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A Day in the Life of...a Quantity Surveyor

Rob Mills, Consultant Surveyor, GVE

1. How did you start your career in the construction industry?

My career in the construction industry began almost a decade ago when I worked as a surveyor and analyst in the asbestos industry. This role involved working predominantly in London, surveying both commercial and domestic properties to locate potential asbestos containing materials (ACMs) which may be located throughout a building. These surveys were primarily used in order to inform future trades of any in-situ asbestos to prevent disturbance caused by their works. Often surveys were undertaken due to poor condition ACMs or ACMs which were located directly where works were required to happen, thus removal was required. As a surveyor I would identify the ACMs whereas as an analyst I would ensure said ACMs were

removed safely and the removal area was fit for human reoccupation. This often involved full four stage clearance procedures requiring such measures as CAT 3 Tyvek suits, full face mask with HEPA 3 filters, air testing, a sealed working area under constant negative pressure, air locks and a decontamination unit.

My time as a surveyor and analyst provided me with a varied skill set some of which were transferrable to my current role as a QS such as; working directly with clients and contractors, drawing scaled site plans, writing reports, a strong knowledge of asbestos as well as how buildings are constructed.

2. Describe a typical working day for you.

In my current project, which utilises a NEC3 based contract, a typical day involves collaborating with the project manager for my portfolio of schemes, dealing with any potential early warning notices or compensation events which may have arisen, assessing applications for payment sent in by subcontractors and subsequently processing payments for said works. I also often have to engage in forecasting, procurement, preparing final accounts and liaising with the site supervisor to formally instruct additional works.

3. What is the most memorable construction project you have been involved in and why?

The most memorable project I have worked on has been the London City Airport DATCT (Digital Air Traffic Control Tower). This project garnered me a considerable knowledge of steel construction, the difficulties of construction work in an airport as well as the complications involved with the transport of equipment and materials along the Thames. This project also cemented the importance of following the contract, which happened to be an amended NEC3 Option A. Following the contract and the provided timescales to the letter enabled me to succeed where the contractor failed, resulting in seven out of eight compensation events becoming automatically accepted due to the contractor’s failure to reply on multiple occasions. I found this project to be both stimulating and rewarding, with a personal growing preference for the objective nature of the NEC.

4. What do you see as the greatest challenge in your role and how do you overcome this?

One of the greatest challenges within my role is the task of obtaining information from others. Frequently, emails I send will go either ignored or unanswered for a potentially significant length of time, even after multiple attempts of contact. This is often related to applications for payment, following notice periods of the contract, requesting formal instructions from the client (conveniently forgotten!?), attempting to get prices back for tenders as well as general queries. Perseverance, politeness and, where possible, speaking to the person directly via phone or skype are key to overcoming this obstacle.

5. What is your vision for the industry in the future?

I believe the construction industry is heading towards a future which heavily revolves around the digital world, including high levels of collaboration between all involved parties from feasibility through to end of building life. To achieve this, technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) will be used which, as defined by ISO 19650:2019, involves the use of a shared digital representation of a built asset to facilitate design, construction and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions.

BIM can be used to establish fully integrated supply chains which allow all parties to work co-operatively and collaboratively in order to add value to the design and construction process, reduce time, cost and environmental impacts as well as improve health and safety standards and overall project quality. Studies completed since BIM’s introduction within the public sector have demonstrated how BIM has already aided to reduce costs and overall construction times as well as carbon emissions. Comparatively speaking, BIM has only been around for a very short period of time and has already generated a positive impact throughout the construction industry with many more positive implications anticipated to come as the industry further adopts it.

The Latham Report (Constructing the Team) published in 1994 highlighted key issues with the construction industry of the time and concluded the UK construction industry is adversarial, does not achieve good value as well as being wasteful and inefficient. Whilst measures have been taken to attend to these concerns (such as the introduction of the NEC suite of contracts), they still exist to this day and yet there is hope they can be significantly reduced in the future via the use of BIM.

6. What advice would you give an aspiring quantity surveyor?

My advice to an aspiring quantity surveyor would be:

  • Aim to find an employer who will support and allow you to engage with part time learning in order to obtain your qualifications whilst simultaneously gaining practical knowledge (even better if they pay for your qualification too!).

  • Attempt to gather all available knowledge from those around you and any resources which are available – they may come in handy at a later date.

  • Ensure you maintain a high level of quality in your work – do not sacrifice quality for quantity as this will only cause more work in the long run and look unprofessional.

  • Try and get involved with a wide variety of tasks, from the usual QS responsibilities such as applications for payment to cost value reconciliations to procurement and tendering all the way to dispute and legal works. This will provide a strong and rounded knowledge, allowing multiple potential avenues to choose a preferred path early on in your career and set goals for the future.

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