How Construction Data Skills Are Being Taught in School

All eyes are on the next generation.

Over the last three years, new project data has doubled across the industry. As new technologies create more and more data, many firms are struggling to capture, analyze, and manage it all. This problem can have a significant impact on decision-making based on data. In fact, it’s estimated that poor decisions based on poor data may be impacting costs in the global construction industry at upwards of $1.85 trillion. 

The amount of data we create isn’t going to decrease. The big question then is who will manage all of this data? And how? Data management is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage, finishing projects on time, and staying on budget. 

All eyes are on the next generation. These soon-to-be industry-newcomers are acquiring the skills for data management in educational institutions across the world. Below you’ll find highlights from our recent interviews with educators at Birmingham City University (BCU), University College London (UCL), and Technology University Dublin (TU Dublin). They share how today’s educational institutions are building curriculums to prepare students for data-related roles. 


How are modern students being taught to use data?

The rooms of today’s undergraduate classrooms are primarily filled with students from Generation Z. These students are considered to be “digital natives” because they grew up with access to digital technology. While their innate familiarity with technology is certainly a plus, it doesn’t always mean they’re naturally equipped with the skills needed for data management. 

Dr. Avril Behan, Director & Dean of the College of Engineering & Built Environment at TU Dublin explains, “While many students are assumed to be digital natives because of their comfort with, in particular, social media and mobile devices, most students actually require support and education in relation to digital skills such as data management, security, data transfer and interoperability, and information visualization and communication.” For that reason, Technology University Dublin builds these competencies into its programs. 

Dr. Eleni Papadonikolaki, Associate Professor in Digital Innovation and Management at UCL The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction at UCL also recognizes the need to manage the proliferation of data in the construction sector. “Our Master of Science in  Digital Engineering Management program prepares students to be able to manage this exponential growth in data by focusing on both input and output,” shares Dr. Eleni Papadonikolaki, Programme Director of Master of Science Digital Engineering, “namely focusing on both data capturing and cleaning, but also on data analysis and visualization.”

mark shelbourne birminghamStudents must also understand the rationale behind digital transformation and digitized processes. BCU is facing this task head-on by including information systems management strategies into its curriculum. As Dr. Mark Shelbourn, Head of the Department for Built Environment, notes, “this approach incorporates the three key strands: people, process, and technology-related considerations. How data can support these strands is vital for the sector.”


Have curriculums been adapted to teach modern data skills?

As both the educational and construction sectors become more digitized, universities are leveraging parent programs to prepare students for this advanced digital world. TU Dublin aligns their programs with its strategic plan of being an agile, technology-enabled, modern university that facilitates learners in an advanced digital world. “At TU Dublin, all of our students embark on a digital-first journey that guides them from their first speculative engagement, through program orientation, into learning and assessment, past graduation, and to become part of a digitally-enabled workforce,” elaborates Dr. Avril Behan.

Dr. Mohammad Mayouf, Course Leader for MSc Digital Construction at Birmingham City UniversityBCU provides a selection of modules to students as part of its Master of Science Digital Construction program. One of the modules,  “Fundamentals of Data Analytics,” gives students experience with a wide range of data and instructs them on how to use that data to improve processes across different phases and make better-informed decisions. Dr. Mohammad Mayouf explains the benefit of this program, “This is vital if the industry is to optimize the performance of buildings that are in operation to ensure they are meeting the challenges of a sustainable industry. As a result of this module, students will be able to become more strategic thinkers and visualize different situations and scenarios more holistically.”

Dr. Eleni Papadonikolaki, Associate Professor in Digital Innovation and Management at UCLStudents are also being prepared to see digital technology and data work through as a socio-technical construct. Data management skills are essential as soft skills for leadership. UCL factors these needs into its curriculum. “The future generations in the construction sector need to master social and management (or soft) competencies to lead in the sector. We have a balanced curriculum providing our students with both these hard and soft competencies,” shares Dr. Eleni Papadonikolaki, ARB MAPM SFHEA. 

Is workflow optimization being prioritized? If so, how?

Workflow optimization can help increase process efficiency, task automation, visibility, collaboration, and process adoption rates. These benefits all add up to better project outcomes for construction firms. However, mastering workflow optimization isn’t as simple as mastering different software applications. Instead, BCU incorporates digital underlined processes such as BIM and international standards (e.g., ISO 19650) to equip students with industry best practices. 

Dr. Mohammad Mayouf, Course Leader for MSc Digital Construction at Birmingham City UniversityStudents also learn to take an evaluation-based approach toward using technology in a project. This approach begins at level three in the program’s curriculum. “This is progressively employed within our curriculum from levels 3 to 6,” describes Dr. Mohammad Mayouf. “At level 7, students are expected to take project manager roles so they can oversee the entire workflow and make informed decisions accordingly.”

Dr. Eleni Papadonikolaki, Associate Professor in Digital Innovation and Management at UCLTaking a systematic approach to project management across the entire life cycle of a project provides students with a holistic view of workflow optimization. The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction at UCL takes students from design and planning to handover and beyond to optimize existing workflows. Dr. Eleni Papadonikolaki, ARB MAPM SFHEA, emphasizes, “Revolutionary thinking is paramount for the future of construction as we don’t want to simply digitize existing processes that might be obsolete. Modules such as ‘Engineering the digital thread across life cycle’ and ‘Agile and hybrid project management’ target these exact challenges, turning them into opportunities for change.”

Of course, there are many obstacles that threaten workflow optimization, such as the number of stakeholders involved in typical construction processes and variance in their digital competence. TU Dublin understands that students will likely work with participants operating at all levels of BIM from zero to two or three. To address these challenges, the university focuses on future workflows in its built environment and construction-related programs. Dr. Avril Behan shares, “This includes the use of Autodesk software as part of our strategic partnership, where all stakeholders have sufficient digital capability, both in terms of human and equipment resources, to contribute to, engage in, and exploit fully interoperable, digital, and holistic systems.” The educational institution has also developed specific postgraduate programs in Building Information Modelling & Management and in Digital Construction Analytics / Engineering Analytics for working professionals and recent graduates. 


Making the grade: How to master data and analytics

From data management and security to workflow optimization, the newest generation is learning how to succeed in today’s digital construction environment thanks to robust, carefully designed curriculums. That said, enhancing data skills is not exclusive to the up-n-comers, nor should you wait for new employees to understand the impact of data on your own projects. If you’re interested in upskilling your current workforce, we recommend reading 6 Leaders in Construction Share Priority Data Skills to Plan for Now.

Knowing how to harness data is critical to informing effective decisions, reducing risk, and increasing profit. In our report, Harnessing the Data Advantage in Construction, we partnered with FMI to survey over 3,900 construction professionals on their data strategies and best practices. Get the report now to discover key insights into mastering data and analytics.


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