Digital Construction in Vietnam

By Chris Smeaton, Regional Lead for Ho Chi Mihn, Vietnam and Digital Practice Leader, Aurecon Asia

I was invited to Vietnam over three years ago to meet a digital delivery team to see how they deliver projects and assess their skills to consider if moving to Vietnam would be a good fit for me. It was clear from the first meeting that the team was driven and hungry to learn. This, combined with high digital competence, captured my imagination of what was possible and how we can achieve amazing things for digital delivery and construction.

I have now been working in Vietnam for three years and do not regret my decision for a moment. My colleagues inspire me by their dedication and overwhelming thirst for knowledge. Working alongside some remarkable individuals has also pushed me to advance my skills and vision of what is possible in our industry.

Vietnam could become a powerhouse for digital construction, facilitating global adoption as industry drivers increase and available technologies develop. A steady stream of multinational corporations are opening new offices in Vietnam, bringing investment and opportunity. These companies now offer their services locally, whilst also helping their more established offices access the skilled resources available. The primary business process model is outsourcing, which enhances their workforce, solves skills shortages and lowers operational costs. It is not solely the lower cost of operating that gives Vietnam such high potential. Those outside of the region may not be aware of some other key factors contributing to the massive economic growth.

Vietnam has experienced a significant technological transformation over the past decade, supported by Vietnam’s demographic. According to research by FPT, Vietnam has a spritely median age of 32.5 years; the country ranks second in Southeast Asia’s top countries for basic academic skills and top 10 most engineering graduates. This young, digital-savvy market is proving to be a fantastic place to invest in for your digital future.

The work-sharing approach from multinational corporations has significantly contributed to the uptake of digital practice and Building Information Modelling (BIM) adoption on projects. The local workforce has been trained, gained experience in this smarter way of working, and so applies it to local projects. Technical skill and knowledge bleed into the local market this way and transforms the traditional production process and the method of collaborating and delivering information within our projects.

While there is currently no mandate for BIM use in Vietnam, the last few years have seen BIM investment at a Government level. In collaboration with delivery partners, Digital Built Britain has supported the local Government to increase their awareness through pathfinder projects and standards development. This strategic approach will ensure they meet the needs of the local market. This year in April marked a big step forward as the Ministry of Construction issued a general guidance document on the application of BIM. The guidance is closely aligned to the International Standard ISO 19650 and will move Vietnam’s construction projects in line with established global best practice.

There appears to be a terrific opportunity for Vietnam to benefit from international advancements in this field and continue to build upon it. Digital construction skills can become a significant export for the country with the right strategy supported by an inclusive and diverse workforce will be of high importance.

Encouragingly, gender diversity is top of Vietnam’s list, with The Economist reporting that “Vietnam has one of the highest female labour-force participation rates in the world. Some 79% of women aged 15 to 64 are in the labour force, compared with 86% of men.”

According to McKinsey & Company’s Vietnam office, “Vietnam has made great strides and, fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has not derailed Vietnam’s progress toward gender parity. In November 2020, the International Labor Organization reported that representation of women in Vietnam in decision-making roles in business is increasing. Sixty-three per cent of enterprises surveyed in Vietnam indicated that women were present at the supervisory management level and 73 per cent confirmed that they had women as middle managers. Given the Labour force participation rates, these figures should continue to climb.”

While this is very encouraging, I feel more effort is needed to remove barriers for women to take up a design and engineering career. Businesses looking to leverage the true potential of Vietnam’s workforce must drive this. They should look to provide partnerships with local universities, scholarships, internships, mentor programs and the like. Given the right opportunities alongside conscious disruption of historical inhibitors, the emerging generation of all genders may be inspired by the rapid advancement in technology and the chance to apply it on a global scale to drive our industry into the future. Aurecon is committed to playing its part, having recently established gender targets as part of a broader strategy to increase the diversity of our workforce and leadership. Targets help us to shine a light on barriers to entry and progress in our organisation and our industry and to bring an objective lens to talent attraction and development.

Where there is still work to be done, the future looks bright for BIM in Vietnam. The deep talent pool of younger generations driving the industry and government support and recognition of the value BIM adoption brings, only strengthens the industry as we strive to accomplish Vietnamese aspirations for the future.