I am 52 years old. And not a particularly young 52 either. My hair is grey, and my body shows the age. I forget things, can’t read without glasses and am not particularly agile.
And I work in the AEC industry. Have been for over 30 years. And all this time, I have been fighting a non-winnable war against its global cronyism, corruption and archaic ways of doing things (even of its mundane tasks).
I have done both theoretical and practical research over 3 decades, across all phases of design and construction and spanning almost all continents.
I written many, many words in my blog and upset at one point or other almost every major player (design or construction firm, software developer and HR provider) that there is.
I made enemies and secret admirers. I get open treats and couched support messages.
Yet, what still takes me by surprise, is the action or lack of, of the young people, entering the industry and functioning within it.
While I accept, that it takes a long time to understand the carefully hidden corruptive practices of the industry, the backwards ways of its information management must be obvious to anyone that had spent even the shortest time within it, let alone the Millennials, that have grown up ‘digital’.
“The most popular definition says, that Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.” (Wikipedia)
So, they are now in their late thirties at most and late teens at least.
Without going into complex statistics, as a rule of thumb, if the industry employs people from 18 to 65 years of age, there should be at least 40% of this workforce that falls age-wise into the Millennial category.
Sure, university training will mess up the numbers (though the trade part is often entered at an even earlier age than 18) – and at the other end, some hang around for longer than 65 – but even if this percentage is a conservative 25%, we are still talking about large numbers.
Having 3 daughters within this age-category, I also know from a personal experience that they vary greatly in how they handle digital information, but it is common for all, that by default, they take their information ‘digitally’.
The arty types will, of course venture into pretty diaries, hand written journals and within the architectural corner of the industry hand-sketching, physical model making etc.
But by and large, when it comes to ‘fundamental’ information creation, management and exchange, they will use their phones – pad – laptops – watches….etc.
I intended this post to be for them, so let’s switch to ‘you’.
What interest me, is why do you, when you enter the AEC industry fall so easily and without much noise into its archaic ways of information management?
Why are you prepared to use ‘word’ and ‘excel’ when you likely have ideas, what tools could be developed to do the same tasks more effectively and likely more enjoyably?
Why do you accept that the industry splits into those that create the technical information (draftsmen, modellers) and those that use it (everyone else) and don’t push for more hands-on, engineers and managers? Why do you accept that having a bit of access to Grasshopper or Rhino is the pinnacle of coolness on offer? Why do you ever settle for AutoCAD?
Let me make some guesses, why that is.
Firstly, I know you get hammered with the ‘lack of technical knowledge’ mallet.
It is likely true, that you come into the industry with a significant deficiency in comprehending how buildings come together, but that is not a ‘fault’, it is just the way several things collide to work against you.
(i.e. the education system, the unwillingness of knowledge sharing by those in the known, the relative uniqueness of buildings, the myriad of potential ‘problems’ you face etc. etc.).
Secondly, you get quickly put into a position to pick between furthering your ‘real career’ or carry a label of a CAD-guy (or even BIM-guy) for the rest of your life.
And, if you elect to climb the ‘real’ ladder, you will likely learn better not to question the tools and processes cemented within the system.
On the other hand, if you go the CAD-BIM direction, you may find some satisfaction in being amongst similarly ‘techy’ ones, but you soon find out that you might as well kiss goodbye to engineering or other serious management progression as well as picking your own tools (you can chose anything, as long as it is Autodesk).
If I were you, I’d be really peeved off, having these choices on offer (and only these choices).
But having selected and arrogantly pursued the ‘have your cake and eat it’ mantra over 3 decades at a price too high and bitter for most people to accept, I understand why you do it.
Yet, I can’t help thinking that, the power is there in (and with) you, all of you individually and as a group, just somehow you are not quite seeing it.
So, let me put some bugs into your heads.
The generation that owns this industry has no right to ‘own’ it.
It has no right to blackmail you into submission based on your ‘lack of technical knowledge’. Building buildings is after all, not a rocket science, everything that there is to it, can be collected, recorded, and made available to others.
Create a knowledge database and share it.
Challenge the idea that being a hands-on manager (i.e. creating your own models to supervise construction or project manage others) is something to be ashamed of.
Use the tools on hand and develop new ones to give you an advantage and expose the bluffers.
You tend to be informed customers when it comes to your food and clothing, so don’t just accept blankly that your buildings are documented ‘somewhere else’ (and this is not a blank statement against outsourcing).
I don’t necessarily advocate that you individually risk your employments by being revolutionary and non-conforming, but if organised in a group, you can be a huge force in smartening up the industry, cleaning it up of its dead weight and free-loaders and making it into an industry that the smartest will want to join and be proud to be part of.
So, rather than making a big ruckus, though haven knows, the industry needs it, get yourselves organized and revolutionize by stealth!
Happy New Year AEC Millennials!