Travel insights

Posted: 04.29.13

Industry is facing the same issues all over the world -it’s just the timing that changes

If you care, I’ve been pretty much on the road since early March. I’ve enjoyed myself and I’m possibly smarter, though I’m further behind on my work with each airplane ride. In fact, at a certain point I may just have to stay out of town permanently rather than face the music about where various deliverables might be.

As you could read in this paper, I’ve been to SXSW, NAB, COFES, Smart Geometry, and the FMX conference. We haven’t quite gotten to writing up Smart Geometry yet, but it was at that conference where I had my big insight. One of the presenters declared that the construction industry was fundamentally changing. The big construction enterprise companies were becoming networks of suppliers that could come together for a particular project. Well, I was struck by that because I had been talking to people in the VFX industry trying to understand what is happening to vendors as long-established companies go out of business or are seriously downsizing.

I’ve been told work for the studios has fragmented; the large studios are keeping fewer resources in-house and outsourcing all parts of the FX pipeline. The simple jobs go to Asia, the hard jobs may go to local companies (or not). Companies have to change the way they bid for jobs and the ways they do them. Unfortunately, some companies went out of business before they figured it all out.

The construction industry has been lucky. Lucky because they went broke earlier, with the onset of the great recession and the continuing softness of the construction industry in the U.S. and Europe. A lot of basic work like drafting and conversion went to less expensive workers a long time ago. The AEC industry was supported for a while by China and the Middle East, but both of those regions had their own economic slowdowns. So, many large construction companies with teams and jobs all over the world have scaled down their workforce, and they’ve been figuring out ways to do more with less. The transition has done a great deal to help the cause of those who would see BIM (Building Information Modeling) becoming common in all of AEC.

Now, as the economy is coming back and the cranes are rising worldwide, the AEC industry is showing signs of strength that are likely to last for the next few years—barring some miserable, horrible calamity that could befall us any minute. In the M&E business, the problems in the industry have been growing, so it’s not like the current round of layoffs and closings should really come as a surprise, but workers are worried. It’s not that the work is going overseas. It is, but not totally. Rather, the work is going to those who can do it best and for the least amount of money. And, we are being told, it’s not as if fewer movies are being made and studios are cutting back on budgets for VFX. The software companies tell us they’re seeing plenty of ongoing work and new projects in the pipeline.

Two things are happening to put people out of work. Companies are relying on off-the-shelf software so they don’t need as many of those guys who do the heavy lifting on a project—the ones who can customize the software for new effects unlike anything else in the universe. The argument is that really talented people can do the work with the major tools on the market. The other aspect affecting jobs is that in order to meet the crazy budgets companies have agreed to, they’re going to have to do more with less. That means better management, better tools, and fewer people.

The bright spot

There’s always a bright spot, right? There are young people who are willing to work long hours for no money. They are not the bright spot, exactly. But, there are older people leaving the business because they’ve had enough. Okay, they’re not exactly delighted either. But, there is still a demand for talent and ingenuity, and not everyone who can run a particle system or a high-end CAD design tool has it. What has to happen is new jobs evolve from the destruction. For example, people who are talented at scanning, working with point clouds, setting up a BIM system, etc.—those people will have jobs.

In the film industry the story is pretty similar. Those who can make the newest systems sing and dance faster will have jobs. There are also going to be new jobs in old industries. As newspapers and magazines go online, they can’t rely on print; they must have video, slideshows, maybe a little 3D animation. How about augmented reality for the tablet?

There are going to be new jobs for creative people, but it’s important to keep surviving until those jobs come around.