Career Advice Featured stories and job trends

Boundary Makers

The sight of one or two people stood by the side of a road using a theodolite to line up measurements might by the typical image of what a surveyor does, however, there are far more disciplines and specialities connected to the profession that dates back at least to the time when the ancient Egyptians were constructing the pyramids.

From the more commonplace land, quantity (QS), valuation and advisory and property finance surveying disciplines to geomatics (the analysis, measurement, and management of geographic and other spatial data) to personal property including arts and antiques, in one way or another the surveying profession touches many facets of daily life. In a city like Hong Kong for example, it would be a challenge to not step on a square centimetre of land that at some point has not been planned or examined by a member of the surveying profession. Increasingly, surveyors play a leading role in solving global issues such as tackling climate change, urbanisation and developing new high-tech, sustainable cities. “In a nutshell, the surveying profession includes just about anything that touches bricks and mortar and the land it stands upon,” explains Rita Wong, executive director, valuation advisory services at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). “This is what makes the profession so wide, deep and interesting,” adds Wong, a Hong Kong board member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) as well as a former member of the Institution’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Founded 150 years ago in London, RICS has approximately 125,000 members operating in 146 countries, including about 5,000 qualified members in Hong Kong and a similar number working towards obtaining their professional qualification. With a choice of 22 professional pathways to follow, once qualified, RICS professionals work to internationally recognised practice standards a while their competencies are monitored and maintained through continuous professional development programmes. As a globally recognised professional body, Wong says the RCIA standards and qualifications are recognised worldwide. “Once qualified, Members have a global passport opening doors to international career opportunities,” she says. During the 90 years that RICS has had a presence in Hong Kong — as it does internationally — the Institution has focused on promoting and administering professional qualifications and standards in the development and management of land, real estate, construction and infrastructure. Significantly, Wong notes that, directly and indirectly the surveying profession contributes about 10 per cent to Hong Kong’s GDP. Furthermore, Wong says from a career perspective, the surveying profession in Hong Kong offers plenty to be excited about. Once a male domain, these days Wong says that, women across all sectors of the profession hold positions at all levels and the number is increasing. In Hong Kong qualified RICS females account for 24 percent of the surveying profession compared with 14 percent in the UK. However, as there is with many other professional sectors, there is a distinct lack of females at the C-suite level. “Work is still needed to achieve a better gender balance at this level,” says Wong. “There needs to be a bigger conscious effort to target female talent and support their career advancement through mentoring, promotions and transitions into new and challenging roles,” she adds.

Like the majority of industry sectors the impact of evolving digital and technology developments is disrupting and reshaping the surveying profession. However, while new technologies allow surveyors to accomplish tasks more quickly — and in some cases with greater precision — there is still the need for uniquely human skills for surveying bridges, roads, boundary lines and preparing sites for construction. With a substantial amount of a surveyor’s time taken up with repetitive administrative tasks, Wong welcomes technologies that improve efficiency and productivity. She also believes as technology tools become more advanced, there is an opportunity for young people who are comfortable with technology to gain more prominent roles within the industry. “Having mundane tasks taken care of by technology means there is more time to spend on being creative and focus on interesting value-added activities,” says Wong who was attracted to the profession by the versatility of a surveyor’s qualification. “I liked the idea of the combination of office and outdoor work,” explains Wong who admits the thought of surveying impressive houses and offices added an additional layer of appeal.

Born in Malaysia, Wong studied for her professional qualifications in Australia before moving to Singapore for a year to join a fund asset management as a young consultant, where she quickly discovered her responsibilities leaned more towards property management. “It was not what I was expecting, but the experience of understand how a building operates through talking to everyone from cleaners and security guards to building managers has proved to be invaluable,” says Wong who moved to Hong Kong more than 20 years ago, to take up what she proudly explains is still her first job, albeit with a prominent rise up the seniority ladder. These days while Wong’s responsibilities tend to be focused more on managerial processes than hands-on field work, as an advocate for collaborate, connect and communicate concepts; she makes the time to mentor new joiners to the surveying profession. Wong points out that mentoring is equally pertinent for mentors as mentees because they stand to gain new perspectives from technology-savvy mentees who can offer a fresh viewpoint into the opportunities for the surveying profession. “Sharing knowledge and experiences is ‘invigorating’,” says Wong.