Career Advice Expert Advice

Sky's the limit for surveyors

A new era of major infrastructure projects, large-scale private development and a beefing up of building regulations looks set to keep the surveying industry buoyant amid a talent squeeze. To address this gap, professional bodies and the government are jointly promoting the diverse career opportunities in surveying. At the same time, a legislative review of Hong Kong's unauthorised building works is also likely to create demand for qualified professionals to carry out inspections.

Those new to the industry, such as fresh graduates, commonly find their first job with the government - in the Buildings Department or the Hong Kong Housing Authority. They can also join a construction or consulting company where new hires complete a two-year professional training programme.

To qualify as a professional quantity surveyor (QS), trainees must also pass the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) in the Quantity Surveying Division (QSD) of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors.

"The construction industry looks hot for the next 10 years, so we'll require more quantity surveyors to play a strategic role in our business activities," says Chris Fung, AECOM executive director for project and construction management.

He says the responsibilities of a QS are primarily commercial-related, such as preparing contracts and monitoring project costs. While some QS are office-based, others work on-site where they monitor project costs and development. AECOM also employs land surveyors who are responsible for earthworks and determining boundaries.

"We strongly believe in engagement," says Fung, adding that new recruits undergo three years of training as assistant QS in the head office where they receive supervision, mentoring and counselling from senior surveyors.

"We provide a structured, work-based training scheme that allows trainees to sit professional examinations so they can become qualified QS," says Fung.

Mirroring the trends in many other professions, QS trainees are taught various software and computer skills, such as computer-aided drafting techniques.

AECOM has also set up an e-learning programme that offers more than 1,000 courses, ranging from QS-specific subjects to communication, management development and leadership skills.

Fung says that, to become a successful QS, aspirants require an excellent understanding of construction methods and materials, good financial management and attention to detail. The role of a QS also requires a methodical approach to tasks, good teamwork and strong communication skills.

He says at AECOM, a qualified QS can expect a career path that could lead to a senior or chief QS post. It also looks for surveyors with strong technical and people skills for potential management roles.

Fung, whose 20-year career with AECOM has followed a similar path, says there is a number of reasons why the QS profession offers job satisfaction, such as the variety offered by office and site assignments, and the pride resulting from being involved in shaping Hong Kong's built environment.

Alan Donnet, executive director at Dragages Hong Kong, says diversity is one of the attractions that his company can offer its QS employees. "Our QS professionals deal in a number of different areas, which can include project tendering, valuations, final accounts, dispute resolution, or planning and development," he says.

In addition to work on the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal building, Dragages is also involved with tunnelling projects and Hong Kong's extensive railway infrastructure expansion.

"Each project differs from the previous one, which often means meeting and working with a wide variety of people from different professions over the course of a number of projects," says Donnet.

To ensure that its training structure is up to date, Dragages combines technical training and hands-on experience. Successful trainees get promoted, from QS to senior QS, on to deputy contract manager, contract manager and other senior positions.

"The people who excel are those who show initiative and a willingness to learn," says Donnet.

Aside from helping a trainee surveyor gain his qualifications, Dragages also highlights continuous professional development opportunities. For example, the Dragages Confucius Training Centre was founded in Asia, where staff can access localised and global-level training, and courses on professional development. 

Meanwhile, Serena Lau Sze-wan, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS), says recent tragic reports involving unauthorised building works have raised public awareness of such illegal activities.

"With our professional knowledge, it is an opportunity for surveyors to assist the public to gain a better understanding of buildings and land matters," says Lau, in her monthly message to members.

The HKIS is involved in setting standards for professional services and performance, establishing codes of ethics, determining requirements for admission as professional surveyors, and encouraging members to upgrade skills through continuing professional development.