Quantity surveying and building surveying
What do quantity surveying graduates do? Among other things, they monitor costs.

What graduate quantity surveyors do in their jobs

Contracts, client liaison, cost forecasting... Don't even think about making applications unless you understand what the day-to-day job of a quantity surveyor involves and how your career could progress.

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.

Degree backgrounds required for graduate quantity surveying jobs

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.

The typical tasks of a graduate quantity surveyor

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.

Tom Cawley was a placement year student quantity surveyor at a consultancy. ‘From the start of my placement I worked with other QSs in the office on the initial stages of a multi-million pound refurbishment of a London college,’ he told TARGETjobs. ‘I assisted with the procurement schedule for potential tenderers [contractors who would bid to work on the project] at the beginning and pricing the revised drawings throughout the final construction phase.’

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. ‘I also visited manufacturing plants to ensure materials were the quality we expected.’

Career progression for quantity surveyors

When you join a quantity surveying firm, you will usually be known as a ‘graduate quantity surveyor’, ‘assistant surveyor’ or ‘trainee’, depending on the firm. You are likely to keep that 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 project management role. Career progression can be swift: Stuart Humphries of Arup became a senior quantity surveyor within ten years of graduating and project surveyor Gavin Chandler of Skanska UK was promoted three times in five years.

Over time, most 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.