Transitions in construction

Transitions in construction

Whatever you thought, think again.


What skills do you need?

IndustryPosted by Dan Engström Sat, December 03, 2011 19:35:20
This blog is about the ongoing transition of construction from project-based logic to product-based logic. What do you need to bring this transition about at your company? In this guest post, Helena Johnsson, associate professor at Luleå University of Technology as well as Design and construction manager at Lindbäcks Bygg writes about the people we need. Educate or recruit? Probably both. But before we deal with the frustration of having old-school skills, what should we teach our colleagues? What skills do we need in our staff? Helena summarises theses skills below.
Brasilian theatre. Hopefully the frustration we deal with in construction is a tad less temperamental.

Helena writes:

Skills and competencies needed to establish a transition in construction

If you want change, it starts with the people. If construction is to be changed, it is the people in the construction trade that needs to change first. Now, that is not very easy to do, so another way of going about it is to introduce new people (and thereby new thinking) into construction. These people bring another set of skills and another kind of knowledge into construction. What would these skills be if we would like to accomplish the transition that this blog presents?

First and foremost, a holistic view is needed. This means looking upon work not as a series of different tasks, but having the knowledge 'how the machine works' i.e. what is the point of what we are doing? It also incorporates the ability to take a step back and asking 'can this be done in a better way?' recurrently. If the answer is yes, one also has to be prepared to gather the resources needed to change. By some this is identified as a cost without benefits. In a short term perspective that conclusion is correct, but not in the long-term, since the improved method would lead to an improvement the next time the task is performed.

Secondly, endurance is vital. This is the kind of endurance that means long-term patience and a belief in continuous improvements. Now if you apply continuous improvements without a holistic view, you will sub-optimise, which leads eventually to poor overall performance. As the driving force for the holistic view, the customer or client is the key. Customer focus in construction is obscured since we operate in an environment where the client represents the end-users. Citing Will Hughes, Professor of Construction Management at University of Reading: "the builder that understands and acts upon the end-users needs will be very, very wealthy". So, endurance and customer focus are crucial skills.

Thirdly, the ability to differentiate between daily work and new solutions is a must. Daily work can be optimised and standardised, requiring as little effort as possible for the organisation to conduct. Product development must be separate from daily work, due to its exploratory nature and the strain it causes on an organisation that was not set up for it. This is easy to say, but construction is really having a difficult time with this one. Since production is project-based, it is easy to make product development within a project. The problem is that the findings seldom migrate from the project, they remain coupled to the project even after completion. This is devastating for continuous improvement, which incorporates a great deal of learning for individuals and organisation.

Helena Johnsson

My personal reflection (yes, this is Dan again) on this great post is that the task for academia is obvious to the eye but hard to pull off. These work methods need to be researched when adopted into construction, and the mechanisms need to be understood and translated into skills which then need to be taught to students. This wil be hard because we have organised our departments as interdisciplinary silos. Perhaps the curriculum for architectural engieering, which is more cross-disciplinary, has things to offer. We shall no doubt return to this subject many times over. What do you think?

Image, Flickr Creative Commons: Staff, La Intrusa, Teatro Vila Velha (Salvador-BA), Brasil, by Vivadança Festival Internacional Ano 5