AccelerateMT Case Study: CAD Essentials Training

October 2, 2023 Accelerate Montana Team

CAD Essentials Training

In the Spring of 2022, Accelerate Montana (AMT) was made aware of a shortage of CAD (Computer-aided Design) drafters and technicians throughout Montana. Engineering firms, contractors, and manufacturers shared that much of their current CAD talent was retiring, with few qualified candidates available to replace them. Moreover, existing educational offerings were too focused on theory, came bundled with non-relevant curriculum, or then took too long to complete.

AMT’s next steps included partnering with industry associations to develop and deliver a more detailed workforce survey to employers, whose purpose was to gain more granular insights into both the specific skills and competencies employers were seeking in their CAD talent, as well as how to best structure and coordinate a training program. The survey’s results highlighted the need for a specific suite of CAD skills (Revit, a building information modeling software for architects, engineers, and contractors). However, responses also indicated that candidates bringing contextual’ knowledge (e.g., blueprint reading and hands-on construction experience) to their CAD work would be at a premium with employers.

To explore a minimally viable training to test with employers, AMT set out to assemble a “CAD Essentials” training from the ground up. The training needed to have the following characteristics: it equips trainees with industry-relevant practices, it can be delivered to trainees in a relatively short period of time and, if necessary, the trainees could accomplish the training while on the job. Topic-wise, the first component of CAD Essentials, using a California-based third-party vendor of CAD software training, involved a series of 3-week courses on commercial and residential blueprint reading, Revit fundamentals, as well as BIM (Building Information Modeling) applications. Totaling approximately 180 clock hours, which included rigorous assessments in the form of tests and project deliverables, the suite of courses was offered online, to be completed asynchronously by the learner. The second component added to CAD Essentials was AMT’s Jobsite Ready (JSR), a job-preparedness program designed to equip learners with the work experience and essential skills to start an entry-level job in the construction trades. Consisting of 30 hours of self-paced online learning and 15 hours of onsite (45 total clock hours), in-person instruction, JSR had already fast-tracked over 200 candidates into construction jobs. For the final component of the CAD Essentials program, AMT hired a facilitator or “Success Coach” to help guide and shepherd the trainees through the complete 20-week training. Using weekly office hours, as well as regular updates, deadline announcements, and even encouragements, the Success Coach was crucial in ensuring the trainees had a clear understanding of their deliverables, remained on track to complete the training on time, and were connected to support throughout the duration of the program.

As is AMT’s approach to its economic and workforce development initiatives, the first step is to achieve proof of concept. In effect, does the training positively impact employees? Nevertheless, convincing employers to try out these types of workforce innovations can be daunting, especially during times of economic uncertainty. Here, AMT got lucky. Working in partnership with Matt Schmidt, Vice President at DCI Engineering, a nationwide structural and civil engineering services firm, AMT kicked off the CAD Essentials training program in January 2023. Three DCI employees – from newly hired to a few years on the job - were selected to go through the pilot program. Beginning with the blueprint reading modules, the trainees then progressed to gaining upskilled on Revit and BIM, receiving weekly support from the Success Coach throughout. By May, the trainees moved to the JSR portion of the program, ending with two days spent building a shed for the hands-on portion, which was subsequently donated to a family in the Flathead Valley. Upon completion of the 20-week program, all trainees were issued a DCI - Accelerate Montana - University of Montana co-branded digital badge upon completion of the training. Feedback from both the trainees and the employer has been overwhelmingly positive. Collin, one of the trainees who had recently joined DCI, shared: “I can honestly say this whole experience and training has been incredibly beneficial. I have gained so much information that will only continue to prosper my career in this field.” AMT is now in dialogue with DCI to expand the program organization-wide, as well as ways to scale it to other employers (e.g., engineering, manufacturing, and architectural and design firms) throughout Montana.

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