Edinburgh Napier University – Built Environment Exchange (beX)

03 Jul 2018

The Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) - Built Environment Exchange (beX) won the “Outstanding employer engagement in universities” prize at the Herald Higher Education Awards. 

BeX is a platform approach to accelerating change in construction culture by developing dynamic talent and delivering experiential learning opportunities. BeX provides innovation internships, master scholarships and employment opportunities. BeX also provides entrepreneurship and leadership training support and encourages diversification. Further the BeX scholars ‘go back to school’ and mentor school kids on the Design Engineer and Construct (DEC) programme to inspire the next generation and create an improved pathway for inclusive sustainable growth. 

Dr Robert Hairstans, Edinburgh Napier University and founder of beX “A new way of thinking is required if we are to attract our top talent to the construction sector and the challenges of shaping our built environment. 

The best and brightest are not queuing up to earn a living in the cold, damp, miserable workplaces of popular imagination.  

Let’s focus instead on the type of place where people want to work. Somewhere clean, safe, collaborative, diverse and multicultural. 

A place that has at its core people who are forward thinking and unafraid to innovate. A place where entrepreneurship is encouraged and there is a sense of strong collective leadership doing the right thing to ensure this and future generations are not consuming too much energy and producing excessive waste. 

We need to encourage the next generation to consider how they can participate in social, economic and environmental prosperity and be part of a circular economy so that the communities we live in don’t end up impinging on our basic human needs.

BeX augments University learning with internationalisation and entrepreneurship and acts as a platform for industry engagement. The approach works and creates value return to the sector. Importantly it changes the perception of what a career delivering the built environment can be and will therefore attract top talent and accelerate cultural change and modernisation of the sector. “

The Entrepreneurial Scotland Saltire Programme facilitates innovation led internship positions via ENU industry and international University partners. ENU leads on numerous research and commercial projects working with industry and public sector partners providing employability opportunities. The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre has supported a number of these and also provided master scholarship support. BeX has therefore created a streamlined approach for matching top talent with industry partners to address innovation challenges. 

Jonathan Fellingham, Donaldson Timber Engineering “BeX has created the opportunity for DTE to make informed decisions through research undertaken by top student talent on subjects that we lack expertise, which we previously relied upon anecdotal evidence. This allows us to make better strategic business decisions.”

DEC is an accredited learning programme for secondary-school age students. Industry adopts a school and a project-based learning approach is applied to academic subjects utilising the latest construction industry practices. This approach develops young people with real-world practical experience and employability skills. BeX scholars support this approach through the provision of classroom mentorship. 

Emilia Givan of Royal High School Described BeX scholars as “amazing and very helpful when it came down to the actual teaching of some topics, they made lessons very relevant and interesting. It also helped as they are closer in age to the students so students at the Royal High School really liked the scholars as they were more like them than any teacher could be!”

BeX was created in order to address the challenges of the construction sector which is adversarial by structure, overly complicated by design and flawed on delivery–‘snagging’ as it is universally known; by offering an alternative collaborative approach to education capable of harnessing top talent and providing them with the education and skills needed to deliver a more sustainable built environment. BeX brings partners together and leverages industry support with an emphasis on the wood technology supply chain given the sustainable credentials of timber as a natural resource and the heritage of the Scottish timber offsite construction sector. In 2015 ENU received a Queens Anniversary Prize for Innovation in Timber Construction and Wood Science and in 2017 Offsite Solutions Scotland was formed as a result of ENU led research funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

BeX is open to a wide range of subject areas, not just architecture, engineering and construction. Different disciplines need to be working in concert to eradicate waste and defects whilst creating sustainable solutions that are designed for comfort and the end user in mind. Drawing on a range of talents can also create, for example, the digital frameworks and product design solutions for automated manufacture and logistical management.

BeX there accelerates careers, encourages diversification (32% of Master Scholars are female, the construction sector averages an 11% female workforce) and facilitates internationalisation. 

An ENU beX and Harvard GSD international learning week in the spring of 2018 showcased this with students collaborating to derive solution to the UK’s housing crisis. Harvard’s George L Legendre said: “This week of workshops, lectures and factory visits reflects our shared belief in the importance of off-site manufacturing, and the potential value of a collaboration between architects and engineers.”

There are individual success stories such as Rory Doak, who did an international internship with Class Rooms for Malawi and via an employability contract provided structural engineering support for the Dyson Institute of Technology. 

Andrew Vincent, Managing Committee Member and Co-Founder of Classrooms for Malawi “Rory has really added to our charity’s ongoing research into innovative building solutions in Africa. It’s been great to have the support of Rory and BeX, it’s brought an innovative approach, fresh thinking and technical expertise to a very complex problem”

And, Max Garcia who did Masters Research on modified timber product Accoya and employability with Carbon Dynamic provided mentorship support to Max. 

Matt Stevenson, Carbon Dynamic - Managing Director “Catalysed by the beX programme, Max has tenaciously leveraged the opportunity to apply research and development to industry projects. Max has helped us to accelerate our innovative development of materials, systems and processes whilst developing a level of competence and knowledge disproportional to his time in his role. He plays a transformative role within the Carbon Dynamic team.”

Dr Hairstans “Success breeds success. BeX is successful because it invests in the next generation and removes the layers of bureaucracy to doing so. Funding support and employment opportunities need to go directly to the next generation if we are serious about delivering the sustainable communities of tomorrow. There has to be less conjecture and more trajectory. In this regard BeX is about pull rather than push. It offers a re-imagination of what a career in the built environment can be and pulls the next generation on to the pathway for successful delivery.” 

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