My surveying story: A graduate abroad

Matthew Reason discovers that RICS structured training makes working overseas a real option

Five months ago I boarded a plane and took the biggest leap of faith in my life. I was changing country, changing organisation and changing job role – a daunting prospect by any means.

I had been working as a graduate project manager at a prominent consultancy in London, yet my aspirations had always been to move overseas and into the field of general practice. I had been deterred by previous discussions which had led me to believe that it would make completing my APC far more arduous. I was told that clients didn’t value the RICS accreditation overseas; and that the support mechanisms would not be in place to undertake a structured learning programme.

However, flicking through a careers page one overcast evening I came across the perfect opportunity - a graduate surveyor role in Dubai with Knight Frank. On a whim, I applied and a couple of days later I received a telephone call from International HR. Slowly my distant goal was coming into view. A couple of interviews later and an offer hit my inbox – at which point the notion of international travel became reality.

Matthew Reason

My first day with Knight Frank was the usual round of introductions; names, contracts, entry level tasks, training etc. I was surprised that approximately 70% of the staff were British expats, and even more surprising, was that the average age was relatively young; probably early thirties. The term that resonated was “it’s a great time to join”. Dubai has bounced back bigger and brighter than before the deep recession; the company had grown approximately 60% and had just moved into larger offices with new people joining each week. While the enthusiasm was in part because the party season in the city had begun I was pleased to find that one graduate had recently become RICS chartered, and I would  be joining four more in the process of preparation.

One of the first things I was instructed to do was to register myself with the RICS Middle East Office as an APC candidate. One week later I sat down with my line manager to identify competencies. After discussing rotations around the business, I remember remarking “so this is like a proper graduate scheme”. It was not only a pleasant surprise to find such a structured programme in what is still considered an emerging market; but reassuring I would be put through the exact same hoops as a graduate in London. If anything, professional offices in the Middle East increase the intensity, because the level of exposure and responsibility of a graduate is far higher, reflected in both the training and experience gained.

What also surprised me was the number of competencies that were transferrable. I had transferred not only job, but pathway from project management to commercial property. While multi-asset portfolios are a daily occurrence, the RICS commercial pathway and the structured training ensures that you are not a jack but a master of all trades. My current work covers Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the Northern Emirates and I have also carried out research and valuations in Bahrain; with each location having considerably different ownership rules and market dynamics.  However, the ethos running through Knight Frank’s support network, peer review and overall performance management set up is quality, which in such an opaque market is essential to answer client’s queries/arguments on our professional opinion.

So far, I do not regret my decision to leave the UK for Dubai. My experience to date and the knowledge I am gaining is monumental. I am currently sitting in the Knight Frank commercial valuation team; gaining vast exposure of asset classes varying from Five Star Hotels to labour camps. I will soon be undertaking rotations in leasing and lettings and development consultancy, where I will complete my graduate training programme and undertake the final assessment. Moreover, the setup of the APC is far more straightforward than I had experienced in the UK, with online portals to input everything from CPD to your RICS Diary, which must be filled in quarterly to avoid the inevitable last minute scramble.

It’s certainly true that the working culture is very different, with frequent long hours and a less than transparent marketplace forcing one to think outside of the box on many occasions. But life is not all work and no play. My quality of life has improved tenfold. The tax-free environment plays very well to the young graduate bachelor (or bachelorette); with weekend brunches, year round sunshine and social scene to rival any great city. Working for an international firm, you draw from global resources while retaining a strong work ethos and equality throughout - the ratio is probably 60/40 women to men.

With the training mechanisms and procedures in place to rival any London office, the argument that moving abroad is only worthwhile when chartered is unfounded. If you have the aspiration, desire and opportunity - jump!

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