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Benchmarking beats guessing

Recruiting competent, computer-literate staff can be a lottery, but a new test checks candidates' true CAD abilities

Cadtest

PROS: lEmploy the right calibre of person lAssess skills levels for bespoke training needs

CONS: Time will tell if there are any

Finding the right people for your practice can be a tricky business. If you take a punt on an individual and get it wrong it can also be costly, as it may take weeks before the reality sets in and the notice period is served.

I remember when I was working for Richard Rogers I was asked to sit in on interviews and assess the candidates' computer literacy. Colleagues far more qualified for the task than me assessed personality, attitude and general aura. My role was to try to guess whether the incredible amount of computer drawings, images and in some cases animations were indeed the product of the interviewee and not created by a friend and 'loaned' for the interview. You would be surprised how many people started the interview as experts in one system and concluded it having only worked on a small portion, without having used the CAD system very much at all.

In more recent years I have witnessed people join practices as proficient CAD users, yet within weeks they are being sent on a training course to 'brush up' on 'forgotten' skills. Credit should go to the practices that are willing to invest in and train their staff. However, if a new recruit is joining a team for a quick burst of effort on a short-term contract, one could reasonably expect him or her already to be proficient. To equip themselves better during the interview process, many practices have developed multiple-choice and practical hands-on tests. But there is no centrally managed organisation marking and publishing the results in a consistent manner. That is, until now.

A new company called Cadtest has devised an industry-standard benchmark for CAD testing. The aim of the test and the benchmark is to equip practices with the information they need to make considered and informed decisions when recruiting. The Cadtest website (www. cadtest. com) states: 'To raise your CAD standards and performance you have to know the ability of the candidates you recruit and how they compare to your existing staff.'

I managed to get hold of a Beta copy of the test and gave it a run through. Installation is straightforward and Cadtest appears to integrate well with the AutoCAD installation.

The test even checks your computer to ask which of the installed versions of AutoCAD you would like to run. The instructions are very clear, with diagrams accompanying each question. It would, however, be useful for a myopic like me to be able to zoom into the instruction diagram to confirm that I have read the instructions correctly.

This is critical to your success, as accuracy is considered the most important aspect of CAD. Today, it is the CAD model information (not drawings) that is used not only for construction but also for managing the facility and perhaps even future expansion and eventual decommissioning.

Once complete, the test connects to the internet to mark the results. A certificate then goes to the user's email address and the results are published on the benchmark with a unique reference number masking your name for privacy.

Mike Lewis, a senior associate director with Benoy, says: 'The Cadtest is a great start for getting a better idea of an individual's ability to both use AutoCAD and, more importantly, to follow instructions.'

He also confirms what I experienced at Rogers: 'Large projects are a team effort and, as such, it is impossible to look at a series of CAD drawings and know exactly which part the interviewee worked on.'

Benoy has tested 20 existing staff members so far, and the results have been consistent with the relative abilities of the team. Lewis is now looking forward to using the test when recruiting a team for a new project in White City. 'If we can use the test to identify the best candidates for the job, we will have a huge head start from day one, when everyone can get stuck straight into the design'.

The costs for the test range from £79.80 to £63.00, depending on how many licences you buy at any one time.

When compared with the cost of employing the wrong calibre of person and the detrimental effect he or she could have on your CAD data, this is something of a bargain. Furthermore, should the test identify particular areas of weakness, then a focused training session could be targeted at these areas to improve understanding and skill level at a fraction of the cost of a full AutoCAD course.

If you are a potential candidate looking for work, with little or no experience of AutoCAD, then fear not.

Most practices believe that as a Part 2 or Part 3 architect your design and problem-solving skills are far more important than your ability to use CAD, as this can be taught on the job.

If you are a CAD technician with the ability to follow instructions quickly, think on your feet and score high marks in the test, then perhaps you should be asking for a bit more money.

Email Joe Croser at joe@croser. net.

Contact Cadtest at www. cadtest. com

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