What does a Quantity Surveyor do?

12th October, 2021

Quantity surveyors are responsible for managing the contractual and financial side of construction projects from early planning drawings through to practical completion. The primary role of a Quantity Surveyor is to measure and value construction work, setting and managing the construction budget for a project. They are critical in ensuring construction projects finish on-time and on-budget.

Quantity Surveyors typically work on either the client side as part of the design team or for contractors constructing the building projects. These two contrary roles are detailed further below. Quantity surveyors that work for consultancies tend to be office-based and work typical office hours of 9-5, whereas those who have been employed by contractors tend to be based within temporary offices on construction sites and work builder’s hours which can be 8:30-5:30.

There are also opportunities for quantity surveyors in property development firms, Architectural practices, Infrastructure and utility companies, and Public Sector Organisations.

How a typical project involvement for a PQS (client side) Quantity Surveyor looks:

Early-Stage Design – A Quantity Surveyor would be involved in setting project budgets and producing early-stage feasibility estimates based on planning drawings.

Developing design – As the design continues to develop through stages 0-3 of the RIBA the Quantity Surveyor will continue to provide revised and updated estimates reflecting the increasing level of design available, with accuracy and detail of the estimate increasing along with the design.

Detailed Design – When the Architect has completed their tender design the Quantity Surveyor will prepare a Pricing Document / Bill of Quantities to assist the tendering process. This enables a fair competition between bidding Contractors and ensures their prices are inclusive of all works.

Tender Process – The Quantity Surveyor produces tender documentation to send out to Contractors for pricing. This typically includes all drawings, the BoQ, draft contract, preliminaries document and any other relevant appendices. The QS will then analyse these tenders once completed and make recommendations to the client on who to proceed with.

Contract Administration – The QS will then prepare contract documents to be signed by the client and chosen Contractor. The Contract is typically either a JCT contract or an NEC form of contract. The QS is then responsible for administering and enforcing the contract on a daily basis, ensuring both parties remain compliant during the construction stage.

Post Contract Management – The QS will continue to administer the contract throughout the construction phase. Measuring and valuing any variations that arise, making monthly valuations and payments to the contractor and agreeing the final account with them. The QS will also report to the client each month whether the project is on budget, using a forecasted final account calculation updated on a monthly basis.

How a typical project involvement for a Contractor’s Quantity Surveyor looks:

Pricing Tender – In a traditional procurement project, the Contractors QS’ first involvement generally is pricing the tender received from the clients QS. They will measure and value the tender works and send out sub-contract tenders to their sub-contractors.

Procuring Sub-Contractors and Construction Materials– When the tender is successful the contractors QS will place orders and get sub-contracts into place with suppliers.

Valuations – the Contractors QS will submit monthly valuations to the clients QS for approval. Within this they will have measured, and valued works done to date, as well as notifying the client of any variations that have arisen. Subsequently from this, they also value and pay the works completed by their own sub-contractors.

On a more general point, they will liaise with the client and other construction professionals, such as site engineers, project managers and site managers on an ongoing basis throughout the project, as well as their own in-house team in their Main Contractor organisation.

Career Progression and Specialisms

Due to the wide-ranging skills and applications of the Quantity Surveyor role there are several specialisms within the industry, as well as progression into some roles that would not necessarily involve quantity surveying on a daily basis.

  1. Capital allowances and tax – The capital allowances sector frequently calls upon Quantity Surveyors to identify building components which qualify for capital allowance tax relief for property purchases, refurbishments and construction projects. Traditionally these claims were covered by accountants, but naturally this sector called upon the expertise of quantity surveyors due to their specialist knowledge of construction technology and cost.
  2. Risk management – Risk managers within the construction industry help clients to assess, evaluate and develop strategies to deal with risks, most commonly legal and financial risks. It often involves working with contracts and quantity surveyors have suitable backgrounds to work this role.
  3. Dispute resolution – There are an increasing number of Quantity Surveyors ending up in positions such as Arbitrators, Adjudicators and Mediators. This is due to their extensive knowledge of construction contracts and hands on experience in a lot of disputes which may arise. Quite a number for QS’s divert away from traditional quantity surveying to complete professional qualifications in the legal industry.
  4. Sub-contractors – A vast number of QS’s end up in specific roles within sub-contractors, most commonly in the Mechanical and Engineering fields. Quite often, QS’s that start in one of these specialist careers will seldom change their role throughout their career and become ‘pigeonholed’ in one specific role.
  5. Managing Directors – There is also a staggering number of MDs in Main Contractor’s that begin their working careers as Quantity Surveyors. QS’ make great managing directors due to their understanding of business finances as well as their skills in co-ordinating and communication within a team, making them well suited to managing companies.
  6. University Lecturer – another possible career route for Quantity Surveyors is to become university lecturers, educating the next generation of Quantity Surveyors. University Lecturers would predominantly be either older QS’s or QS’s which have become bored / disillusioned with the day to day life in industry.
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