SAIT Students Are Industry-Ready with BIM

January 31, 2017


Building Information Modeling (BIM) is upping the learning for students in the School of Construction at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). And it’s giving them a competitive edge when entering or advancing in the workforce.


The school has been delivering BIM continuing education courses since 2009. In a one-year period alone (2014-15 to 2015-16), enrolment in those courses soared 400 per cent. Among the offerings is the Revit Architecture Essentials Certificate of Completion. This training is available via several delivery options – evening and weekend classroom sessions, online, and in a fast-track format as the Revit Training Series (five-week daytime offering). SAIT is a Registered Course Provider for the Alberta Association of Architects and an Autodesk Authorized Training Centre.


Students in the full-time Civil Engineering Technology and Architectural Technologies programs are also experiencing the benefits of BIM training. 


“BIM is what industry wants, and we’re responding,” says instructor Milan Niksic, citing recommendations from the Civil Engineering Technology program advisory committee. Niksic has incorporated Revit into a building science course and will also be using Bluebeam software in an estimating course.


“With BIM, we’re equipping our students with the practical software and collaboration tools being used in the local and international industry, which gives our students an edge in this tight economy. It can open up new job avenues,” says Niksic.


Case in point, says Niksic, is a 2016 civil engineering graduate, who added Revit training through SAIT Continuing Education to her already full-time studies. She’s now employed in a BIM-related capacity in New York City.



Expanding Scope for Capstone Projects

BIM topics have also found their way into the capstone projects civil engineering students complete in the final semester of their two-year program.


Niksic terms the capstone projects “mini theses” as they’re complex and demanding. Students work in groups of four from December through April, selecting and developing a topic, and engaging with industry. The projects culminate in formal presentations to peers and industry contacts. Some 40 to 45 student teams are involved annually.


Two years ago, one group’s project was designing water lines replacement for a southeastern British Columbia community, using BIM technology. The municipality ultimately proceeded with the project – and hired one of the student team members to help carry it out.


“Currently, three groups are considering BIM-related topics for their projects,” Niksic says. “There’s lots of scope to explore, from how a small business can adapt to BIM, to risk/benefit analysis, to structural design of a building or civil engineering project.”


Fellow instructor Fraser DeLouche says investigating and comparing the cost perspective of using 2D or 3D modeling on a residential design is one project option open to students this year. The structure is a house built on campus last year as part of the Architectural Technologies and Civil Engineering Technology programs in partnership with McCann’s Building Movers Ltd. in SAIT’s indoor house-building lab.


“We don’t offer a full-blown 3D modeling just yet, so this type of study can really add to the learning,” says DeLouche.


“Capstone projects are an integral part of our programs,” says Niksic. “The key for us is to make them current, and BIM aligns very well with that right now because industry is still adapting to the BIM technology and processes.”


Better Communication, Better Outcomes

Strengthening connections between SAIT programs is another beneficial outcome of employing BIM, Niksic says.


“We are getting students in the practice of applying BIM concepts such as collaboration while they are here – with the intention that they can apply these collaborative lessons when they enter industry.”


“There are lots of scary statistics in the construction industry due to errors in communication,” Niksic adds. “Because BIM promotes synergy between programs and disciplines, that’s going in the right direction. There’s real value in collaborating across the civil engineering and architectural disciplines.”



Innovative Learning Opportunities

Beyond its home-building lab, SAIT offers many unique learning facilities and resources in its state-of-the-art Trades and Technology Complex. Hands-on work in the concrete lab allows students to mix and test samples. And SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services has a research group dedicated to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and their future role in the agricultural, construction and energy sectors. SAIT also plans to offer UAV training courses in the near future, through the School of Construction.


“UAVs are being used for surveying, remote monitoring of construction sites – there’s so much scope in the industry,” says DeLouche.


And on the fun side, SAIT teams – involving architectural and civil engineering students as well as those in Engineering Design and Drafting Technology and Mechanical Engineering Technology – have competed in the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race for more than four decades. SAIT’s 2016 team won awards for best steering design and best concrete design in competition with 20 other schools nation-wide.


CanBIM a Good Fit

Both DeLouche and Niksic view SAIT’s recent decision to become a CanBIM member as a sound one.


“It’s a good alignment of goals and it helps ensure we teach relevant content,” says Niksic. “CanBIM holds lots of seminars that are of significant interest to students, and the affiliation is also good for students to build their networks.”


CanBIM members have presented sessions to SAIT students, and the CanBIM affiliation also adds to the extensive professional development opportunities for SAIT faculty and staff.


“SAIT really invests in instructors to keep our skills current,” says Niksic.