Quantity Surveying Training Needs Back to Basics

The industrial revolution of the 19th century primarily impacted on manual labour, the current information revolution affects the desk tiffies: those that are supposed to deal with and manage the information.

Two immediate steps are required: acknowledgement that there is a challenge (to define the quantity surveyor in die 21st century) and not to succumb to the the temptation to just throw everything overboard and attempt a new start without acknowledgement of the base that is available.

Quantity surveyors are not alone it its predicament: that technology and the information explosion is causing redefinition and adjustment across all professions and vocations where the change in tooling and technology, the fast and ever-faster buildup (with a capacity of track and storing memory as was never before available) of knowledge and experience is changing the way we work, the layout of our offices, the basic skills set requirements. The quantity surveying profession has a disadvantage to many other professions, in that its role is not impossible to be filled by others who do not have the specific training and experience (I hear gasps in the quantity surveying audience).

You can hardly build a good shopping centre without an architect, but without the quantity surveyor, some cost-minded architect combined with some cost accountancy can probably ensure that the project budget does not fail. It is only when the quantity surveying speciality skill set makes a material and visible difference to the cost management of this project, that it become worthwhile to consider having a narrowly specialised construction contract cost management expert as a distinct function on the project.

The point is: without the architect, the civil engineer and other engineering functions, the building project cannot realistically happen in a civilised society (meeting all requirements for common sense, commercial and legal), but without the quantity surveyor, the worst that can happen is that there is a cost overrun. This is bad enough, but the investor has alternatives on how to deal with the risk including lump sum arrangements (yes, yes I know the dangers, but it can be held under control), partnering with a construction contractor, cost accountancy and the cost architect or cost engineer (meaning in this context a genuine engineer with cost skills).

The whole of the European continent is testimony to that the above options can sustain the building industry in very significant economies, so stop thinking that only the dedicated narrowly specialised quantity surveyor can save construction project costs from running out of control. Then why did I spend quite a few years of my life studying and going up to MSc(QS)?

The answer is simply that quantity surveying that has enough depth and width and is aimed at adding value (contributing to the project) rather than just performing a service, is really of worth and is providing much job satisfaction and client recognition. Quantity surveyors are indeed battling with the much reduced need for arithmetical skills and in more recent decades, much of the quantification skills are being replaced or at least made much easier with computers and the whole everything of the technological advances. The answer is ironically to change the quantity surveying courses at university with reference to what is was 30 and 40 years ago: back to basics – solid subjects.

Train quantity surveyors with solid accountancy and economics, solid mathematics (to develop analytical skills), and my favorite: teach language in-depth so that people can write minutes and reports and talks sense in meetings; and then add the teaching of taking-off discipline; else go join the BCom class if you don’t want to be something on top of the basic skills. Come prepared when you apply for a job with enough foundation for us to be able to take you further and broaden your prospects.

Leonard van der Dussen

About Us

VDDB provides project structuring, execution and control services that makes projects predictable and controllable. Some clients prefer the full project office function, including procedures, procurement, contract administration, policies and general project execution and co-ordination, and use selected services.


The concept of analytical quantity surveying is one of numerous enhanced services where traditional skills are merged with information management tooling to provide strongly enhanced project services in a fast world which is keen for optimisation.

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