Some alliances or affiliations among construction industry notables admittedly are more for show than substance, to little or no effect. But a newly formed partnership between the Associated Builders and Contractors, Washington DC, and software giant Autodesk Inc., San Rafael CA, launched just a month ago, is an entirely different pairing altogether.
True, ABC’s 21,000 members across the U.S. should benefit from Autodesk’s expertise in building information modeling (BIM), 3D design, visualization, fabrication, unmanned aerial vehicles, mobile and cloud collaborations, and other technologies, concedes ABC President Michael Bellaman.
But the merit shop trade group and Autodesk have a much broader agenda in mind, he says, notably to enhance productivity, safety, and innovation across ABC’s 70 chapters, as well as to recruit and cultivate new sources of labor. Indeed, the partnership coincides with a revival in U.S. construction activity that finds firms of all shapes and sizes beset by labor shortages and forced to hire untrained labor to fill their diminishing ranks. Additionally, many small- to medium-size firms have yet to acquire the training and resources to help workers maximize quality, productivity and safety.
“Our membership really runs the spectrum, from large firms engaged in virtual design and other advanced technologies, to smaller enterprises that are overwhelmed by them,” says Bellaman.
“In terms of safety alone, many smaller firms don’t have the resources to compete,” adds Allison Huffman, Autodesk’s Boston-based Industry Initiative Marketing Manager. The goal, therefore, is to get the necessary tools in their hands “to give them a seat at the table,” she says.
To some extent, the AEC industry continues to confront the same obstacles that have long prevented it from achieving productivity comparable to that of manufacturing and other industries. Lagging still are many initiatives to incorporate new technologies, methods and practices, notes Bellaman.
The partnership between ABC and Autodesk seeks to narrow such disparities. Although the software firm has partnered with other organizations, Huffman says its alliance with ABC is somewhat unprecedented in scope, achieving collaboration and integration at both a national level, as well as among local chapters across the U.S.
Likewise, ABC also has partnered with other firms such as insurer CNA in order to promote safety among its members. It’s all part of an ambitious national program implemented five years ago, aiming to lead the industry in productivity, innovation, and safety. “The alliance with Autodesk is a natural fit, given the resources and technologies at its disposal to promote productivity and innovation,” Bellaman explains.
Specifically, key initiatives between the two include the Ambassador Alliance, a program focused on assisting ABC’s 12 largest and most active chapters. “Contractors can pick up the phone and inquire or seek assistance on topics ranging from BIM to clouds to labor shortages, and Autodesk will respond with the relevant information rather than address the caller from a sales perspective,” Huffman said.
The program will eventually extend to all chapters, pairing local ABC leaders with with Autodesk professionals who will travel to chapter meetings to listen first-hand to contractor desires for industry improvements. The goal then will be to develop tools and educational programs to address those issues.
Autodesk also will engage in educational efforts among ABC’s Student Chapters, a nationwide network of more than 50 colleges and universities that provide construction-related degrees. Involvement will include participation this fall in the annual day-long Construction Management Competition (CMC) for students, part of ABC’s Leadership Week, this year set for Nov. 13-16 in Dallas TX. There, teams of four will work on projects for which they have prepared schedules and safety plans. They then must make adjustments on the fly based on changes to site logistics and other variables.
“It’s a great program, because it allows teams to determine whether implementation of a technology or technique would have promoted greater productivity among their projects,” says Huffman. Adds Bellaman, “It’s synergistic… and it also allows Autodesk to observe how its technology performs under those types of circumstances,” responding to shifting challenges.
Finally, ABC and Autodesk also plan to develop jointly a Productivity and Safety Training Program, an initiative currently under planning, “but beginning to grow legs,” Huffman says.