Putting CAD skills to the test

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Architects Freeland Rees Roberts worked with Excitech to create a skills development programme with updated drafting solutions.

In 2008 Cambridge-based architectural practice Freeland Rees Roberts faced a number of challenges relating to its design output and undertook a dramatic overhaul of its IT infrastructure alongside a significant skills development programme.

The team at Cambridge-based architectural practice Freeland Rees Roberts.

“There were an increasing number of drivers for changing and updating the existing design processes and tools,” said Graham Riley, one of three directors at Freeland Rees Roberts. “The design teams, who all work within specific areas had been working with AutoCAD LT 2006 since its release and while the software’s absolute functionality was not an issue, there were an increasing number drawing compatibility issues with a number of our collaborative partners who were using more up-to-date versions of AutoCAD and having to back-save drawings to allow us to make modifications.

“The business had expanded and some of the staff we had acquired experience of working with newer versions of AutoCAD and found the loss of certain functionality a hindrance to their productivity. Also with the impending retirement of AutoCAD LT 2006, the cost of upgrading the software licences in the longer-term could be quite significant.”

The proposed significant changes in design processes required detailed planning to ensure that the changes did not have an adverse effect on productivity or on staff morale. In recognising this and the skills, experience and expertise in terms of delivery that were required, Freeland Rees Roberts approached Excitech to act as an outsourced partner on the project.

“At that time we had a team with varying skills and knowledge, indeed emotions, towards the design tools in place; so it was important that any investment the business made had a positive impact. Trying to manage that process and mitigating risk to the business in terms of loss of productivity or morale meant that we needed to outsource the planning and delivery to a partner that had significant experience in managing the skills development of design teams for other similar organisations,” said Mr Riley.

Excitech worked closely with Freeland Rees Roberts to identify and review the organisation’s short and longer-term strategic plans. Once established these formed the basis for a staged skills development and ongoing CAD Management implementation strategy.

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Skills development

Excitech deployed Autodesk’s then recently launched AutoCAD 2008 certification tests as a basic means of evaluating skills and identifying specific areas where training could make a significant difference to the productivity of the 18 members of staff with the results analysed and the design teams divided into three groups for specific training purposes.

“It was important before we commenced the testing that we handled the process considerately and gave plenty of warning of what was proposed and why it was being conducted,” said Mr Riley. “We wanted everyone to completely absorb what was being planned and ask any questions in order to allay any potential fears. The last thing we wanted was for the experience to be traumatic or for people to feel like they were potentially being marginalised within the business.

“Instead, we made the testing experience extremely positive. On the day of the test, we closed the office early and everyone took the test at the same time in a relaxed but formal testing environment. After the testing concluded we got together as a group and over a few pizzas talked over the whole experience and compared notes on some of the questions.”

Excitech tailored its training programme to suit the needs of individual employees.

Having analysed the results and identified commonality in knowledge gaps, the 18 members of staff were divided into three specific groups to undertake bespoke three-day training courses at Excitech’s London-based training centres. At the conclusion of the software training, the design teams received additional training covering CAD standards and working processes.

While the most CAD literate were extremely active in the software training sessions and address specific higher-level learning requirements, the other groups were able both to learn new skills and re-enforce existing CAD knowledge.

“I would always caution that testing can be potentially traumatic and demoralising if it is not positioned carefully and particularly for those with perceived lower skills or knowledge levels. But for us there were three key objectives that the programme needed to achieve; firstly to impart new skills and knowledge to our design teams, secondly to reinvigorate our design teams passion for their design tools and finally to boost staff morale in general. The programme achieved all three of those objectives as well as increasing general productivity so, from every perspective, it proved a complete success and has given the business, an albeit immeasurable, significant return on investment,” said Mr Riley.

Managing expectations

Following the conclusion of the skills development programme, Excitech was retained by Freeland Rees Roberts to provide ongoing CAD management One of Excitech Consultants spend one day each month visiting Freeland Rees Roberts’ offices in Cambridge to oversee and manage the training of new starters, to update and police CAD standards and question and answers; and to enforce the procedures in place in the CAD standards manual. Excitech also provides regular CPD seminars to help reinforce knowledge and support the development of the practice’s design teams.

Freeland Rees Roberts recently used the AutoCAD 2009 test as a means of validating skills of a potential new employee as part of the interview process. This proved a good indication of knowledge, skills and efficiency; but Mr Riley remains cautiously optimistic about the Autodesk Certification programme as a whole.

“The real value of certification is for the user as a means of proving their skills to potential employers,” said Mr Riley. “When we are bidding for work, clients simply want to know that the job can be done by the organisation and most of that is dictated by our reputation and price. Our clients automatically assume that the skills are present within our organisation, not that the skills dictate our ability to do the project.”

In terms of design, we are becoming increasingly aware of client requirements for more compelling 3D designs and although that is probably less applicable to the niche areas we work in, that demand is steadily increasing. As a practice, we are already exploring Revit technology and at a point in the future we will no doubt look at moving more towards a 3D environment, which will subsequently require us to once again uplift the skills of the design teams. We recognise that progression as an organisation is only possible with the dedication and support of our staff; and that is only possible if we continue to invest in them on a regular basis, something we won’t ever lose sight of.”

www.frrarchitects.co.uk
www.excitech.co.uk

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