Quantity surveying is as much about managing relationships as it is about numbers.
Careers in quantity surveying are all about managing costs, ensuring that high-quality structures are built as economically as possible. A quantity surveyor could be involved in every stage of the project, depending on whether they work for a consultant or for a contractor.
As a graduate quantity surveyor you will complete a range of tasks on each project, but they will all involve carrying out some of the same core functions. These include:
- Contracts and procurement: Tasks include recording and monitoring variations to the contract, and ascertaining the costs involved. The amount of time you spend on this can vary from a week working on an interim valuation to a couple of hours a day updating a list of variations.
- Measurement: Measuring construction works on site also involves recording progress and valuing the work, based on agreed contract rates. How long this takes depends on the size of the project: measuring brickwork can take anything from an afternoon to a full day, including calculations back in the office.
- Cost forecasting (part of pricing): This involves forecasting the final costs of projects or work packages (individual contracts within a project). You will review tender documents and contract variations and use this to calculate the final figure payable. It can take two or three days to calculate, depending on how many packages are involved and how accurate the forecast needs to be: a project near completion needs to be very accurate.
- Monitoring profit and loss (also part of pricing): This involves compiling monthly reports to show the progress of a project. Tasks include recording costs incurred and future costs, producing summaries showing monies coming in and going out, monitoring risks, and reporting on factors likely to affect profitability.
- Liaising with clients: You will need to attend meetings with clients and advise them on any commercial issues that arise. Throughout a project you will probably meet with the client either every week or every fortnight and these meetings may last for between one and three hours.
What does this mean in practice for graduate and placement quantity surveyors?
In practice, what you will be doing will vary hugely depending on whether you are working on the design phase of a project or the construction phase, and whether you work for a consultant or a contractor.
Natalie Dempsey is now a quantity surveyor, but she started out as an assistant quantity surveyor at the contractor Skanska UK. ‘I was responsible for identifying what was included in a “package” of work for a subcontractor to ensure that they could bid for the work, making sure the subcontractor got paid for work and adjusting the cost if the client changed the design or there was an issue on site,’ she says of her first roles. ‘I also visited manufacturing plants to ensure materials were the quality we expected.’
Ashley Dunsmore, a quantity surveyor at Kier Group with three years’ experience says of her role: ‘I work on a number of projects simultaneously and I split my time between working in the office and visiting construction sites. Our office covers a massive area in Scotland so it could take me an hour and a half to reach a site. On smaller projects, I’m the only quantity surveyor but on larger ones I work in a team of two or three.‘
When you join a quantity surveying firm, you will usually be known as a ‘graduate quantity surveyor’, ‘assistant surveyor’ or ‘commercial management trainee’, depending on the firm. You are likely to keep your initial job title until you’ve passed your APC, which takes around two years if you pass first time.
As a newly chartered surveyor, you will take on greater responsibility for projects and often begin to line manage graduate surveyors. Typical job titles at this stage include ‘quantity surveyor’, ‘intermediate quantity surveyor’ and ‘project surveyor’. You can then progress to senior quantity surveyor status or work towards a full commercial or project management role. In most organisations, commercial managers take on wider responsibility for all aspects of the commercial aspects of the project, including the supply chain, and for the people management aspects of a team. The role usually requires chartership and at least eight years’ experience. Depending on the organisation you work for, you may later become a commercial director or even a partner of the firm, in which roles you are responsible for the overall performance of the division and/or organisation.
Career progression can be swift for quantity surveyors: TARGETjobs has spoken to a project surveyor at Skanska UK, Gavin Chandler, who was promoted three times in five years. William Walsh, a commercial director at Barratt, reached his position in under years, moving from assistant surveyor to project surveyor to senior surveyor to commercial manager to commercial director.’ My career progression has been quite rapid,’ he told a previous edition of our sister publication the UK 300. ‘I’ve been fortunate with the promotion opportunities that have come my way. I was made commercial manager when my predecessor left the department and that happened again when I was made a director. However, you need to make sure you are in the right place at the right time so that you are the person chosen for these positions.’
Over time, many quantity surveyors specialise in a type of construction project (eg roads) or in a particular discipline (eg civil engineering work), but there are other directions in which they could take their career. These include going into:
- Capital allowances and tax: Capital allowance specialists identify the building components that qualify for capital allowance tax relief for both construction projects and property purchases. Traditionally claims were prepared by tax accountants, but a number of quantity surveyors move into this area because they have specialist knowledge of construction technology and construction procurement.
- Facilities management: Facilities managers oversee the running of services that support a business to do business, covering everything to do with the physical building (such as maintenance and electricity) and the services provided by people (such as catering and security). Facilities managers can also have input into the design of a building, so having a quantity surveying background is useful.
- Legal services and dispute resolution: At the heart of the construction industry are contracts and at the heart of contracts is risk allocation. This is the raison d’être for legal services in the construction industry and an area into which experienced quantity surveyors can move. Generally speaking, in this area you would spend time either drafting and negotiating the terms of a contract, or assisting in the resolution of disagreements once they have arisen.
- Contracts and risk management: Risk managers within the construction industry help clients to assess, evaluate and develop strategies to minimise or deal with risks – especially legal and financial risks. It often involves working with contracts and quantity surveyors have suitable backgrounds for the work.
- Supply chain management (inside and outside of the construction industry): Working in this area includes the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing, procurement and logistics – and there is much crossover with the work of a quantity surveyor.
Take a look at our encyclopaedic construction salaries article to find out how much quantity surveyors earn at both consultants and contractors – as well as estimators. We look at both graduate and experienced hire salaries.
Most quantity surveying graduate schemes and graduate-level jobs require a quantity surveying or commercial management undergraduate degree that has been accredited (approved) by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). However, graduates of any subject can complete an RICS-accredited postgraduate qualification and 'convert' to quantity surveying and then apply for jobs.
A number of employers also run graduate schemes aimed at students from any degree background. When you are on the course, the employer will pay for you to complete the postgraduate conversion course while you work for it. Find out more about getting hired this way.
While you will need to explain your reasons for wanting a quantity surveying career in graduate applications and interviews, you will need to demonstrate a range of transferable, softer skills. Teamwork, communication and relationship-building skills are essential for working with colleagues, professionals at other construction organisations and clients alike. ‘Some candidates think quantity surveying is all about numbers. What they don’t appreciate is that it’s actually more about managing relationships,’ says Raheel Khan, a commercial services manager at Costain.
Other skills and abilities include:
- The ability to persuade and motivate others
- Problem-solving skills
- The ability to analyse information and data and be comfortable with data
- Drive and self-motivation
- Commercial awareness