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Quantity surveyors, who may also be known as commercial managers or construction cost consultants, are specialists in the financial and contractual aspects of construction projects. They are involved at all stages of the project and are usually appointed by the architect or engineer who has designed the construction. They act as the financial overseer of a particular project, translating the plans into detailed costs. This involves working out the timings of each process and the precise quantity of materials needed. The main tasks include preparing information on the cost of labour, plant and materials, allocating work to subcontractors, preparing tender and contract documents, advising on the choice of materials and construction techniques, dealing with planning issues, building regulations and architects, and managing costs on site and dealing with cost reconciliation.
The work is central to the profitability of construction projects. Through negotiation, successful quantity surveyors can save large amounts of money for the companies they work for.
The main route into quantity surveying is by taking a first degree - normally in quantity surveying or a closely related subject - accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). Alternatively, postgraduate courses are available for people with degrees in other subjects.
Entry to an accredited degree course is generally with two or three A levels/three or four H grades, or equivalent qualifications, plus five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3). You should check specific requirements with individual institutions. Useful A level/H grade subjects include maths, English, geography, physical science, geology, economics, law, ICT, art, business studies, design and technology and languages.
If you don't have the academic entry requirements for a degree course, you may be able to study at HNC/HND or foundation degree level. These qualifications can be supplemented with further study for the RICS or CIOB accredited degrees.
In the Greater London area, the Chartered Surveyors Training Trust offers work-based training for young people aged 16 to 24 years. For this, you must have a minimum of four GCSEs (A-C), including English, maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications. Trainees work towards an Advanced Apprenticeship and an HND in Construction, before continuing to study on an accredited degree course.
Entry to RICS accredited postgraduate conversion courses is with a first degree, which can be in a subject unrelated to surveying. With a degree, it is also possible to take a three-year graduate diploma accredited by the CIOB, whilst working in a construction company.
Making the grade
On completion of a RICS or CIOB accredited degree or diploma, you must gain further practical experience before becoming fully qualified. For the RICS, this involves a minimum of two years of structured learning in employment, leading to a RICS professional assessment interview - known as the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC). Successful completion of the APC entitles you to use the letters MRICS.
The CIOB has a professional development programme which requires the completion of a personal development record over three years, based upon a skills and competency requirement. This is followed by a professional interview.
RICS and CIOB are the main professional institutions, and membership is essential for chartered status. It is also possible for quantity surveyors to join the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors. Some surveyors are members of more than one institution.
All quantity surveyors also undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which may include gaining additional qualifications.
With experience, you could become a project manager. You could also move into specialist areas such as legal services, risk management or facilities management.
Self-employment and freelance work are quite common.
As a quantity surveyor, you would need to be a practical person with a logical and methodical approach to problem solving. You would need good IT and numeracy skills, together with the ability to analyse the content of complicated documents. A clear understanding both of construction techniques and technology and of the relevant laws and health and safety requirements would be essential.
You should have good communications skills as you could be required to express your opinions both verbally and on paper. You are also likely to be involved in negotiating with a wide variety of people, which means that you would have to listen to the points of view of others as well as giving your own opinion. In addition, you are likely to be working as a member of a team, which may require you to motivate and lead people on site.
The main employers of quantity surveyors are building and civil engineering contractors, consultancies that advise clients on construction costs, the property divisions of large organisations, and local government and other public sector bodies.
Jobs are available throughout the UK. The demand for quantity surveyors is strong and there is a shortage of people with the appropriate skills.
Other possibilities might include architect, building surveyor, civil engineer, construction manager, estate agent, general practice surveyor, housing manager or town planner.
When you first start working, you could expect to earn between £16,000 and £24,000. If you start working for a large contractor, you could earn more as you may get paid for working site hours. Your salary could easily rise with experience to £30,000 to £50,000, and you could earn substantially more if you become a principal partner in private practice.
Quantity surveyors are generally office based, although your office may be on a construction site. Most quantity surveyors are likely to make some site visits, which require the use of safety equipment such as hard hats and boots.
When based at construction site, you may work from, say, 8am to 6pm. Otherwise, you may keep more normal office hours. Occasional weekend work may be required.
Sources of information
Chartered Institute of Building: www.ciob.org.uk
Chartered Surveyors Training Trust: www.cstt.org.uk
Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors: www.ices.org.uk
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors: www.rics.org