Vicki Reynolds - Episode 011 - Transcript

Vicki Reynolds

Vicki Reynolds is a Digital Manager at Multiplex Construction.

Vicki has worked closely with stakeholders of every level of seniority and experience to deliver BIM and Digital Construction across a number of major projects in the UK.

In her current role as Digital Manager at Multiplex Construction she works on the pre-construction digital strategy and digital skills development across the organisation. She believes that, so long as you find the right learning method, BIM and Digital Construction can be accessible for everyone.

A core member of Women in BIM, Vicki works hard to support, retain and provide opportunities for women in the digital construction environment and regularly presents at schools to promote STEM and Construction to girls in education.

Vicki believes strongly that the industry must diversify in order to successfully digitalise and works hard to encourage women of all ages and experience to consider construction as a viable and rewarding career option.



Jaemie: Hi Vicki and welcome to Engineering Success.


Vicki: Hello.


Jaemie: Thank you for being on the podcast today.

Can we start at the very beginning and how did you start your career in the construction industry and who was the first company you worked for?


Vicki: Yeah sure, so I had a very unconventional start to my career. When I was eighteen years old I moved to London and went to a drama school. I did a degree in acting at a school called The Italia Conti Academy and then went on to be a professional actor for two or three years after that. I absolutely hated it, from day one, it wasn’t for me – I couldn’t see any progression, which in hindsight is quite obvious – and if you’re not 100% committed to the craft or the field, it’s actually quite a depressing industry to be apart of. But it gave me a set of skills that have become incredibly useful throughout my career. So, I believe that I’m a relatively confident communicator, I am not concerned by rejection – when you’re an actor you get rejected continuously for crazy reasons, like your eye colour or the length of your hair – and it actually puts in perspective the rest of the world, the rest of the decisions that everyone is making about you. You start to realise you have very little control so take charge of the control that you do have and make sure that you are continuously “just doing your best” and be happy with that regardless of the outcomes. So the skills that I picked up there were invaluable, I wouldn’t change the start of my career - for anything.

So I quit acting and I went into the company I was working for in telephones and I said “I’m going to quit this job and I’m going to get a big girl job”. And fortunately for me the owner of the company said “well which big girl job do you want? And we’ll train you up in it”. So I became a Contract Manager for a facilities management company. All was going well but I got to a point where there wasn’t a huge amount more responsibility that I could take on, I was getting a little bit bored and it was sort of twenty-four hours working, so I was dealing with clients all day during the day and dealing with cleaners all through the night – I was twenty-two years old taking telephone calls at two in the morning outside a night club – saying “well I don’t know why the alarm’s going off, if you don’t know”. So that just became a bit exhausting!

I then went on and became an Office Manager for a software company. I started looking after the London office in Old Street, which I loved. That then developed into looking after London and Germany Office and the US Office doing all the marketing, the accounts, office management, HR, it was great fun but I’ve got quite an appetite for growth and continual change, and I got to a point where I sort of outgrew the company a little bit. And a friend of mine said at that point “If you want to get into an industry where you’ll have the potential to do whatever you want if you have the right skill-sets or the right mentality then get into construction, because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing”


Jaemie: That’s a bit blunt…….


Vicki: She worked in construction at the time…….. and I sort of laughed it through and I spoke to a couple of people who had similar – maybe slight, less aggressive viewpoints – that construction was full of opportunity.

So I started with Turner and Townsend as a document controller on Battersea Power Station projects with absolutely no document control experience. But thankfully, I’m a quick learner and it’s a very logical role as long as you’re quite organised and you can communicate well, you can pick it up quite quickly. The day I started I found out that my new boss was pregnant and would be leaving in three months, so between us we put together a plan for me to take on that role when she left. And within, I think it was, twelve to eighteen months I’d taken on the Information Management for the programme itself, and absolutely loved it. And then one day this guy from the BIM team came and had a chat to me and told me that everything I’d put together for the programme wasn’t BIM compliant!


Jaemie: Right…….


Vicki: I’ve laughed about this with him a lot, it’s Shaun Farrell, who is a great friend of mine now. And he came along and we debated for hours about whether this naming convention and the conventions I’d set-up were compliant for BIM Level 2. And eventually we came to the agreement that it was fine, we can manage it and from those conversations then I developed an interest for BIM and Digital Construction, and it also highlighted to the BIM team at T and T that they might benefit from information management or document control experience.

So that is how I ended up in BIM.


Jaemie: Yeah, that’s a long story isn’t it………


Vicki: And in construction - it’s a long story. But yes, I think its important because so many people have an incredibly conventional path into the career they’re in. But for every one of those people there is someone who has just followed what they enjoy. Have listened to advice and have ended up in the right place as well. Specifically when I’m talking to teenagers and young people and they have no idea what they want to do – I think it’s an important story to tell – I mean a Digital Manager, that role didn’t even exist when I was at uni so I couldn’t have said “oh yeah, I want to do BIM” it wasn’t a thing, so yeah.



Jaemie: That’s great……………. so who or what was your biggest inspiration?


Vicki: Since I’ve been in construction my biggest inspiration actually has been a number of people that I’ve met who have been thirsty for change. So, its mainly the younger people in the industry, I get a huge amount of inspiration from grads who come in – specifically at Multiplex who have just started in our graduate scheme and are new to the industry – and just see potential.

I find that talking to them reminds me that my jobs not done, and there’s a lot more to do as well.

And that enthusiasm, sometimes we lose our enthusiasm or become a little bit jaded when you’re sat fixing the same problem day-in-day-out. So yes, that really is an inspiration to me!

And also the low numbers of women in the industry are actually what has retained me, personally.

So, when things have got tough for me in roles that I’ve had – I’ve looked around the room, realised that I’m the only representation – I’m the only person for a younger woman to look up to and see. And therefore it’s my responsibility to stick this out and to show that it’s a good job, it’s a viable career option and its enjoyable and its achievable.



Jaemie: So a lot of leaders have daily or weekly habits, is there any you have and would like to share?


Vicki: I have some good habits and I have some bad habits!


Jaemie: You can share both……………………


Vicki: I’m horrific at time management, so I live in Microsoft Outlook – it’s my bible. Everything is tasked… I don’t write notes in a notebook, I write myself emails and then I tag all the emails as tasks in different categories. So that I’m constantly getting reminders throughout the day to do this and do that.. If I write notes – I lose my notebook – I’m notorious for that. And also you know, things are better when they’re digital, we’re not wasting paper.

A good habit that I do have is allowing myself to be distracted as well. Which I used to think was a terrible habit – I’ve got such a short attention span. Anything sparkly or interesting across the room and I’m gone! So when I need to focus I will put my headphones on, listen to classical music and lock myself away in a meeting room and I will focus. But if that urgent need isn’t there then I let myself be distracted. And I let myself have five or ten minutes of just decompressing. Go and have a chat with someone, go for a walk around the block and I find actually working for three hours with regular five minute breaks I get more done than if I force myself to sit and try and work three hours when I’m not mentally engaged. So that’s probably my good habit that I used to think was a bad habit.




Jaemie: So what attributes do you need to be a Digital Manager at Multiplex?


Vicki: Obviously you need to be technically competent – so a really good understanding of, not necessarily specific software, but more BIM logic and data management. So, we are constantly evolving our process – I don’t like to use the word, innovation – because we’re not innovating for innovation sake. But we are identifying issues that can be managed faster and better using BIM processes or better data management. And so to be a Digital Manager here you really have to be confident, you have to be creative, but you have to understand the logic behind data information and the way different software are inter-operable and can relate to each other. Also you have to be really, really personable! Because the one thing that I’ve found in my career is, if people like you they’ll do it. If they don’t, they won’t regardless of how good your reasoning or your argument is. And I found throughout my career – as long as I have a good relationship with someone I can walk up to them and say “you know what, I’m completely out of my depth. I don’t know what I’m doing!”. And they in turn will say “its ok, this is where we are with this, this is what’s happening” and it’s just that open communication makes for a stronger working environment, better relationships and it can only be built if that is something that you have inside you anyway. Good communicator.




Jaemie: So what challenges do you face on a weekly basis?


Vicki: I’m terrible at saying no! Especially when it’s something I’m interested in and I spread myself across a lot of different pots. I’m obviously Digital Manager at Multiplex, I’m a core team member of Women in BIM - I look after London and the South East for them – I speak at a lot of events, I’m an Ambassador for CADCOE, I’m also accredited for a lifestyles inventory tool, so a behavioural analysis,

so I do some coaching there. And my biggest problem is genuinely identifying which has the strongest need at which point and being able to say no or recommend other people for those things that aren’t top of the list. Because early on in my career I had so much time that I really got a taste for being able to do whatever I want to do, whenever I wanted to do it. As I’m getting busy, I’m really finding I have to say no more and every time I say no – whether it’s temporary or whether it’s a “no, I can’t help with that at any time.” It hurts a little bit internally because it’s so against my nature.

And then the other challenge, I face, is people still continually like to ask me ‘why I still bother with Women in BIM?’ and explain to me that the diversity issue is solved because they’ve got a woman on their site. So yes, that same conversation that I’m having over and over again is a reminder to me that the problem obviously isn’t solved.



Jaemie: So, what would your number one advice be for somebody starting a career in construction?


Vicki: Do it!!! 100% go for it!! Because construction is a massive industry. There is so much potential and we are changing day-to day. So you can come into the industry now with a role and you can identify and move career path for yourself whilst you’re working. There are very few industries where that is a viable option and because it’s growing if you have an interest let’s say for instance in analytics, then you can follow that route and you can forge a career for yourself out of that. It’s so ripe for disruption and we are in the middle of a process of disruption so if you’re the kind of person that wants to feel like you’re making a difference, wants to feel like you’re constantly being challenged – but in a really positive way – and if you’re a person who is creative and likes to problem solve, it’s absolutely 100% the industry for you to be in. And the skills are so interchangeable! And the really nice thing about construction is because we’re still learning you get the option to facilitate those changes. Where as in other industries you run the risk of going in and things already being settled ‘this is how we do it’ so for instance if you go to work for Facebook or Google there is a very small team for innovation and then everyone else just does what Facebook and Google do because they’ve got their plan so accurately in place. In construction we can mess with that a little bit and we can feel like we’re actually still delivering making change.



Jaemie: Why do you feel there has been a skills shortage in construction?


Vicki: We are terrible at promoting ourselves……… to anyone…….whether that’s school leavers, whether it’s people returning to work, we don’t go out there and talk about how great we are. The only time construction is in the news is when something sets on fire or when something falls down and that is terrible. And the individual people who go in a speak to school kids and that’s great but actually we need to be targeting parents, we need to be talking to adults, we need to be talking to toddlers, about the incredible potential in the construction industry. In a way that is exciting because it’s an exciting job. It’s one of those things – I’ve spoken to a few of people in this office and elsewhere in the industry and say, “do you talk to your kids about construction?” and most of the time “uummmm well, not really!” and you say, would you like them to come into the industry? “I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it”. Well think about it………………. and even worse if people have daughters, so “oh yeah, my son’s looking into doing an apprenticeship” or “I’m going to get him in to do some work-experience” Cool, what are your girls going to do? “oh, I hadn’t even thought about that!” And it’s that sort of bias, accidental bias, that’s engrained even in the people in the industry – if we’re not filtering good stories down to our own families and our own friends – how are we ever going to get the message out across schools and colleges and young people.



Jaemie: So, do you feel that we could promote ourselves better? And do you think we are starting to get there – starting to make a difference in promoting ourselves more positively?


Vicki: There are a lot of really good steps in place, a lot of good organisations out there and like I said before – I’ve got so many colleagues who do go into schools and colleges. I do that as well and try and engage and promote. I think it needs to be a little bit sexier than that. I think we need to go down the route of, like the Army apprenticeship adverts on the tele – I mean we need to be focusing on adverts in between games, online games. Those kids that are playing Minecraft and Fortnite are our future Digital Managers. So, we need to be targeting those platforms.

Adverts on television and yes, it can’t just be someone in a shirt and tie going in to speak to kids in schools because it’s boring. We want people to say “Wow, that’s the career I want to be in” so yeah we’re taking steps but we’re not doing enough and we have to take responsibility ourselves as well. We are very good as an industry, and I’m doing it now as we speak, of saying WE………. but what am I doing. And I think organisations can take a little bit of responsibility rather than relying on the wider industry, to get out there and promote themselves. Not just for the sake of hiring someone in the next six months – but for hiring someone amazing in six years’ time. Because you put in the ground work when they’re still in school.



Jaemie: So, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in construction?


Vicki: The biggest changes that I’ve seen – people aren’t quite so terrified of risk now than they were. So in terms of digital construction, I was constantly getting questions about ‘Who’s IP the model was?’ ‘how visible things would be’. If we are holding everyone’s information as sort of the facilitator or the federator, especially as a Tier 1 contractor how much of that responsibility are we then taking on contractually. We’ve come a bit of a full circle because those were the questions that were being asked – we weren’t anywhere near that in the industry – BIM was still a ‘bolt-on’ for want of a better word for a while, so those questions stopped. Now they’re being asked again but from a more informed position, so that’s probably the biggest change that I’ve seen.

The questions haven’t necessarily changed, but the context of them and the way they’re being asked has changed. I think its less “why should we do this?” and more “how should we do this now?” which is fantastic.

Things like data analysis as well – people are starting to understand the value of good data – and about data security and cyber security as well. All these conversations are starting to happen. Not in the sense of people who are scared anymore, but more in the sense of people trying to solve problems. So that’s probably the biggest change that I’ve seen.



Jaemie: So, how would you see it changing in the next five to ten years then?


Vicki: I think that things are going to become a lot more automated. We’re going to focus more on modular construction. I think with cities getting bigger, footprints of build area’s getting smaller, more people on site, more people around site, the risks being reduced and more of an emphasis on quality will mean that we will have no choice but to take construction away from the construction site. I think it’s something that’s going to happen slowly but I would say in ten years’ time it’s something that we’ll see quite a lot of and those projects will be delivered faster and with less risk, and with less health and safety issues.

Yeah, I think we’re going to see a change in the type of people in the industry as well. I’m seeing a filter down of digitally unable, and digitally reluctant people. They’re slowly filtering from business to business - so as their business digitalises – they go to someone else. They’re going to run out of businesses to go to or they might retire depending on age. And so I think a huge change that we’ll see in five to ten years is a difference in the people on the ground, delivering projects. Specifically, in an executive and above sort of level.



Jaemie: So, how do you keep yourself motivated?


Vicki: I try and talk to like-minded people. Not all the time because you don’t want to be surrounded by, yes men! You don’t want to get trapped by any group-think behaviour or anything like that. But, every now and again when I’m feeling a little bit frustrated there are a group of people who I know I can email, or call and we’ll spend five minutes venting and then twenty minutes talking about opportunity. And I think it’s important to keep those conversations alive the “we could do this!” and “we will do this!” and “isn’t it exciting!” rather than just focusing on the negative. And I always like to look at the opportunities as well. The first time I delivered something that actually made a change on a project was fundamental to the shaping of my career, and so I now focus on those opportunities whenever they come along no matter how small – whether it’s a individual being able to see that they were completely unable to use a model in January and then by June they’re happy to lead a meeting in a model first environment. That’s an opportunity and it’s a resolution and sometimes it’s easy to forget these little baby-steps that are just as important as the big changes. That’s how I stay motivated and positive!



Jaemie: So, we know how it’s important to continually develop ourselves – how do you develop yourself?


Vicki: I’m obsessed with Ted Talks, absolutely obsessed. I really enjoy running and cycling and so often find myself on a treadmill or out on the road or on a static bike in the gym, and I’ll go through five or ten podcasts easily – just one after the other Ted Talks. A whole range of subjects. And it was a real game changer for me when I just started putting them on automatic play. Because I used to pick and choose the things that were interesting to me, which means I was continually validating my own thoughts and opinions. When I started to listen to the Ted Talks that were maybe slightly conflicting for me, or that I thought I wouldn’t really find interesting – that’s when I found actually my mindset was developing even greater. So I love a good Ted Talk and the same, any kind of industry event especially when a name comes up that I haven’t heard before. I will make an effort to get there and I volunteer for everything as well. When I found out that the business needed people to be coaches my hand was the first one up when I found that people needed mentoring my hand was up. I deal with the time management issue after that!! But I find, if I continuously stretch myself I find that all of those things eventually interlink and there are common themes across everything that I do. Everything starts to tie-in and I find myself developing better as an individual or growing further.



Jaemie: So with the construction industry working towards digitalisation what barriers have you faced, and continually face as a Digital Manager within the construction industry?


Vicki: “That’s my IP!” It’s a phrase that makes my heart sink whenever I hear it. “We can’t possibly share that with you, we own it” and I completely appreciate being aware of security issues and not wanting to share information that isn’t ready for sharing – that’s fine – but it’s when people are almost being disruptive for disruptions sake. Someone who has found themselves in a contract with deliverables that they can’t reach or they can’t deliver that’s when you start getting silly questions like “that’s my IP, I own it. I can’t possibly do that for this reason” You start getting all these ridiculous excuses coming out of the bag, and then when you drill down to it you realise actually someone’s not comfortable with their own ability to deliver – which is a whole different issue. It’s an issue that I can help them with – I can’t help them if they’re just being a pain in the arse.


Jaemie: No……………….


Vicki: Yeah the biggest barrier I face actually is when I guess is, people not feeling confident to be honest. Everyone is hiding it when they have a question. And we say to kids continuously “no question is stupid” we never take that into adulthood. And one thing that was fantastic for me coming into the industry so late is, I never ever believed I was the smartest person in the room, and so I was happy to ask the stupid questions and I often found I put my hand up and say ‘I don’t recognise that acronym and about five people in the room would nod and go “yeah I know, neither do I, I haven’t heard that one before”  and I’m thinking, you just going to sit there no understanding what anyone’s going to talk about. So yeah, that atmosphere of not wanting to be the person that asks the question is really detrimental to us as an industry and it’s completely against collaboration.



Jaemie: So do you feel that the message of diversify to digitalise is being embraced by the construction industry?


Vicki: Not yet………


Jaemie: I thought you would say that….


Vicki: Not yet……………… it’s a tough one because it’s less – “if you diversify, you will by default digitalise” – because you can get a whole bunch of people in the room and if they don’t have the right skills, they don’t have the right skills. It’s more a happy by-product most of the time - so the more diverse a group is, the more diverse the thinking and the better problem solving occurs. I think we’re more at the stage at the moment where we are diversifying because people tell us we need to. So, we know that it’s not ok to have one women in a room and that if the status in terms of race and gender in a meeting room or in a project environment don’t replicate that of the outside world, then yes, something’s off and it’s wrong. So we’re trying to fix it because we know it’s wrong but we’re not really looking at the benefits that will come from fixing it – so the motives aren’t quite in the right place at the moment. And that’s why we get things like quotas, which I have very, very mixed feelings about. I pendulum quite heavy from absolutely hating the idea to occasionally coming round and thinking “well actually if you tell people that they have to have a woman in the room” then, then we get women into the room. I just don’t want us to start setting people up to fail by giving them positions just because of their race or because of their gender. So yeah, a lot of work to do, I don’t think we’re embracing the message that diversifying will help us to digitalise because I think we’re just at a much more immature point of that journey. But we will get there!



Jaemie: Yeah… So, have you had any mentors that have helped you along your journey?


Vicki: I actually would have answered yes to this, until I thought about it – and official mentors – no. But I have had some absolutely incredible and equally absolutely horrifically terrible managers and peers over my career in construction. Both of which became unofficial mentors.

The great ones because they provided great support and advice and the terrible ones because it taught me what not to do. So yes, but also no.

I am constantly looking for that role though and I think it’s difficult because I tend not to define – I don’t have someone that I got to monthly for a catch-up but I have a whole list of people in my phone that I know I can ring and say “I need to chat to you” or “can you give me a hand here” and hopefully they feel the same way about me. But I have just engaged with my first ever mentor because I’m on a programme at Multiplex – it’s a leadership development programme – called Aspire, and part of the prerequisite for joining is to identify an external mentor who I can go to completely independently of the programme, and independently of Multiplex and the organisation, and talk to and learn from. So yeah, finally after five years in the industry – formally yes!



Jaemie: So, having accomplished so much – what does the future hold for you?


Vicki: I don’t know…………………. and that’s how I like it. I’ve never known what’s coming next. I feel a bit sick to the stomach when people ask me what my five-year plan is, because I’ve never had one and that’s always served me well. But I think that’s more the nature of my personality – I am more comfortable in a state of chaos – which I know isn’t necessarily how everybody else operates. But one thing I do know is that I continually want to manage change.

So as soon as we get to the point where BIM is common practice – so for instance in Multiplex we are just getting the point where all of our projects since January 2019 – have been model first projects. So we do BIM as standard on all of our projects regardless of client requirements. Everyone in the business is being trained to have a decent level of competency using that model and we go to the model information as the primary source of data for things like analysis. Our drawings still are the contract documents, but the drawings are derived from the model and the model is our primary source of……………………… yeah our primary tool for analysis – things like synchronisation. So that will soon come to a point where the change doesn’t really need to be managed anymore and when that happens I need to look for the next thing.   


Jaemie: Yes……


Vicki: That is just the nature for me. Whether that is around BIM and Digital or innovation around analytics and data – that’s great, I welcome that. Or whether it is more around consultancy and diversity in construction. I’m not too concerned about where I go as long as I’m continuously managing something that makes a difference.



Jaemie: That’s it Vicki, thank you so much for your time.


Vicki: Great, thank you so much.


Multiplex Construction website:

Twitter: Vicki Reynolds

LinkedIn: Vicki Reynolds