Next Generation of Builders Flex Their Skills at the First Virtual Digital Construction Challenge UK 

Virtual Digital Construction Challenge UK 

 Educators worldwide are working hard to shift to remote learning environments while preparing students for current and emerging industry technologies. When delivering courses virtually, it becomes even more important to keep students engaged. Educational institutions traditionally participate in competitions such as the WorldSkills UK BIM Competition to enable students to put their skills to the test and build their CVs and extracurriculars. However, due to COVID-19, many onsite competitions were postponed or cancelled. To support educational institutions and students, and in collaboration with New College Lanarkshire, Autodesk recently launched the first Virtual Autodesk Digital Construction Challenge where over 25 students from 10 leading institutions in the United Kingdom put their skills to the test from their homes.   

In this 4-hour live competition, students completed over 30 tasks using Autodesk Revit, Navisworks, and BIM 360. The students produced, coordinated, and managed a BIM Model following ISO 19650 processes. All tasks were developed together with industry professionals such as Baker Hicks, and reflected a real-world working environment aligned with the WorldSkills UK BIM Competencies Framework.  

Celebrating the achievements of the students, Autodesk hosted a Virtual Award Ceremony inviting industry professionals from Baker Hicks, WorldSkills UK, and Prodigy Learning to share the importance of an industry aligned competition.  

Students and Educators went above and beyond in this competition and showcased what’s possible despite the current situation. We would like to congratulate the winners of the competition: 1st  Place – Pawel Kudoz (New College Lanarkshire), 2nd  Place – Brouk Anteneh (Oxford Brookes University), and 3rd Place Desislava Veleva (Middlesex University). We would also like to thank all students who have participated in this challenge.  

The UK Virtual Digital Construction Challenge mirrored many of the projects and activities these students will undertake in the future during their construction careers. We had the opportunity to speak with participating students and educators to find out how they’re preparing for a digital future in construction. Here’s what we learned.  

Competition Builds Time-Management and Preparation Skills  

It’s often said, you don’t know what you don’t know; recent graduates face a world of unknowns when embarking on the working world. While there’s no substitute for on-the-job experience, students can equip themselves to succeed by participating in industry scenarios and activities.   

Pawel Kudoz, a student at New College Lanarkshire had the chance to do just that during the UK Virtual Digital Construction Challenge. “What I enjoyed the most was actually testing my skills. You always know what you know, but when you put it to the test, you can start to realize where the gaps are, where you can improve, and where time should be spent to develop your skills and understand more.”   

When we asked Viorel Mhailuc a Student from Middlesex University about how the competition prepared him for the digital future of construction, he said: “When you’re under the pressure of a timeline and must deliver things on time, it’s very similar to the industry. You’re always going to have deadlines that you have to deliver on. You establish that work ethic, and knowing that a competition is coming, you have to self-advocate and prepare yourself in advance. I would say that the preparation and competing and getting the results is very rewarding. It’s the same in work. When you do a good job, you’re going to be rewarded later.” 

Geoff Olner, senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, appreciated the opportunity for students to showcase what they’ve learned, “It’s very difficult to get students to blow their own trumpet, et cetera, as to what sort of skills they have got. Benchmarking exercises like the Competition, are an excellent vehicle giving the students feedback of where they stand amongst their peers for when they’re putting CVs together.” 

Getting Insights Firsthand on How Students Solve Industry Aligned Problems  

In today’s largely remote learning environment, professors and students often miss the chance to explore problems together at a close level. The UK Virtual Construction Challenge was hosted on Zoom where students shared their webcams and screens. This allowed educators to proctor but also watch students as they encountered and worked through problems independently using the skills acquired during their courses.   

For James Charlton, a senior lecturer at Northumbria University, seeing students solve problems in Revit and BIM 360 was particularly beneficial, “I enjoyed seeing students work in Revit and BIM 360 firsthand. It’s always good to see the different approaches students take. By being able to see the student’s screen, you can look at how they work and potentially tackle a problem. You could see a student potentially hitting a wall and getting a little bit stuck. Then, from just navigating within the tools and problem solving, you could see the learning come through for how they may resolve that problem, move on.”  

Michael McGuire, lecturer, New College Lanarkshire, the competition provided insights into the level of mastery attained by students and their creative methods for problem-solving, “It’s really important to benchmark what knowledge and skills we’re teaching students and how it relates directly to industry. By having the industry design and judge the competition, we’re able to get feedback in terms of where students have performed well that may directly relate to a task that they would perform in the industry. I have also really enjoyed watching everybody’s screen. There were 30, 40 different ways to tackle a task and 20 of them I hadn’t even thought of.”  

Rethinking Traditional Ways of Teaching 

Remote teaching has disrupted the way how software is taught at universities. Many educators leveraged a flipped classroom approach where students were watching prerecorded sessions and practiced exercises at their own pace to later discuss the learning outcomes in group work. For the Digital Construction Challenge, New College Lanarkshire has developed a set of Video Tutorials to enable to Students to practice from the comfort of their home.  

Brouk Anteneh student at Oxford Brookes University mentioned when we asked him how the Materials helped him to prepare for the Competition. “BIM was new to me until recently, I started last year my post grad Studies where I learned Revit, Navisworks, and BIM 360 in our courses. Using the videos and datasets provided me with a great opportunity to work the tasks and enhance my skills at my own pace. I love that the competition prepares you work efficiently and accurate.”   

Dr. Henry Abanda, an Associate Professor in Construction IT at Oxford Brookes University explains, “Competitions like this are really important to start or support the shift of the thinking process between conventional learning and teaching methods where you have to bring in someone and teach them how to do things to let them be a decision-maker. Ultimately, you’re teaching students to contribute towards this whole change, the evolution in digital construction.” 

Digital Construction increases Diversity and Equality in the Construction Industry 

The Construction Industry is still perceived as a muddy Boots industry, through digitization over the last decade many new digital job roles have and will be created. Construction companies embrace an entrepreneurial spirit and are eager to hire students equipped with digital skills such as BIM modelling, coordination, and data management. Competitions like the Digital Construction Challenge enable students to showcase their skills not dependent on gender, ethnicity, or backgrounds, and help promote the opportunities within the industry.  

Dr. Noha Saleeb, Associate Professor in creative technologies and construction, Design Engineering Department at Middlesex University said, “This competition has encouraged gender equality in an industry which is viewed as more male dominated. Not only was this in terms of participation but also in winning the competition. As such this provides incentive for students and opens opportunities from all backgrounds to participate to enhance and showcase their skillsets knowing there will be equality and fairness in attention, treatment and assessment. Additionally, as a result of this exposure, this opens opportunities for more visibility by employers in industry without discrimination between genders or backgrounds.” 

Desislava Veleva, a student from Middlesex University stated,“The preparation for the competition taught me many new skills. It was given to all the competitors, no matter how much experience they have or their gender. The Digital Construction Challenge showed that everybody can be equal in a competition which is in the AEC industry. Winning third place in DCC helped me boost my CV by showing my skills with the different software’s and my knowledge regarding Building Information Modelling. Also, I hope I can show that women can also be successful in this industry and encourage more girls to follow a career in it.” 

Fast Track the Implementation of Digital Construction Workflows in Education  

COVID-19 has accelerated the use of innovative technologies in the construction and engineering industries as well as in the educational institutions that teach the emerging workforce.   

Dr. Mohammad Mayouf, Senior Lecturer in Digital built environment, Birmingham City, School of Engineering and the Built Environment, believes that events like the UK Virtual Digital Construction Challenge will encourage educators to leverage digital workflows in teaching, “We see a great shift towards technology-based processes in the industry over the last few months, particularly in the built environment. We recently piloted Autodesk Construction Cloud in our curricula and saw immediate benefits for our students as well as for us as educators marking their projects. This competition reflected what leading AEC companies are doing today, where across the country multiple people are working on live projects from their homes. Using digital construction tools and workflows in the curricula provides students a unique opportunity to be workplace ready and help to digitize the industry.” 

Dr. Noha Saleeb, Associate Professor in creative technologies and construction, Design Engineering Department at Middlesex University, found benefit in the holistic approach the competition took: “One of the things that I liked about this competition is how everything is integrated. The tasks are all related to each other. They emulate a work environment in putting in the documents, the models, the data management systems all together in one, not just working on different software. It’s a holistic approach to a management system and a great continuation of what the Students are learning at University.”   

Competition Reflects a Fast-Paced Work Environment 

The tasks during the competition certainly reflected future activities students will face, and the environment also reflected an on-site building experience.  

Michael Farragher, professor at Liverpool John Moores University saw this aspect as a key benefit from the event as he says, “Doing a competition is almost like a real building on-site experience really. Things happen when you’re under that pressure, and everything doesn’t always go smoothly. The nature of the activity was to test how you deal with that pressure when something goes wrong. Students are now aware of what their competitors will be like in the market while they’re doing these competitions. That is a good spur on to reach the top of the tree.”  

William Hall, a student at London Southbank University, found the same benefit in the competition, saying, “I enjoyed doing the modelling and seeing if I could do it in a set period without any help. Being good with tasks and having to deal with them within a time period is key to work.”  

Equipping the Next Generation of Builders with the Tools to Succeed  

The acceleration of technology in the construction industry shows no sign of slowing down. The new workforce must be prepared to apply the skills and best practices they’ve learned to emerging tools. As educators model thought processes and problem-solving approaches, they help students build the foundation needed to succeed in the next phase of the construction industry.  

Philipp Mueller

Autodesk Education Experiences- Program Mgr. AEC EMEA

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