Women of BIM part 1: Isobel Robinson

Welcome to the first in our series of interviews counting down to International Women’s Day on 8 March. A new interview will appear every Monday morning until 8 March. Today, Isobel Robinson, BIM coordinator/manuals application coordinator at Winvic Construction, reveals how she fell into BIM, created her own glossary of BIM terms, and what might happen as a result of the ‘eco gender gap’.

I didn’t just want to understand my work, I wanted to fully understand the benefits of BIM end-to-end.– Isobel Robinson, Winvic Construction

Why did you choose BIM as a career?

I didn’t really choose BIM: it kind of chose me! I returned from Dubai and was looking for a nine to five office job when I applied for and acquired the role of O&M manuals administrator with Winvic. It was my responsibility to collate the hard copies of everything clients required as part of the project handover process, but it wasn’t long before I began to learn about BIM due to us moving over to digital manuals.

I found the concept so interesting that I started to do my own research into BIM, began to learn about digital drawings and asked lots of questions. My appetite to learn more was noticed and I was offered a new, combined role of BIM coordinator and manuals application coordinator, which I started in July 2020. I now spend half of my time assembling the cloud-based buildings manuals and the other half supporting the wider design team in areas like clash detection, stakeholder liaison and enforcing quality control.

The training and support I have received has been outstanding, and Winvic is a place where the more you push yourself, the more encouragement you’re given. I love using my own initiative and having responsibilities in this very important area within construction, and I hope to continue progressing, hopefully into project design.

What’s been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?

While I had lots of support from Winvic, there were some big concepts and complex pieces of terminology for me to understand at the beginning of my BIM journey, which were quite overwhelming. However, because communicating with people has always been a key skill of mine, I asked the right questions of the right people and I even created my own little personal glossary of terms to really hit the ground running.

I didn’t just want to understand my work, I wanted to fully understand the benefits of BIM end-to-end, and I feel like I’ve achieved that but I also feel like I learn something new every day.

Also, I went to an all girls’ school and I have worked with many more women than men in my previous jobs. So before I started at Winvic, I was a little apprehensive about coming into a traditionally male-dominated industry. I was so welcomed by everyone that it didn’t take long to realise that Winvic is really committed to empowering women as role models in the industry and there are many women working at Winvic in on and off-site roles, including design managers, quantity surveyors, sub-agents and year-in-industry students.

Which project that you’ve worked on has given you the most satisfaction and why?

In many ways I feel like my whole job is a project, both in terms of developing building manuals into digital assets – rather than the usual way of handing over boxes of paper files – and advancing the use of digital design in the industry.

The benefits of end-to-end BIM are more understood than ever before, but there is an element of educating stakeholders and finding new ways of transforming operations and practices.

It has been very interesting to have been a part of developing QR code libraries for Winvic’s multi-room and industrial projects, and really thinking about how this simple piece of tech can make a dramatic change for clients and tenants. They can access information, drawings and images quickly and accurately with this method.

This extends to having QR codes placed inside buildings too, which blew my mind when I heard about it. It’s all about Winvic striving to find efficiencies, making people’s lives easier and employing data to its full potential, and I think it’s fascinating.

I think it’s entirely possible that more women will enter construction in the coming years where they are driven by environmental issues.– Isobel Robinson, Winvic Construction

Which digital innovation in the past year has caught your eye and why?

Winvic’s initiative to more easily drive down a project’s embodied carbon, with the development of the first real-time carbon calculator, is very impressive and it is very much linked to BIM. The technology, entitled ‘AI System for Predicting Embodied Carbon in Construction’ (or ASPEC for short), will be able to predict the carbon output on building and infrastructure projects based on BIM designs, materials carbon data and lessons learnt on past projects.

Being able to proactively drive down a scheme’s carbon footprint for clients is obviously huge for Winvic, but it’s also crucial in propelling constructors and material manufacturing firms to meet the UK government target of removing 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.

Elsewhere in the industry, I find the idea of using exoskeletons really interesting. Of course, being able to lift and move more than our human bodies would normally be able to not only brings on-site efficiencies but it will also inevitably decrease injuries. It’s also interesting in relation to gender equality too as females, who are generally perceived as weaker, could be more encouraged to undertake manual roles.  

Name another woman in BIM who you think is doing great work and why.

I can really relate to Nicole De Cicco as she also entered the industry from a non-construction background, and I found Women in BIM an inspirational resource when I was trying to better understand the industry.

I think she proves that there are immeasurable things to learn in any role and I admire her determination and passion. What is also important is that she encourages young women to not just take a role in construction, but to excel in it and drive innovation. It’s not enough for women to just think they can do a certain job, they need to know they really can be a leader if they want to be.  

How can the industry attract more women?

There could be greater awareness of the variety of roles available and making full use of female role models is also very important. Initiatives like Women in BIM and Go Construct are doing a great job in this area, and reaching out to the next generation in schools and colleges can also illustrate the breadth of the industry.

I think it’s entirely possible that more women will enter construction in the coming years where they are driven by environmental issues, because there is a well-reported ‘eco gender gap’ where females are more likely to make greener choices. Lowering carbon and building net zero facilities is of high priority in construction right now so the passions of women and the industry could collide to really deliver interesting results. 

Who is the person in BIM that you turn to for inspiration/support and why?

I often speak to Mthulisi Mdluli, who is a Winvic BIM manager and my line manager, and he has been so encouraging and helpful. However, I often turn to the others in my team, as well as design managers and project managers, depending on what the task in hand or query is.

I know I keep saying how supportive everyone is, but it really is a great organisation from top to bottom. What I found somewhat surprising is that there are no barriers in place to upper management. So, for example, I’ve had conversations with Tim Reeve, the technical director, he has been interested in my development and his door is always genuinely open.

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