When I entered the construction industry in 2001, there was a clear-cut career path for me. While the titles and steps may have varied across companies, the progression for someone in project management was nearly an industry standard. The introduction of building information modeling (BIM) created new roles – virtual design and construction (VDC) coordinator and 3D modeler – that changed this simple progression. All of a sudden there was a parallel path in the VDC department of construction companies. This parallel path made an interesting challenge: What is the career progression of a VDC professional and how can they continue to be challenged if they remain specialized?
As we've noted before, knowledge of computers, tradecraft skills, and project experience creates a unique situation for those of us who are VDC professionals: There's a perpetual shortage of BIM people, the work is important, and it's often a specialized role. All of these factors mean that those who start to specialize in VDC don't often reintegrate into typical project management roles. How do you encourage career growth for those in VDC departments? Here are three suggestions:
1. Clearly Define Five-Year Plans
For construction professionals who do not specialize in VDC, there’s a very clearly defined career progression. However, executives must continually define the five-year plan for their VDC staff members. There is no given assumption.
2. Consider Organizational Changes
Many companies have made significant structural changes to their VDC departments to encourage VDC career progression. Some firms minimize the size of their VDC departments and make VDC a skill that all project management staff must learn (this is becoming more common with general contractors but is challenging with subcontractors, where there are more modeling staff members). Other firms have a defined career progression in VDC all the way up to the vice president level.
3. Create Opportunities for Learning
VDC professionals are highly specialized staff members and opportunities for education, such as Autodesk University and the global RTC events, are critical to continued learning and networking, and a simple break from the continuous stream of a VDC workload.
Keeping VDC professionals engaged and making sure their roles are clearly defined helps to alleviate stagnancy and encourages growth. And happy employees make productive employees.