Quantity Surveyors play a key role in construction projects. Their job is to keep the project on track financially, estimating and managing the costs of materials and labour as it develops.
Our team of Quantity Surveyors here at CMS work on a huge range of projects, spanning schools, sports facilities, health centres, private residential properties, and more. To gain a better insight into their work, we recently chatted to Brenainn, a Chartered Quantity Surveyor who has been on an incredible journey to reach this point and recently passed his RICS chartership.
What is quantity surveying like as a career? Let’s hear from Brenainn!
How would you describe your role?
At the start of a project, my main role is to determine a sensible budget for the client. They may already have a budget in mind, so I need to ask, is this realistic? Will they need extra funds? As the design develops, I ensure the design is still within budget.
As you go through the project, we can produce tender documents to assist the client in selecting a contractor. Then we can produce the contract documentation, ensuring there is a contract in place between the parties.
During the construction phase it’s all about making sure the budget isn’t exceeded and reporting changes in costs as they arise. The client might have to source additional funds if the project goes over budget, or they might request that the design is altered, potentially reducing the scope of works to ensure that budget is kept to, and the client doesn’t overspend.
What key skills would you say are needed to be a quantity surveyor?
You need really good attention to detail. You need to not overlook things, because if you miss something, that’s potentially someone’s money not being accounted for in the budget. Especially with cost plans, it could be easy to not fully understand the site, so it’s important to go to the site, take pictures and make sure you understand the difficulties and risks involved, so everything is covered in the cost. That way you don’t end up under-pricing or over-pricing, providing a false sense of unaffordability or affordability.
What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a quantity surveyor?
I don’t think quantity surveying is like being artist or anything like that where you’re born with a skill that makes you destined for that sort of job. I think most people can be quantity surveyors – the important things are making sure you understand the project, analysing it and making sure everything is covered.
What’s emphasised the most at university is the need for construction technology knowledge. You need to know how buildings function, how sites work, what the risks are, about water tables etc, in order to price it. A lot of people struggle to start doing cost plans without any construction knowledge – I know I did! It’s hard to gauge until you have that knowledge, so that’s the best place to start!
What has your educational journey looked like from school leaver to Chartered Quantity Surveyor?
At the start it was quite a slow, progressive journey. Following A Levels at sixth form, I went straight into my university degree in Quantity Surveying and Commercial Management. This was a 5-year course, so took a very long time!
At the start, you don’t know anything about construction or quantity surveying, so there was a lot to learn. It was in my fourth to fifth year that I started to really get a grasp of it and take a bigger role and more responsibility at CMS.
It took two years to build up to my RICS chartership, and one year after I qualified, I started working on my master’s (Mechanical and Electrical Quantity Surveying), so I was doing a master’s degree and my RICS chartership at the same time!
What was the RICS chartership process like?
It’s a lot of speaking to yourself, as you have to do a 10-minute presentation. I would just recite my presentation over and over again, eventually getting to the point where I could read it without notes.
After the presentation there was 50 minutes of questions by the assessors, and all you can do for that is read around the subject and make sure you know the industry, the ethics of the RICS and how it functions as an organisation. That’s the pass or fail bit. Everything else is more subjective – they understand that people have experience in certain areas of quantity surveying.
You also have to do a written assessment that they review, which forms the basis of the interview. You write about all your key competencies and experience, and they use this to question you.
How was the interview?
It was the hardest part for me because it’s not something I’m used to. I’ve never done that sort of high-pressure interview. I was very stressed going into it, but once you get started and understand how they’re questioning you, it’s not so bad!
What does a typical day look like for you?
It varies throughout the year! Right now, we’re mainly doing pre-contract work, so a lot of cost plans and tender documents whilst we haven’t got much on site. But at other times of the year, we could have lots of projects on site which varies the workload.
What is your favourite part of your job?
My favourite aspect is doing cost plans, whereby you get drawings from the design team and use these to determine how that building is going to be built and costed up.
The information you get depends on where you are in the development stages – towards the beginning of a project you might just get a plan drawing of a building, in which case you’ve really got to use your imagination!
As it develops, you’ll get drawings from structural engineers, electrical engineers etc, and you can make it a lot more accurate. At the start it can be up to 50% inaccurate, but as you get more and more detailed, this hopefully goes down close to 0%!
How accurate have you found them to be?
Most of my estimates have been accurate within reasonable ranges, however it depends on where you are in the developmental stages as early designs can change quite a lot, hence the importance of producing cost plans at each design stage to ensure they match up. This is especially common with existing buildings – it’s quite hard to determine what works you need to do at early design stages until you actually start doing surveys and investigative work. Sometimes costs can really spiral!
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
To be honest, I’d say the biggest challenge is now! As I’ve become busier and busier, alongside working towards my master’s degree, the challenge has been finding time to do everything. But it’s been great to be able to take on projects independently.
What software, tools or resources are most integral to your work?
As well as Excel, measuring software is amazing. A traditional quantity surveyor would use a ruler to do drawings by hand, which can take forever. But with measuring software, you can very quickly gather accurate measurements of a building just by uploading a PDF of a drawing. I use CostOS, another one is Bluebeam – there is lots of different types you can use. I recommend all Quantity Surveyors use measuring software!
How would you describe the company culture at CMS?
I really like it. It’s quite a small company, and I think that’s one of its key benefits, as people always have time for you. You can ask people questions, and they’re happy to lend a hand, which you might not always find with larger companies.
What interests you about the future of the construction industry?
I would say automation and artificial intelligence. I don’t think it’s going to replace quantity surveyors, because the advice side of things is something that needs to be person-delivered, but AI could have amazing capabilities for things like measuring. The dream is for AI to lift every aspect of a building from a drawing and produce the measuring documentation for us, which would save a lot of time!
If you would like to chat to one of the team about careers in the construction industry or are interested in a work experience placement at CMS, please get in touch.