Quantity surveyors are some of the most important people for major construction projects. They are in charge of the finances of the project, negotiating contracts, liaising with suppliers and ensuring that everything on the project is running smoothly.
What is a quantity surveyor?
A quantity surveyor manages the contracts and costs of construction projects. The main role of a quantity surveyor is to keep costs down and to ensure that all legal and quality standards are being adhered to by those on site.
Quantity surveyors will prepare presentations and estimations of all project progress and keep track of developments. This role involves liaising with several key project workers, including site engineers and architects.
A degree is not necessarily a requirement, but it will be difficult to find a career as a quantity surveyor without one.
Generally, a quantity surveyor will work on big commercial projects, but many take on smaller projects, such as residential builds. Quantity surveyors are sometimes known by other names too, including cost consultant, commercial manager, project coordinator or cost analyst.
All quantity surveyor jobs depend on the company you work for and the project you are working on. Your role can also affect your responsibilities; for instance, a private quantity surveyor (PQS) will have different roles and responsibilities than a commercial quantity surveyor.
Though both roles will have plenty of overlap, a PQS will have more of a design focus. It is not uncommon for a PQS to speak to clients about the initial design process and to put them in touch with the creative leads of the project before construction begins.
The general roles of a quantity surveyor are:
- Analyse costs for tenders.
- Ensure health and safety regulations are adhered to.
- Ensure that all projects are risk compliant.
- Establish and maintain client relationships.
- Establish time frames.
- Manage budgets.
- Negotiate work schedules, contracts and budgets.
- Prepare contract documents.
Those with more specific industry knowledge will also focus on areas such as:
- Advise on building and construction maintenance.
- Assist in location scouting.
- Laying the groundwork on construction projects. Offer taxation advice.
A quantity surveyor will also advise on procurement strategy and contractual disputes. Some have been known to handle claims and develop responses for commercial risks. Writing progress reports, arranging payments and overseeing bills.
A quantity surveyor's salary will depend on a number of factors. Your salary will largely differ depending on the company you are working for. Those working in London will have a much better salary than those working in other areas.
The starting salary for a graduate quantity surveyor is around £19,000. Those with work experience in the construction world and at an assistant level can expect a salary of around £42,000. Your salary will rise even higher as you move into management roles. Those who have chartered status can potentially earn around £49,000.
Those at a management level can expect very competitive salaries. At this level, you can expect a salary of around £80,000.
A degree is not necessarily a requirement, but it will be difficult to find a career as a quantity surveyor without one. Your degree must be accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
The best subjects to study at university are:
- Business degrees
- Civil engineering degrees
- Construction degrees
- Geography degrees Landscape architecture degrees
- Mathematics degrees
- Project management degrees
- Structural engineering degrees
Studying other courses at an undergraduate level and then studying any of the above at a postgraduate level is possible. You can also look into the possibility of a quantity surveying HND. It is also possible to study a conversion course accredited by the RICS.
Postgraduate degrees are not essential for this role, but are hugely advantageous and could lead to greater salaries.
Those who do not have a degree will find work as a quantity surveyor difficult to come by, but not impossible. This means starting out in a different role and working your way up. You may be asked to complete an RICS-accredited quantity surveying course while you work without a degree.
Training and development
Most companies will handle your training and development in-house, but others may ask you to take responsibility yourself. Joining an accredited body can be very helpful for further training. Institutions such as the RICS, the Association of Cost Engineers (ACostE), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES) will all offer a variety of different courses, lectures and networking events.
Work experience at pre-university level may be difficult, but not impossible.
After a few years, many quantity surveyors like to start working towards ‘chartered status’. You must study the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) provided by the RICS. The APC is a training programme that generally takes around two years to complete. Those studying the APC will need to show evidence for their training in logbooks or records and will also need to meet regularly with a supervisor.
The APC shares many aspects with continuing professional development (CPD). A CPD is a professional requirement for all members of the RICS, who must undertake a minimum of 20 hours of CPD, which will include professional courses, private study and attendance at several conferences and events.
A quantity surveyor needs many skills. These skills can be further honed or improved through training and development courses.
The skills needed to become a quantity surveyor are:
- An ability to speak to different levels of workers within a business or on-site.
- An ability to work with data, analytics and statistical models.
- Excellent IT skills.
- Excellent commercial awareness.
- Excellent interpersonal skills.
- Excellent powers of recall.
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
- Good problem-solving skills.
- Good project management skills.
- Strong presentation skills.
As you move into more senior roles, you may need other skills to add to your arsenal. This will include the ability to complete detailed reports for your superiors, make presentations at the board level and an ability to manage large teams.
Work experience at pre-university level may be difficult, but not impossible. Speaking to a construction company and asking to shadow a surveyor as they work may be possible. Still, you may not be allowed on-site owing to insurance issues.
At university, work experience can be found as part of a degree placement. Some universities will have excellent ties to the local building and construction industries, and some may have good connections with regional and national companies.
Work experience is not a requirement when applying for the role, but it can be exceptionally useful. Employers are generally more interested in qualifications and how you appear in your job interview, but work experience might tip the scales in your favour.
Any work experience you have does not necessarily need to have been in quantity surveying. As long as you have experience relating to construction or even a non-related industry with a financial overlap with the role, it will be invaluable when applying.
A quantity surveyor manages the contracts and costs of construction projects.
Some firms will offer quantity surveying placements or summer internships. These will have many applicants and may be closed very quickly, so you must get your application in as quickly as possible.
Generally, you will start your career as a trainee quantity surveyor or assistant quantity surveyor and then move into a junior role. At this level, you will likely be shadowing other quantity surveyors and learning the ropes of the construction industry. You will aid more senior surveyors in budget analysis, presentations and site audits.
With enough experience, it is possible to apply for chartered status. Chartered status is not necessarily an industry requirement (although your business may ask you to apply for it).
Some professionals decide to specialise in specific areas. For instance, some surveyors choose to specialise in tax, legal services and supply chain management, which can prove very helpful for clients and your business.
With years of experience, you can move into more senior roles. As a senior surveyor, you will train new surveyors and liaise with clients. From there, you can also move into project management roles or into roles that have more of a focus on commercial application and contract negotiation.
It is also possible to explore freelance consultancy work. These are slightly rarer, as companies tend to use in-house quantity surveyors rather than external companies.