australia.
“These standards that we’re trying to establish need explaining, especially as they have an impact on what these construction practitioners do,” Prof. Pienaar explains.
“We are sharing this message with as many areas as we can to increase awareness and utilisation. Practitioners and industry professionals can be reluctant to engage with new standards because it is another code or bureaucratic rule to adhere to and they really want to be as free as possible during project delivery.”
He says a question that arises from various parties in establishing these new standards is: ‘what are we getting out of this?’. “And this is a common question, which we will approach by working with construction sector players to provide something productive in the next 12 months. This is going to be a really progressive and functional outcomes-driven forum. We’re not just sitting around a table drinking coffee and cognac.”
By keeping the ABAF open and providing academics and universities the opportunity to engage with peers, but also industry representatives through a working group, the ABAF plans to produce tangible outcomes by mid-2019.
“We’re starting the engagement where stakeholders can define what they envisage from the forum, put their cards on the table ,so to speak, and, of course, what they want from it. Then, we can work together as a group and produce some ideas for 2019,” Prof. Pienaar says.
Dr. Hosseini says when it comes to the standards and the working group, the ABAF’s expectations are high – especially given where Australia is positioned when it comes to BIM uptake.
“BIM is an emerging area and there is a perception that we are dragging behind BIM world leaders. It’s a growing opportunity for everyone, including graduates, and we really want to focus on delivering practical outcomes for all. Besides, with new technologies and processes like the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 in the horizon, we must try to reach full maturity with BIM before moving to embrace these things.”