With an eye not only on growing the talent pool for infrastructure designers but also on widening access to industry tools for future professionals, software maker Bentley Systems has launched the Bentley Education Program. The launch is an effort to put its popular design and engineering software into more young hands and encourage the next generation of engineers.

“What we are hearing from our accounts is there is a skills gap,” says Katriona Lord-Levins, Bentley senior vice president and chief success officer. “We hope this will help level the playing field.”

The program is built from Bentley’s existing education partnerships. In the past, the firm partnered with universities and other educational institutions, but the new program allows students to register directly for access to popular Bentley software applications, including SYNCHRO, MicroStation, ContextCapture, OpenRoads Designer, and STAAD.Pro.

The company still plans to continue its existing partnerships with educators and academic institutions, but this is an attempt to reach students more directly, says Vinayak Trivedi, Bentley vice president and head of the new education program.

After they register on the portal, students and educators can start working on an education track using Bentley software. But the goal is to offer something for all levels of interest, Trivedi says. 

“There are some students who want to grab enough knowledge [of Bentley's software] to get it on their resume and get in front of an employer—know what the basic concepts are,” he explains. “But we also have students who are not so concerned about jobs; they want to make a positive impact in infrastructure and improve the quality of living.” 

Trivedi sees workflows and assignments within the portal as serving two hypothetical types of students—those who want to learn the functionality of the software as well as those who want to use it within the broader context of the project cycle and surrounding environment.

Many of the sample projects in the training modules are based on real projects, he adds. “For example, say, if there is a bridge there, and another road system is coming in, what’s the general workflow [for that project] look like?”

Students will be instructed on what tasks the various project team members will be expected to perform, and once they are familiar with the tools, they will be able to work on infrastructure designs in a project-based workflow much like those in the industry today.

The initiative also is intended to draw in students who otherwise might not have considered a career in infrastructure, says Lord-Levins. “Folks that get into the university have made a conscious decision to go into engineering,” she says.

“But with other folks, we need to swim further upstream…how do we get in the mind of the future student who has not had the thought process to get there already; how do we entice them?”

Building the portal out to satisfy the needs of those looking to boost their resumes, as well as younger students just curious about careers in infrastructure, took some work, but Lord-Levins says the company sought to base the program around each student’s personal progress, rather than just offer resources for educators.

“We take the big vision of what you want to be and turn that back to what are the first steps to get you there. The way it’s set up with learning credits, [students] earning badges, it 'gamifies' it for them.”

Bentley is rolling out the education portal initially in select regions, having gone live this week in the U.K., Australia, Singapore, Ireland and Lithuania. The company plans to expand it to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Latin America and India later this summer.

Bentley also will use the portal to accept entries for its Future Infrastructure Star Challenge 2021 competition, a student award for college-level entrants that will be presented as part of the Going Digital awards in its Year in Infrastructure 2021 conference.