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Toledo, OH
SSOE Visit: The Era Of The Design Technologist

By TJ McCueThursday, September 11, 2014
3D, Architecture, BIM

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Mark LaBell, Technical Leader for Design Technology Department for SSOE Group, in Toledo, Ohio and his team created a great meetup for us back in July where the community and the media joined in as well. We spent the day talking about the future of technology, and of hiring talent for the ever-changing world of the EPCM (engineering, procurement, and construction management) firm. EPCM contractors coordinate all design; procurement and construction work and ensures that the whole project is completed as required and on time.

Technology, of course, is dramatically changing many industries; laser scanning is one tool that Mark sees as a game changer for design and construction. He tells me that it is simplifying how we'll do things, how it will change our deliverables -- we won't hand off pieces of paper. We'll hand off digital files, or an iPad with physical locations tagged in the file so you can wander a site and stay connected to the original drawings, so to speak. Mark sees tech changing the work, but tech is also changing our roles and involvement with work.

On a day to day basis, you might call Mark a CAD Manager or VDC Manager (Virtual Design and Construction), but Mark’s role is that of “jack-of-all-trades.” In his role, he might handle a wide range of processes and products on any given day, such as BIM (Building Information Modeling.) You have to know a little bit about each software suite. It is one of the best parts of the jobs, he says – “we get to test software, to steer how a product works in the field. It is great to be that involved in it. It is a new world of 3D – especially in terms of hiring talent.”

How do you hire in this new paradigm? You have lots of different software packages from Revit to Civil 3D to Navisworks, or Plant 3D, or just AutoCAD, and unknown tools that will be developed, so how do you find one person expert in all of those? You don’t, claims Mark. How do you find the person who can use Revit on one job, then a fabrication tool or package on another job (meaning “project” in this context). So in today’s new world of 3D, you’re not hiring someone for one package or suite – in your job description, you are asking things like:

  • Are you a technical person?
  • Do you learn fast?
  • Do you learn on the fly?
  • Do you understand 3D technologies?

If yes, please apply!

All organizations have their traditional hiring methods and often, Mark says, those methods are not keeping up with finding the best talent. Mark is part of an informal network of what he calls “Design Technologists.” That title, or way of thinking, isn’t a CAD Manager or BIM Manager; it is a heavy-duty 3D user.

This is something that we are hearing over and over again on the 3DRV roadtrip. Companies of all sizes are struggling with finding the right people given that technology is changing so fast. Some argue that you just hire younger people who are growing up as “digital natives.” Others argue that you don’t get the benefit of grizzled industry veterans who have learned over decades what works and doesn’t work in their respective niches.

Right after our visit with SSOE in Toledo, we visited America Makes, one of President Obama’s initiatives to restore America to its manufacturing heritage. There I met the type of people that Mark is talking about – fast learners, ready to adapt, but I don’t believe that mindset is limited to the younger demographic, far from it. I’ve seen study after study that shows the younger generation (sometimes called Millennials) wants a mentor; they want someone in their company to guide them. You find people of all ages who are nimble and fast learners.

Mark LaBell sees a great future for 3D and for the people who can think in 3D. He is part of a company (SSOE) that respects and encourages continual learning. It may be that a desire to learn has always been a requirement for success, in business and as a person, but Mark explains that we cannot depend on static skills in today’s market. We cannot simply study one or two software programs and expect to find a great job or project. We have to encourage an open and eager mind that helps us to think and work in 3D. His suggested title for this type of person may capture that future well: Design Technologist. A person who understands the importance of design and the power of technology is at the heart of Mark’s explanation.

Image Credit: Managing Editor of Design World, Leslie Langnau (pictured above with Mark LaBell) also joined in the conversation about the future of 3D. Leslie shared her thoughts with me in a separate conversation that I’ll post about soon. 

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