Quantity surveyors manage all costs relating to building and civil engineering projects, from the initial calculations to the final figures

As a quantity surveyor, you'll seek to minimise the cost and risk of a construction project and enhance value for money, while still achieving the required legal standards and quality. This includes ensuring statutory building regulations are met.

You'll prepare estimates and costs of the work and when the project is in progress, you'll keep track of any variations to the contract that may affect costs and create reports to show profitability.

Working either for the client or the contractor, in an office or on site, you'll be involved in every stage of a project. Projects include commercial, industrial and residential constructions.

Alternative job titles include construction cost consultant, cost manager and commercial manager.

Responsibilities

Your exact duties will vary to a certain extent depending on whether you work for a consultancy as a private quantity surveyor (PQS) or for a contractor.

As a PQS you'll advise clients from the initial design stage, working out the budget for the job and then putting it out for tender to contractors. The contractor's quantity surveyor will usually be more hands-on, working on site and will liaise with the PQS. Many firms will provide a one-stop-shop from initial design through to completion.

However, as a quantity surveyor, you'll typically need to:

  • assist in establishing a client's requirements and undertake feasibility studies to ensure their proposals will work
  • prepare and analyse project costings for tenders, such as materials, quantities, labour and time
  • prepare tender and contract documents, including bills of quantities with the architect and/or the client
  • negotiate contracts and work schedules
  • allocate work to subcontractors and oversee their work at all stages of the construction
  • perform risk, value management and cost control during construction
  • undertake cost analysis for repair and maintenance project work
  • advise on a procurement strategy
  • identify, analyse and develop responses to commercial risks
  • provide advice on contractual claims and disputes
  • analyse outcomes and write detailed progress reports
  • value completed work, oversee bills and arrange payments
  • maintain awareness of the different building contracts in current use
  • understand the implications of health and safety regulations.

Once you've gained sufficient experience and specialist knowledge, you may also:

  • offer advice on property taxation
  • provide post-occupancy advice, facilities management services and life cycle costing advice
  • assist clients in locating and accessing additional and alternative sources of funding
  • enable clients to initiate construction projects
  • advise on the maintenance costs of specific buildings.

Salary

  • Salaries for trainees and graduate apprentices range from £18,000 to around £28,000, depending on your experience.
  • Newly trained chartered surveyors can earn around £25,000 to £35,000.
  • With experience you can earn around £35,000 to £55,000.
  • Salaries at management level range from around £50,000 to in excess of £80,000.

Salaries vary depending on your qualifications, skills and experience, your location, type of employer (e.g. consultancy or contractor) and the sector you work in. Obtaining chartered status increases both your job and salary prospects.

Bonuses are common if targets are met and increases in salary can often be achieved by gaining more qualifications and taking on extra responsibilities.

Other benefits may include a car allowance, pension, private healthcare and life insurance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 37 to 40 hours per week.

If you work for a consultancy (private practice) or in a local government department, you'll typically work a standard office working week.

If you work for a contractor on site, your working hours may be longer and you may have to do shift work.

Occasional weekend work may be required.

What to expect

  • The work is office based (which may be on a construction site), but also includes site visits, which can take up a whole day. If you're working on a construction site, you'll need to wear protective gear.
  • Jobs are available working on construction projects throughout the UK. Self-employment/freelance work is possible with experience.
  • The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is working to increase diversity in the surveying profession through a number of initiatives.
  • Travel within a working day is likely and may involve overnight stays.
  • There are some opportunities for overseas posts and for occasional overseas work or travel.

Qualifications

To work as a quantity surveyor, you will usually need a degree in quantity surveying or commercial management accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

If your undergraduate degree is in a different subject, you can take a RICS-accredited postgraduate conversion course. Relevant degree subjects include:

  • building or construction
  • civil or structural engineering
  • economics
  • geography
  • mathematics
  • project management (construction)
  • urban and land studies.

The postgraduate course takes one year to complete full time and around two years part time. Some employers may take on graduates as 'non-cognates' (those with a degree that is not RICS accredited) and support and fund them through the accredited postgraduate course.

You can also take a RICS-accredited degree apprenticeship (undergraduate, PGDip or Masters) in quantity surveying and project management, which combines work with part-time study at a university.

A list of accredited courses is available at RICS Courses.

If you don't have a degree, you could start work as a technical surveyor (also known as a surveying technician) and then undertake part-time study while working to qualify as a quantity surveyor. Advanced surveying technician apprenticeships are available.

Further study is essential in order to gain chartership and membership of RICS. Relevant work experience, either on site or within an office, gives you a valuable start.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • written and verbal communication skills, including the ability to write clear reports in order to convey complex information in a simple way to a diverse range of people
  • strong interpersonal skills and the ability to build and develop relationships
  • numerical and data analysis skills
  • a creative and innovative approach to problem solving
  • IT skills and the ability to learn sophisticated design and costing IT packages
  • team work skills and the ability to motivate and lead those on site
  • project management skills
  • resilience, determination and the ability to work well under pressure
  • good commercial awareness
  • a practical, logical and methodical approach to work
  • attention to detail
  • detailed knowledge of past and current building and construction technology, processes, materials, business and legal matters.

Work experience

Work experience is extremely helpful when trying to secure a job. Employers look for your dedication and enthusiasm for the field and any working knowledge you may have. It's also a good way to confirm that you are following the right career path.

Many firms offer structured placements which may last from a few days to a whole summer vacation. Check firms' websites for details or apply speculatively. Use the RICS Find a Surveyor facility for contact information.

Employers

The major employers of quantity surveyors are:

  • architects
  • commercial businesses
  • large engineering consultancies and housing associations
  • large international mechanical contractors
  • local authorities and government agencies
  • the offices of private practice quantity surveyors (PQS)
  • petroleum engineering companies - sometimes recruiting under the title 'cost engineer'
  • property firms and developers
  • the surveying sections of building and civil engineering contractors.

Many employers operate in a multidisciplinary capacity, so you're likely to work alongside other surveying professionals, such as civil engineers and architects.

Look for job vacancies at:

Academic departments may also be approached by employers, so it's worthwhile keeping in touch with tutors.

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Macdonald & Company also advertise vacancies.

Professional development

Once you're working as a trainee quantity surveyor, the next step to becoming a fully qualified chartered surveyor is to obtain RICS membership (MRICS). In order to do this, you must successfully complete the RICS Assessment of Professional Competence (APC).

APC is a structured training programme that usually lasts around two years (unless you have significant previous work experience). You'll need to evidence your training in logbooks and records and have regular meetings with a supervisor. The programme also involves a set amount of hours of professional development and ends with an assessment interview.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is an important aspect of maintaining professional competencies and practice standards. Members of RICS must undertake a minimum of 20 hours of CPD annually, which may include a mix of professional courses, private study (of academic papers or industry publications), attending conferences and events, running workshops and further study or in-house training.

Developing and maintaining professional competencies throughout your career is vital for progression. You could also enhance your career progression by becoming a member of other relevant institutes such as the:

Career prospects

You'll typically start your career as a trainee quantity surveyor and once qualified you'll move on to junior/assistant surveyor, supporting the work of senior surveyors. You'll usually spend around two to three years in a junior role, developing your skills and experience.

You can then move on to an intermediate role, working independently and going on to manage larger scale projects with bigger budgets and limited or no supervision. It's important to gain chartered status to improve your career prospects and salary.

Once you've become a chartered quantity surveyor, you may wish to continue working across a broad range of disciplines or specialise in a certain type of infrastructure, such as road or bridge construction.

Another option is to specialise in a particular discipline such as civil engineering, capital allowances and tax, supply chain management, planning and legal services such as contractual disputes.

With a further two to three years' experience, it's possible to move into a senior surveying role, with responsibility for trainee and junior surveyors. Further career progression is possible into roles such as quantity surveyor manager, project manager, or contracts or commercial manager. You'll usually need a minimum of ten years' experience for these types of roles, and leadership skills as well as advanced communication and analytical skills.

There are opportunities for experienced professionals to move into freelance consultancy work or self-employment. There are also some opportunities for working abroad.

Find out how Josh became an apprentice quantity surveyor at BBC Bitesize.

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