If you have a practical mind and strong numerical and financial management skills, a career as a quantity surveyor could be ideal for you
A quantity surveyor manages all costs relating to building and civil engineering projects, from the initial calculations to the final figures. They seek to minimise the costs of a project and enhance value for money, while still achieving the required standards and quality. This includes ensuring statutory building regulations are met.
As a quantity surveyor you could work for either the client or the contractor, in an office or on site. You will be involved in a project from the start, preparing estimates and costs of the work. 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.
Alternative job titles include construction cost consultant and commercial manager.
To successfully carry out your role, you'll need to:
- prepare tender and contract documents, including bills of quantities with the architect and/or the client;
- undertake cost analysis for repair and maintenance project work;
- assist in establishing a client's requirements and undertake feasibility studies;
- perform risk, value management and cost control;
- advise on a procurement strategy;
- identify, analyse and develop responses to commercial risks;
- prepare and analyse costings for tenders;
- allocate work to subcontractors;
- provide advice on contractual claims;
- analyse outcomes and write detailed progress reports;
- value completed work and arrange payments;
- maintain awareness of the different building contracts in current use;
- understand the implications of health and safety regulations.
Once you have 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.
- Typical starting salaries range from £20,000 to £30,000. Obtaining chartered status increases both your job and salary prospects.
- Salaries at senior level may be between £45,000 and £65,000.
Principal partners in private practice may earn substantially more.
Shift and site allowances are often paid on top of the basic salary. Other benefits may also be available, including a car, pension and healthcare. Local government salaries are comparable to the private sector and a good pension is usually provided. A company car is not usually offered, but car mileage for site visits may be available.
Bonuses are common if targets are met and increases in salary can often be achieved by gaining more qualifications and taking on extra responsibilities.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours vary. If you work as a contractor on site, your working hours may be 7.30am to 6.00pm, while in private practice or in a local government department, your hours may fit the more standard 8.30am to 5.30pm. 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 may take up a whole day.
- Quantity surveying is a male-dominated profession, but the number of female recruits is growing in both private practice and the public sector.
- Self-employment/freelance work is frequently possible with experience. Companies are increasingly making use of freelance or agency workers to compete for contracts and offer faster turn-around times for completion.
- Travel within a working day is likely and may involve overnight stays depending on the location.
- Opportunities for overseas posts and for occasional overseas work or travel are available. This varies according to the type of employer and the location of the site and the client.
Degrees are available in quantity surveying, which are accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) but you do not have to have studied this subject to enter the profession.
Graduates from other degree subjects can take a postgraduate conversion course, which is also accredited by RICS. The first degree can be in any subject but those which may help to provide relevant knowledge include:
- building or construction;
- civil or structural engineering;
- urban and land studies.
The RICS accredited postgraduate courses will enable graduates to work as quantity surveyors. A list of relevant courses is available at RICS Courses.
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 postgraduate course.
Those without a degree may start in the industry as a technical surveyor (also known as surveying technicians). But, to secure work as a quantity surveyor they will need to complete a degree (possibly through part-time study while working) and if it's in a non-related subject they'll also need to do the conversion course.
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.
You will need to have:
- a practical and logical mind and a methodical way of thinking;
- a creative and innovative approach to problem solving;
- strong numeracy and financial management skills and the ability to learn sophisticated design and costing IT packages;
- the ability to write clear and precise reports and to relate complex information in a simple way to a diverse range of people;
- negotiation and team work skills and the ability to motivate and lead those on site;
- detailed knowledge of past and current building and construction technology, processes, materials, business and legal matters.
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. Work experience is 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.
The major employers of quantity surveyors are:
- 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 developers;
- the surveying sections of building and civil engineering contractors.
Many of these employers operate as multidisciplinary teams or departments, so quantity surveyors are likely to be working 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 include Macdonald and Company, which is endorsed by RICS.
Once you are working as a trainee quantity surveyor the next step is to work towards obtaining RICS membership to become a fully qualified chartered surveyor.
In order to do this, you must successfully complete the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), which is offered by RICS.
This is a structured training programme that usually lasts around two years (unless you have significant previous work experience). You will need to evidence your training in logbooks and records and have regular meetings with a supervisor. It 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.
RICS have established a lifelong learning programme for recording any professional development. The process may include open learning, private study (academic papers/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.
Once you have become a chartered quantity surveyor, you may wish to continue working across a broad range of disciplines throughout your career. Or, you may choose to specialise in a certain area and develop an in-depth knowledge of that particular field. For example, you could specialise in project management, effectively controlling the whole of a project from initial design through to completion.
Another option is to work on value engineering or risk assessment. Other specialist areas include capital allowances and tax, supply chain management and legal services such as contractual disputes.
You could also enhance your career progression by becoming a member of other relevant institutes such as:
- The Association of Cost Engineers (ACostE)
- Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)
- Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES) (particularly useful for those who want to work in the engineering construction industries).
There are opportunities for working abroad. For vacancies with international employers, see RICS Recruit.