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Smart Skills: the value of human capitalApril 2016

Written by Neil Thompson, BEng (Hons) MCIOB MIET, Principal BIM Integrator, Balfour Beatty UK.

Human capital can feel like a clinical view of our capability, but it does illustrate the building blocks of an economically prosperous workforce. It can also provide focus on what a sector needs to sustain to be attractive to potential employees. The CIC BIM2050 Group highlighted the poor image of the construction industry at their launch event in 2012 where Rebecca Hodgson-Jones of Sir Robert McAlpine presented the response of school children when asked what they wanted to do in the future… many outlined construction as a last resort.

The CIC BIM2050 Group meeting

Despite its image problem, there is a clear employment opportunity across the whole sector as construction skills shortages are significantly affecting the delivery of projects across the whole industry where the workforce needs to grow by 20 per cent to deliver on demand (KPMG 2014).

As when an investor looks at his capital stock to invest in to a financial instrument, people should do the same with their human capital stock. For example, I have been accumulating human capital stock by studying part-time, from undergraduate to postgraduate studies I am now in a position to place that capital in where I feel it can yield the biggest benefit. Although, my position is different to those entering higher education today. I have been sponsored by Balfour Beatty to advance my human capital as an investment in both my future and the future of the firm, and haven’t incurred much personal monetary cost.

Prospective undergraduate students have to look at their education differently due to the cost of further education. With fees at nearly £10k per annum students have become customers in their educational process and upon completion will be far more focused on receiving a return on their human capital investment. This presents an opportunity for the construction industry.

The opportunity is for academia and industry to coordinate resources to build the next generation of construction professionals. From psychologists that can aid in building the best teams, data scientists that will design our future ecosystems for decision making and most importantly the design and engineering skills needed to bring construction buyer’s requirements to life. We can no longer view education as a conveyor belt or a simple box ticking exercise because the future of employment will require a higher level of maintained skills.

Skills include robotics, microbiology, building physics, psychology, medical physics, material science, information technology, computer science… this list of skill attainment opportunity is immense!

Much like an investor that has invested in to an automotive firm, they will have to ensure that the managers of the automotive plant will address the depreciation of their assets. Talent will want their human capital depreciation appropriately maintained and will seek much more than a job that pays a regular basic salary.

The CIC BIM2050’s education stream led by Sarah Birchall of BSRIA has been building a partnership with Class of Your Own to encourage industry to support schools in advising and preparing young people for work in our industry, ensuring that young people are choosing to go in to construction for the right reasons. We will be making announcements in 2016 on our progress in educational support and invite you to check out the work of Alison Watson at Class of Your Own, and perhaps consider adopting your local school?

Lastly, I urge managers to be mindful of the depreciation of their team members’ human capital and that it goes much further than a piece of paper. It includes social and health attributes, and most of us (discounting for sleeping) spend most of our time working, that time should be enjoyable or at least rewarding. I believe that is what construction has to offer, a rewarding career.

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