How to become a quantity surveyor

Updated 20 February 2023

In construction, there are many important job roles that can contribute to the success of projects. One such role is that of quantity surveyors who estimate job costs, maintain budgets and draft material lists. If you are interested in becoming a quantity surveyor, it's helpful to know where to start. In this article we define what a quantity surveyor is, explain what their key responsibilities are, list steps you can take to become a quantity surveyor and reveal more about surveyor salary expectations and work environment.

What is a quantity surveyor?

A quantity surveyor is someone who estimates costs and maintains budgets for construction projects. They communicate with clients, the company's accounting department and construction teams to help ensure projects don't exceed their established budgets. While surveyors often complete most of their work on the computer, they sometimes visit job sites to monitor projects' progress, communicate with project managers and keep projects on track.

Because quantity surveyors have to manage complex estimates for jobs, it can be helpful for surveyors to have skills in:

  • Organisation: Keeping track of project status, budgets, contracts and material cost sheets can require good organisation skills and attention to detail.

  • Communication: Quantity surveyors often have to interact with clients, project teams, job leaders and suppliers. Good communication skills can help them negotiate purchases, communicate concerns and ensure projects remain on track.

  • Finance: Finance skills can help surveyors design effective budgets and review the company's spending habits to identify potential areas of improvement. This can also help them in their calculations to create accurate estimates, order adequate material amounts and accommodate unexpected costs.

  • Management: Management and leadership skills can help surveyors direct teams on best practices and keep jobs on track. They might have to visit job sites and adjust operations to make sure budgets are being met and they have the materials they need.

Related: What are construction estimates and why are they important?

What does a quantity surveyor do?

Quantity surveyors perform a variety of functions related to construction projects. Their responsibilities can include:

  • Estimating costs: By considering material types and quantities, surveyors can predict how much it costs to complete a project and share those estimations with clients. They might have to consider factors like resource availability, project timelines and customer specifications.

  • Reviewing blueprints: Quantity surveyors often use construction blueprints to establish how much of each material a project needs. Because blueprints offer a high-level view of the entire project, they can help surveyors study each project phase and perform accurate calculations.

  • Negotiating contracts: To stay within budget, surveyors might facilitate writing and negotiating contract terms for clients and construction companies. Contracts often use information from quotes, budgets and design plans to establish the terms of the agreement.

  • Tracking costs: Surveyors often develop documents and spreadsheets to help them keep track of expenses. Managing budgets, finance reports and contracts and tracking purchases are some of the primary duties of a quantity surveyor. They may also keep receipts and other records of orders, purchases and material usage.

  • Managing projects: A large part of being a quantity surveyor is managing projects. This can include setting and maintaining budgets, advising clients and selecting cost-effective project materials.

  • Travelling: In order to track project progress and communicate with project teams, quantity surveyors often need to travel to job sites. Because surveyors may manage one job at a time, they sometimes have to travel between multiple projects.

  • Making project adjustments: By analysing a company's finances and designing careful project budgets, quantity surveyors can prevent overspending on projects. They can also use their experience to inform more accurate estimations in the future. For example, if they have a material surplus on a project, they might adjust their ordering for future jobs.

  • Balancing budgets: They might also review existing company budgets to identify areas construction companies can work to improve. By increasing or decreasing spending for specific areas, they can make sure businesses are efficiently using their funds.

Related: What is construction planning? Types and steps to complete

How to become a quantity surveyor

If you are interested in becoming a quantity surveyor, here are some steps you can take:

1. Pursue a degree

While not every employer requires quantity surveyors to have degrees, doing a quantity surveying or commercial management degree can help advance you in your career. Most students can attend degree programs after finishing their A levels, Highers or equivalent qualifications. Consider taking courses in subjects like maths, finance, land studies, business management and engineering fundamentals. These courses can prepare you for your eventual work as a surveyor. It may also be helpful to find a university accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Related: What jobs can you get with a degree in construction?

2. Gain experience

The next step to becoming a quantity surveyor is to gain experience in the field. Internships, apprenticeships and entry-level jobs can be great ways to build your industry knowledge, develop your skills and advance your career.

Here's an overview of what you can expect from each novice position:

  • Apprenticeship: Apprenticeships allow you to work beneath an expert in your field to gain helpful and practical experience. By observing professional quantity surveyors while they work, apprentices can learn a lot about the duties, skills and techniques of a quantity surveyor.

  • Internship: Internship positions can be a good option if you want to develop your skills under guided supervision. Supervisors might offer advice and insight that can help you in your career. Internships are often temporary positions, but the connections you make could present future opportunities.

  • Entry-level position: An entry-level position can help prepare you for a future as a quantity surveyor. Typically, a position as an entry-level quantity surveyor assistant or part-time surveyor offers less guidance than an internship or apprenticeship. However, it can be a great way to gain experience and start on your journey towards a fulfilling career.

Related: Higher apprenticeships: everything you need to know

3. Become a chartered surveyor

Consider registering with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. This can qualify you as a chartered surveyor. Typically, chartered surveyors have to pass the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) scheme. Members need at least a bachelor's degree or approved professional qualification to be eligible. The assessment tests for a mix of technical practice, communication, business and management skills. The title also comes with a five-year work history requirement. This can be in an academic, specialist or professional practice related to quantity surveying.

Related: How to become a chartered surveyor

4. Grow your network

By communicating with others in the industry, you can grow your connections and develop opportunities. Be sure to connect with people in your courses, in your formal training or on job sites. More senior surveyors also have advice on how to advance in the industry or have recommendations for ways to get more experience.

Related: The definitive networking tips for jobseekers

5. Update your CV

When you're ready to apply for positions in the industry, make sure you update your CV to display all your skills, experience, training and education. It can also be helpful to provide references from other surveyors and construction project leaders. Helping potential employers visualise your expertise can improve your opportunities. It can also be useful to list achievements you've accomplished like promotions, positive reviews, certifications or awards.

Consider adjusting your CV to fit each individual job posting. Take keywords from the post and use them in your descriptions. This can help prove to employers you have the qualities they're looking for in a candidate.

Related: How to write a CV employers will notice

Salary and work environment

As you consider if this path is right for you or search for opportunities and job openings in the industry, it's helpful to know the average pay for a surveyor and what to expect from the work environment. While actual salaries can differ based on your experience, employer and project, quantity surveyors can expect to make an average of £46,644 per year in the UK.

As far as work environment, surveyors can expect to work alongside construction teams, project managers and clients. They can spend a lot of time on job sites assessing projects and monitoring material use. Working on job sites might require special safety equipment and supplies. Most of the time, however, surveyors can expect to be in an office creating budgets, managing spreadsheets and reviewing blueprints.

Related: Careers for surveyors (plus duties and responsibilities)

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