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Workforce of the future - developing the skills to support the National Digital Twin


David Plummer
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Realising the benefits of a National Digital Twin is not just a technical challenge. In order to establish a digital ecosystem to enable the interoperability, integration and linking of data and models across the built and natural environments, we need a workforce with the appropriate skills who  together  can make it happen.  

Working as part of the Mott MacDonald and Lane4 team appointed by the Construction Innovation Hub, we are developing a Skills and Competency FrameworkIn setting out the key roles and skills needed to deliver a National Digital Twin, we recognise the key contributions of people in this endeavour. With this in mind, we are developing a career pathway for digital-twin related roles to address the industry skills gap. Moving beyond the technical ruleset, toolset and mindset of the Information Management Framework (IMF), we will address the skillset requirements to engage a workforce ripe for progression and change.  

This project will offer greater awareness for what roles and skills are needed to develop and implement the IMF at a national and organisational level and, through competency assessment, a view of the key skills and capability gaps to drive early intervention and inform targeted role-based training plans to increase IMF and digital twin adoption. Our framework will in turn help to generate targeted role-based training plans to upskill the wider workforce in key skills and competencies needed to design and operate digital twins 

Without sufficiently enabling and empowering the workforce, the extent to which our industry will benefit from the common ruleset, toolset and mindset promoted through the IMF will be limited. However, there is an opportunity to accelerate progress, reduce the rate of digital twin failure and ensure consistency in approach to enable the National Digital Twin  all while establishing a pathway for digital skills and capability enhancement across the UK. 

Seizing the opportunity to develop a skills and capability framework to support the IMF is essential to future success. Without this understanding, there is a risk organisations may deploy staff lacking sufficient technical skills or knowledge to develop their digital twins, which could lead to erosion of confidence in the IMF and digital twins in general. A skills gap could also risk poorly designed digital twins which do not support interoperability and connectivity or failed digital twin pilots and projects which have direct economic consequences for those organisations.  

As part of our project to develop a skills and capability framework, we ran a series of workshops towards the end of 2020. These included a number of subject matter experts across industry, academia and government who we brought together to discuss potential roles and skills required to support the IMF and National Digital Twin. A longlist of roles and accompanying skill areas were identified which have now been rationalised and prioritised 

One of the key themes that emerged from the workshops was the need for people to understand and be able to communicate the value of data, and the importance of data quality and data literacy. While digital twin development is likely to be driven by information managers, technologists and business leaders, every member of our industry has a role to play in collecting and managing good quality data. Without the right culture in place, both nationally and at an organisational level, supported by fundamental data skills, the scale of benefits offered by a National Digital Twin won’t be fully realised. 

We are now at a stage in the project where we want to hear from you, the DT Hub community. We ask that you kindly let us know your thoughts and opinions on this topic by commenting or submitting a question. And we also have questions we would like to ask you: Do you have any thoughts on the roles, skills and capabilities needed to develop and implement the IMF and National Digital Twin? What key skills are at the forefront of your mind and your organisation's future thinking in this space? What skills gaps are apparent in the industry or your organisation? What are you doing to address these gaps? 

As a community of digital twin owners and information management experts, your opinions, knowledge and experience are vital to paving the way for our digital twin future. In the coming weeks we will be putting the finishing touches to the framework and look forward to being able to share the outputs with you. 

David Plummer, Global Practice Lead for Digital Transformation at Mott MacDonald, is part of the team developing the Skills and Capability Framework to foster an empowered workforce capable of delivering the National Digital Twin.

The Construction Innovation Hub brings together world-class expertise from the BRE, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) to transform the UK construction industry. 

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There's an industry wide issue around career development for information management professionals that needs addressing in my opinion and the same will certainly apply to digital twin professionals in the built environment. So defining a clear(er) career path would certainly help. Can this initiative prevent or mitigate the confusion exemplified by the conflation of BIM Managers and Information Managers that is still prevalent in industry?

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Defining skills needed for digital twin professionals is something that can be addressed from different angles: creation/maintenance and consumption. We have shared a case study about consumption of digital twins data from the end-users perspective (in our case BT's field force) focused on knowledge management: Network Digital Twin – Knowledge Management - Case Studies - DT Hub Community (digitaltwinhub.co.uk)

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Top of my list for skills and competencies would be engagement with the boots on the ground. Unless you have trades and contractor staff actually demanding digital tools (because they directly understand them and trust the advantages) then digital development is just building ivory towers. 

The skills needed to develop and deploy digital twins (whatever that is) aren't at all hard to find. Just don't expect only to find them inside the construction industry.

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On 27/01/2021 at 17:48, HenryFT said:

There's an industry wide issue around career development for information management professionals that needs addressing in my opinion and the same will certainly apply to digital twin professionals in the built environment. So defining a clear(er) career path would certainly help. Can this initiative prevent or mitigate the confusion exemplified by the conflation of BIM Managers and Information Managers that is still prevalent in industry?

Hi Henry, thanks for your comment. Keen to understand more what you mean by conflation of BIM Manager and Information Managers. Could you perhaps give a bit more detail on this, potentially with one or two examples? 

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On 02/02/2021 at 11:11, Anasol Pena-Rios said:

Defining skills needed for digital twin professionals is something that can be addressed from different angles: creation/maintenance and consumption. We have shared a case study about consumption of digital twins data from the end-users perspective (in our case BT's field force) focused on knowledge management: Network Digital Twin – Knowledge Management - Case Studies - DT Hub Community (digitaltwinhub.co.uk)

Thanks Anasol. Really like the focus on learning analytics, using the digital twin to drive workforce upskilling!

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On 02/02/2021 at 15:54, Andy Parnell-Hopkinson said:

Top of my list for skills and competencies would be engagement with the boots on the ground. Unless you have trades and contractor staff actually demanding digital tools (because they directly understand them and trust the advantages) then digital development is just building ivory towers. 

The skills needed to develop and deploy digital twins (whatever that is) aren't at all hard to find. Just don't expect only to find them inside the construction industry.

Thanks Andy, completely agree that we need to look outside of the construction industry to address skill gaps. We have tried to make the skills and roles applicable to different sectors, so using role terminology such as data producer and data consumer rather than specific job titles such as data scientist or technician, which can be quite narrow in focus. What's more important is what the role entails, the key responsibilities and skills needed and the competency requirements. There are definitely fundamental data skills that everyone needs to have. As you say, it shouldn't just be for those in the ivory towers.

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Good question! I consider the development of digital ecosystem or digital infrastructure can learn a lot from the physical infrastucture, including the skillsets and career paths:

Similar to physical infrastucture, we need, CEO/CTO/CFO .. designer, architect, projectment, testing, engineers, services, serurity, human resources, customer care...... to name a few. Add data/digital in front of existing roles can form a good starting point, and see some gaps. 

To address the gap, actions are louder than any words. We should break seemingly unachieve ambitious targets into small and managable steps, fail fast, learn fast, adapt fast. A visual explanation stolen from the digital twin fan club's tweet.

 Image

pic ref: https://twitter.com/thedigitaltwin/status/1337674430240186370?s=20

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