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The mission of Xcel Strategies is to mentor disadvantaged young people by providing them with life, job and trade skills. And, in the 21st century, “trade skills” means not just hands-on instruction in carpentry, plumbing and electrical work but exposure to digital construction techniques.

“Most of these kids are very visual—they work with virtual reality, gaming and all that,” says Thomas Rivera, director for South Florida for Xcel, which is based in Savannah, Georgia. “So, when they get [digital-construction platforms] in their hands, they’re like, ‘Wow, I can build my own home. I can build a building’—all these technical things that are available to them now become a reality.”

That’s thanks to Autodesk and Cintoo, which have made their platforms available to Xcel for free, including Cintoo Cloud, which manages 3D scanned data, as well as Autodesk Construction Cloud, AutoCAD and NavisWorks; Autodesks donations came through the companys Technology Impact Program. “We just really strongly believe that nonprofits should always have access to the tools that they need to get the work that they’re trying to do done,” says Danielle Gagnon, program manager for the Autodesk Foundation. “We don’t want financial barriers to be an unintended barrier.”

In addition to serving a good cause, the donations make good business sense for an industry whose workforce is aging toward retirement. “We need to bring in a new generation with the adoption of this technology,” says Dominique Pouliquen, Cintoo’s CEO. “We’d like to push for more scanning on every jobsite…. We take a lot from the video-gaming industry in what we do, so the new generation should be attracted by that.”

Cintoo first connected with Xcel thanks to the company’s marketing director, Bill Kuypers, happening to live in the same condo building as Rivera. Kuypers was with a Cintoo team, scanning some of the building’s mechanical and electrical systems, when Rivera approached him, asked if what they were doing was related to construction and wondered if Cintoo would be interested in donating seats on its platform. “He said, ‘These kids nowadays, they’re always on their computers and their phones,’” Kuyper says, “‘and they’re very much interested in the software-application side of construction.’”

Xcel mentors young people from ages 15 to 25, teaching them skills in eight areas: goal setting, time management, health, fitness, financial stewardship, relationship intelligence, work development and conflict resolution. Some of the kids are in foster care, or coming through the juvenile justice system, or homeless, in which case Xcel also finds them a bed, clothes and feeds them. “If they need school supplies,” Rivera says, “we’ll work on it.”

Once someone signs up with Xcel, they go through an assessment, are assigned a mentor and get to work figuring out what they might want to do with their life, including possibly working in the trades. Xcel stages the digital-construction program in one of the mobile training units it started deploying during the pandemic—basically a long trailer outfitted with chairs, tables, laptops and flat screens. The instructor also holds virtual meetings with students during the week.

The program has quickly become popular with Xcel’s students. “They get a hold of this virtual design, and they say, ‘I know what I want to do,’” Rivera says. “It’s amazing how they just change right before your eyes.”

That’s what Pouliquen wants to hear. “We know that we are on the right track when it comes to leveraging these new technologies,” he says. “You don’t need to be an expert surveyor who has been in the field for 10 years before using this. So, it’s just a perfect match for a program like [Xcel] that is catching people at such a young and impressionable age.” 


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