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By Jeff Wing
October 17, 2016
Mobile technology, site-monitoring drones, safety vests that sniff toxins, emergency global team meetings in the Cloud—construction has seized the future with both hands. The transition has not been a smooth one, however. When software began pouring into overeager construction offices, and reluctant builder types were deputized to oversee these new applications, a “too many cooks” scenario added unwelcome confusion to the construction site’s fledgling digital era. A new position was needed in the construction lineup, one that could take all-embracing ownership of the newly mobile jobsite in its entirety.
The Construction Information Manager’s (CIM) arrival has been gradual, in step with the scale of construction’s adoption of technology. Now the position is coming into its own on the construction scene, and its role in project planning more clearly defined. The maturing of the CIM role is happening just in time to capitalize on the digital mojo of a generation literally raised on technology. Yes, we're talking about the Millennials, the 18-35 year-old “digital natives” who are sure to define the next century of building and design. If they choose to!
The CIM position arrives not a minute too soon. The wrangling of multiple software duties had become an issue on the jobsite, each office assigning an already busy worker to oversee each incoming software solution. The almost organic appearance of the Construction Information Manager on jobsites everywhere consolidates these distinct and sometimes warring commanders under one title, and is perfectly timed to consolidate as well the hesitant technological gains of the construction industry itself. As BIM (Building information Modeling), wearable computers, and structure-inspecting drones have come into common usage, the jobsite is transforming into a tech laboratory whose innovations are finding fertile ground. The CIM will be the onsite expert who oversees and manages the various tech facets of modern building on any given project.
Who better to fill this role than the Millennials?
Millennials, a restless demographic with a desire for change, are perfectly situated to sweep in as the next cohort of Construction Information Managers. Edgy tech events like the AEC Hackathon draw excited Millennials in from all over the world to match their tech wits against industry-vexing AEC problems that have proven unfixable. The AEC players who attend these events partner with their Millennial Hacker Army counterparts to reinvent dated construction processes. This is the Millennial thinking; why simply tweak a flawed process when it can be completely dismantled and reinvented? The ongoing success of such events as the AEC Hackathon show that a certain segment of the tech-savvy Millennial generation is specifically interested in the construction challenge. Millennials as a demographic (and they number around 75 million as of 2015) are keen on change, and not gradual change. Self-confident, technically adept, and generationally impatient, Millennials don’t want a job, they want a mission.
On other fronts, though, the news is not that great. Millennials are by and large staying away from construction as a career. The construction industry, long considered technologically retrograde, is not attracting the young replacements the way it once did, and it’s thought that the construction worker “brand’ may be at least partly to blame. Materials science, 3D printing, augmented reality, smart buildings—these vanguard tech movements in the broader culture are providing conduits into construction for young people eager to play a role in the large scale structural changes that lie ahead for designers and builders. But if Millennials are indeed the great tech hope of construction, they’d better hurry.
The Baby Boomers who comprise fully 40% of the construction workforce (and a whopping 56% of construction management) are rotating out of the industry as 65th birthdays sweep through the sector. Construction as an industry is thus having personnel issues; as in, they are losing personnel at an alarming rate. Millennials comprise what would ordinarily be the next wave of workers, but as a demographic they are so far unenthusiastic about signing on to the construction sector's ongoing mission.
The rise of the CIM as a thought-leading construction manager could be just the job to entice a hesitant generation of digital innovators onto the jobsite. We need our CIMs right now. The construction industry is at a crossroads. The rate of evolutionary tech change on the jobsite is almost too fast for its members to accommodate. Construction desperately needs these Millennial “digital natives” to come in and energize and manage the coming shift. The need will only become greater with the passing of time. And the exodus of the Boomers means time is running out.
Technology keeps growing and changing; the Genie is out of the bottle. Those in the construction sector, from the CEO down, who wish to keep construction “the way it has always been” are going to be left behind by changes that now have their own momentum. The centrality of the Construction Information Manager, a role that not too long ago didn’t even exist, is growing and changing, as well. Thought leaders, innovators, and small tech startups are throwing new innovation at the construction mission daily, and the opportunities the industry offers these tech pioneers is proving too much for many of them to pass up.
In 2014 a U.S. trade mission to the Middle East, led by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, discussed and expressed official U.S. interest in a number of construction mega-projects in the pipeline for that region. It is in this mega-project realm that the Millennials’ taste for informed and large scale disruption can find its home, and prove its mettle. You want big challenges, Millennials? Look at the scale of these projects!
The hope is that a flood tide of youthful tech innovators will pour into construction to join minds with their departing seasoned mentors. Together, the generations (modern construction’s retiring founders and their Millennial successors) can “hack” new solutions to longstanding construction problems. When you join decades of deep wisdom to raw, brainy enthusiasm, something terrific is bound to happen.
The industry needs the Millennials to come to the jobsite in greater numbers. Their CIM positions are waiting. When this young technological army signs on, we’ll be able to say hello to construction’s coming New Age of Disruption, and its commander in the field, the Construction Information Manager. The position is open, and it is certain to define the very future of our built world. Millennials, what are you waiting for?
Construction Information Manager
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