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Global shortage of Digital Construction skills limiting the AEC sector

If infrastructure investment and construction are so critical to the global economy, why don’t we take the associated skills needs seriously?  


I’m going to put it out there – we need to do much better when it comes to investing in skills.  Yes, I know there’s been chat for years about skills gaps – digital skills, specific sector skills, leadership skills and more.  But the fact that we’ve been saying this for years suggests that we haven’t got it right.  

In my opinion, insufficient attention is paid to the demand for skills and its role in supporting employment and economic growth. How skills are used in the workplace and how businesses engage with the skills ecosystem are important factors that shape the real demand for skills.  For skills gaps to close or for us to get ahead of the challenge, I believe there’s a need for policy, delivery and qualifications to be better aligned with business priorities.  

Take the global architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector as an example, an area we at KnowledgePoint have explored in an industry insight report found here: 

It is somewhat of an understatement to say the sector has been challenged globally over the last few years.  As the pandemic took hold, construction sites across the world had to shut down for extended periods. The sector had to cope with the practical implications of “social distancing” and remote ways of working.   


The sector has also been grappling with the advent of automation and new technologies. Businesses and employers across AEC recognise the potential they offer, and how they’re poised to transform the world of work and address the productivity challenges plaguing the sector. Many participants in the sector were already investing heavily in technology pre-pandemic, and just like other industries the pandemic has accelerated the shift to the use of digital tools and technologies. 

The pandemic has served to amplify the fragility of the global construction skills ecosystem.  I believe around eight per cent of the global working population is employed in the construction sector and it contributes circa 13% to global GDP.  I recently heard a stat that something like 80% of contractors face skills shortages.  

Without sufficient investment in human capital, not enough qualified workers will enter the construction industry to keep pace with growth – and the digitisation agenda.  We know from the World Economic Forum that there’s a mismatch between people’s current skills and the skills needed for jobs that will be created from and become more prevalent because of the changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 


So, these facts and stats tell me, the economic potential of the sector is being constrained by a lack of skilled workers, particularly in an increasingly digitised world.  How does the sector move forward, how does it reverse the slide?  How do people and businesses across the sector ensure they’re equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to be productive and participate in this new look global economy? 


Focusing our attention on skills 

Digital skills hold the key.  Not only do we need to raise the base level of digital skills around the world.  But we need to make sure we’re developing and investing in the skills that employers actually need – and for the AEC sector, that means looking at investing in the skills needed to capitalise upon digital construction technologies.  

Workers need access to programs that provide in-demand skills that lead to good jobs and careers. In my experience, the most effective strategies incorporate work-based learning models; programs developed through partnerships between employers and educational institutions that pair classroom learning with on-the-job learning. 


Here are some things we can do: 


1. Strengthen the skills pipeline 

We need to strengthen the new talent pipeline and prepare young people with the skills required for an increasingly digitised and automated sector.  We’ve a responsibility to excite young people about the opportunities associated with AEC earlier in their education journey – and opportunities to experience technologies used in the workplace should be included within learning at secondary school.  Digital skills should become a core competency for students in secondary education, as part of the STEM agenda.   


In addition, employers need to anticipate their future skills requirements, support retraining, and provide access to training now rather than later.This includes supporting employees to pursue professional certificate programmes, which are becoming increasingly accessible and affordable and provide a better alternative to sending employees onto a degree course. Professional courses are industry-specific learning and are vital to closing the skills gap.  


2. Invest in collaborative programs – industry, training providers and academia 

Key digital skills need to be integrated across key curriculums; they should be taught as a foundational skill across various degree programmes.  A more dynamic approach to industry engagement is needed. Educators need to consider partnerships with industry and with expert training partners to help them stay abreast of developments.  


3. Recognise the importance of certification  

Professional training will be necessary to upskill the existing workforce to help close the skills gaps. Certification can allow employees to quickly acquire specialist technical skills to improve productivity and demonstrate competence. Certification ensures a proven minimum baseline of skills has been met. Today’s certification programmes are an affordable alternative to degree programmes, offer more flexibility, and are industry targeted.    


Certification takes on greater importance in a sector such as AEC where roles, workflows, and technologies evolve rapidly. Professionals with certified immersive skills will have countless employment opportunities in the coming years. 

We know instinctively that making an investment in developing skills can reap rewards – at a business or individual level. Increased levels of skills lead to better jobs, and better jobs foster the further development of skills. 

So, what are you waiting for?  


Tomas Karlsson is the head of channel services at KnowledgePoint. This means he oversees the management of outsourced extended enterprise learning programmes, recruiting and supporting global network of training providers on behalf of clients.  These programmes include developing resources to support sector engagement by training network partners. The latest such resource is an AEC sector insight report: “Building back in a post-pandemic world: reconstructing skills” developed as part of KP’s work with Autodesk.   

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