Game Changer: VDC Leader Shares Her Thoughts on Changing Technologies and a Changing Workforce
March 7, 2017By Meg Burton
Brasfield & Gorrie Regional Virtual Design + Construction (VDC) Manager Mallory Collier is on the forefront of change. In her role, she helps implement cutting-edge technologies that are changing the way construction projects are designed and delivered and redefining the skills needed to succeed in the industry. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, a millennial, and a working mother, she has a unique perspective.
What led you to a career in construction?
I entered the architecture program at Auburn University as a freshman. Finding that it wasn’t what I had envisioned, I switched to a pre-med track before eventually landing in the construction school when I was only 18 hours short of graduation.
In the building science program, I got exposure to modeling software and participated in Auburn’s first BIM competition team. I found that VDC bridged the gap between design and construction, making it a natural fit for the path I had initially hoped to take.
What’s been your career path?
During college, I worked for a student housing developer. After graduation, I joined a large national construction company as a preconstruction engineer and gained additional experience with VDC technology. My husband worked at Brasfield & Gorrie, and I joined the company in 2012. Upon starting with Brasfield & Gorrie, I spent time in estimating and project management while simultaneously utilizing my VDC skillset on various projects, becoming a VDC coordinator in 2014. Since that time, our VDC team has more than doubled in size and rapidly expanded in scope, which has given me opportunities to grow.
What’s been your experience as a female and a working mother in the construction industry?
I don’t generally notice a difference as a minority in the industry. It’s not something that is always at the forefront of my mind, and that’s a testament to the culture and policies at Brasfield & Gorrie. I experience it more when I’m interacting with people outside the company, particularly smaller subcontractors or suppliers. For example, I might be called “sweetheart” on a business call. The gender gap was more apparent when I worked for a student housing developer while studying building science and was initially placed in an on-site administrative role. Though I’d guess a male counterpart would have been given more construction-related tasks, it was still valuable experience.
Motherhood has prompted me to get much better at prioritization, scheduling, and setting realistic expectations. My husband and I protect our time with our daughter in the evenings and support one another in making it work when travel is required.
How is technology changing the industry?
Today, 75 to 80 percent of our jobs are designed in 3D, and we are using emerging technologies, such as laser scanning, unmanned aerial systems, and virtual reality to drive more efficient processes and higher quality construction products. Ultimately, these emerging technologies produce information that funnels back into the 3D environment, and we are constantly managing, evaluating, and updating that 3D environment and ensuring that it virtually and proactively represents the project as-built.
As we move forward, the use of 2D will continue to decrease and our jobsites will become completely connected from the advancement of mobile devices to equipment telematics to personnel/material tracking and much more.
What challenges have you faced in driving this change?
As a millennial woman driving change across a wide range of groups inside and outside my company, I’ve faced resistance to change. We’re working with folks who have been doing things a certain way for 20 years or more. We work to establish buy-in and help individuals understand that we’re showing them a better way to do things that will ultimately benefit everyone.
How is the impact of technology changing the workforce?
In the long term, everyone will need robust technology skills; VDC will be part of everyday tasks for project managers, estimators, subcontractors, and others.
New applications of technology are creating opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds to enter the industry. For example, we have team members with mechanical and aerospace engineering backgrounds working on robotic devices and other new technologies.
We’re also seeing more women enter the industry. I was one of two females in my building science class. Today, when I visit classrooms at local universities, I see so many more women preparing to enter the field.
Efforts to expose high school students to construction careers through initiatives like the ACE Mentor program will also promote a more diverse workforce and help fill shortages in craft workers.
What advice do you have for young women—or anyone—considering the construction industry?
- Understand the company you want to work for. Ask to speak to a few women at the company to get a feel for the culture. Some companies value diversity more than others.
- Don’t shy away from activities you aren’t familiar with. In my first job, colleagues told me to learn how to play golf, so I gave it a shot. Even if it’s not your thing, you can always participate to build relationships. Don’t be afraid to suggest more gender-neutral activities.
- Be confident and competent. Let your work speak for itself.
- Understand how men and women communicate differently. As a woman managing six men, understanding individual communication styles and emotional intelligence has been important in my role.
- Strive for equality, but don’t seek special treatment. Be situationally aware of your surroundings. Stand up for yourself, but try not to misinterpret routine tasks as sexism. Remember that you will be part of a team, and that requires everyone to carry their weight, even if it’s something mundane like making copies of agendas or making the coffee because you are the first one in the office.
Mallory Collier is a regional VDC manager with 10 years of construction experience. She is active in Brasfield & Gorrie’s operational women’s resource group, and is a wife to a fellow construction professional, mother to a 2-year-old daughter, and owner of Winslet & Rhys, a local retail store in the Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama.