Construction has been one of the industries hardest hit in the global recession, and we’re still suffering from a boom and bust mentality. One of the challenges for the sector has traditionally been the “baby boomer” generation – those born between 1946 and 1964.
They’re sceptical of new technology and thinking that the Millennials – or Generation Y (those born between the early 1980s and 2000s) – can offer.
Space Group has worked in construction for six decades and has been adopting technology from as far back as the 1970s, when we invested a six-figure sum in a GIS system. It was very early on and we couldn’t deliver the return on investment. So a fear of technology ensued for many years. But eventually in the 1980s, albeit rather later than most, we started to adopt CAD.
Our big breakthrough came when a technology called REVIT emerged from the USA, and the process of creating a building began to move into 3D. During the public sector spending boom we backed the youngest members of our team, who had the fresh minds to embrace new technology and thinking. Moving into recession, we held our nerve, continued to invest in our vision and supported our emerging talent.
It is those millennial employees who have made our business pivot and head in an exciting direction with building information modelling (BIM) - a technology now adopted and promoted by our Generation Y.
At a recent industry conference my keynote talk challenged the baby boomers in the room on whether or not they understood how Generation Y thinks. I admit I once didn’t. I found people born in the ‘90s thought differently from me; they do not accept what we have always done – they expect instant results and have a totally different view of work.
Generation Y do think differently, and I have had to spend time understanding what is important to them, and what drives them. I soon began to recognise they were connected in a way we needed to be – to technology, trends and influencers around the world. They ingest information like oxygen, so their decision-making is quick, yet just as informed – if not more.
Yes, they need direction. But in my opinion Millennials don’t need to be controlled. We should let them fly; give them problems and observe how they solve them, seek their ideas and trust their judgment.
So what about Generation Z? Those born from 2005 who are coming through to the workforce soon – are we ready for yet another new breed?
Last year we set up our own training school called Campus, a first of its kind partnership between one of the businesses in Space Group – BIM.Technologies – and Northern Construction Training. It provides free 12-week BIM courses to young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).
It’s an exciting time to be part of the changing construction landscape as the Government’s 2016 BIM mandate approaches and technology continues to advance. Through CAMPUS we are nurturing talented young people who are ready to integrate into a workplace and add instant value to employers.
Change is good: it keeps you nimble and moves the business forward. At Space Group we’ve embraced challenges to differentiate ourselves. This hasn’t always been easy. But we’ve worked to ensure everyone understood our direction of travel, to embrace our changes and new technology.
Tensions between the generations need to be tackled head on. Construction is an antiquated industry, but Generation Y is starting to change that. We’re seeing signs of revolution – the sector’s digitising and there’s no going back. They’ll no longer accept waste and inefficiencies of the past. They’ve the technology and culture to make a difference.
As I See It, business people need to rethink the power of Generation Y and Generation Z in their business strategy. Generation Z – the emerging generation – is currently made up of under 10s, so it’s difficult to know what will drive them. However, it’s something businesses need to consider. Do they have the power to make the decisions of the future and, most importantly, are we listening?
Rob Charlton is chief executive of Space Group. www.spacegroup.co.uk