What Does a Quantity Surveyor do?
Although a day in the life of a Quantity Surveyor's duties are fairly specific, just like many other jobs where the unexpected can happen no two days are exactly the same. In an average day, however, a Quantity Surveyor's to-do list will run largely along the lines of:
• Budgeting – estimating, analysing, and controlling costs
• Advice – on legal issues relating to the build and/or the workforce
• Money – valuation of finished work, and arranging to pay the workforce
Whatever the size of the job, and whether it's a new build or refurbishment and maintenance, the Quantity Surveyor is at the centre of the team, ensuring that maximum value is obtained from minimum spend, whilst ticking all possible legal and safety boxes – not the simplest of tasks.
The 'Morning' of the Job – the Budget
At the start of the job, it's the quantity surveyor's role to work out how much it's going to cost. Employed by the main contractor (in this example), they will then have full responsibility for keeping not just the construction costs on track, but overseeing any sub-contracted teams as well. The job gets its name from their major function – the production of a 'bill of quantities' – not just what it will cost, but how much of it, from where, and by whom.
The budget will, of course, depending on whether the job is building new city centre apartments, building a new motorway, or constructing a power station, but the steps are the same – the Quantity Surveyor is still reliant upon the information given to them by the client, via the main contractor. If those measurements or sketches are out, even by a fraction, the quantity surveyor will have a lot of reshuffling to do later on.
Looking at the plans and costs for similar projects may help them with a starting point in terms of estimating cost, and this is also a useful for helping any sub-contracted teams for specific tasks stay within their own budgets – essential for putting a suitable tender together. Providing value for money but still offering the best overall outcome is essential.
'Afternoon' – managing the contract and sourcing or giving appropriate advice
The next stage in the Quantity Surveyor's 'day' is to keep costs on track once the job has started. Providing ongoing data about how much the job is costing in real time has a dual function – keeping the main contractor (and also the end client) informed, and spotting areas that are coming in over or under budget before they cause wider issues.
Delays can come from unexpected areas as well as the usual suspects. There may already be room in the budget and timescale for unusually poor weather, or for staff sickness or injury, but legal or site-related issues can come from left field. The Quantity Surveyor doesn't just need to have a head for figures and an eye for detail, they need a talent for problem solving – and perhaps even a crystal ball to see issues coming – too.
It's also within the Quantity Surveyor's responsibilities to keep the client informed with interim project reports, especially if the bank will have to supply more financial assistance than originally planned for.
They will also need to have missed their shot at peacekeeping for the United Nations; with large projects and different methods of working between sub-contractors, there are bound to be disputes and disagreements. For many projects, it's down to the Quantity Surveyor to find common working ground and to smooth over anything that could derail the project entirely. Unless one party's work is actually unacceptable and they need to be replaced, it is the Quantity Surveyor's job to keep everyone on board, and to keep the project on target.
'After Work' – when the job is finished
The Quantity Surveyor's work doesn't end when the project does. Once construction is complete, it is then their job to prepare final accounts, recording the actual costs of each stage, and to pull all the threads together. An eye for detail at this stage is absolutely essential, as it's not beyond the bounds of reason that the completed job will one day be used as the template for another similar project.
Of course, this Quantity Surveyor's 'day' could cover many months, or even years for a lengthy and complex construction project, but it does serve as a useful guide for what skills it's necessary to have to consider a career as a Quantity Surveyor. Qualifications are a given, and just a matter of study and hard work, but the key personal qualities are just as important – a cool head, an eye for detail, and the ability to see problems before they happen are as essential as the planning and numerical skills.