Can you change your surveying sector? And when is the best time to do it?
In the past, surveyors have often stayed in the same company, in a similar role for most of their working life. This is now changing, especially for millennials, with many individuals following multiple career paths. We look at the available opportunities for surveyors to change their area of expertise and ask experienced professionals about the best time to make the move.
Is it possible to move into a new surveying area?
Some surveyors don’t have a clear idea of which area they’d like to specialise in when they start their career. It may be that you’ve fallen into a certain area and would now like to try a new challenge. But exactly how easy is it to change sector? We asked Nigel Mason, Director at NMC Ltd and previously a partner at Rider Levett Bucknall: “In my 19 years at RLB I saw people change their sector focus, it definitely is possible. As the years go by, you become more of an expert in your field but there are cross-overs with certain sectors which makes it easier to change. For example, I’ve seen several people move between healthcare and education as the buildings and client cultures have their similarities. Some areas can be more distinct, such as commercial offices, which might require more specific knowledge to make the move.”
Recruiter Andy Welham at BBL Property works in the valuation market and regularly talks to surveyors seeking to move across specialisms. He says: “People don’t tend to chop and change frequently, it’s more of a single career move. Commercial and residential valuation share a large knowledge pool and, assuming a surveyor has the correct background in building pathology, they can often make the switch with relative ease.”
When is the best time to change?
One of the key things clients look for is experience in a particular field. They want to know you’re going to do a good job for them and you’ve had previous success in similar projects. This experience is a fantastic asset but can make it more difficult to change specialism. Director Roger Dunning at HD Surveyors recruitment consultancy says: “When placing candidates, we’ve found it’s easier for surveyors to change specialisms in the first few years of their careers. It’s absolutely possible to swap later on but it might be that you have to take a pay cut because you lack the experience in the new field. Your value and experience are key to getting hired in a new job.”
This isn’t to say that moving as a senior surveyor isn’t possible though. You just might have to think smaller or look at more flexible businesses…
What does the size of a practice have to do with changing my sector?
“The way large multi-disciplinary practices and SMEs work can be quite different. Many larger practices have dedicated departments or teams for each sector, like retail, education and commercial. Whereas smaller practices often do everything,” explains Nigel.
SME owner, Kenny Telfer, runs the forward-thinking, digital-savvy Torridon CPM near Edinburgh. He says: “We have clients in the leisure, residential, commercial and education sectors. As a smaller firm, we have to be more dynamic and flexible. We wear many hats and have a broad knowledge base. There are pricing and contract differences between the projects but there are also lots of common surveying skills that need to be used.
“When recruiting, we specifically look for candidates with experience on different builds. If you’re a quantity surveyor who hasn’t costed a house before, but you’ve done a hotel or student accommodation, then we’d be interested. A lot of the processes are the same.
“We’re working on an exciting project at the moment to build an artificial surf lagoon, Wavegarden Scotland. It’s a one-of-a-kind project but we can cost it with confidence because we have experience in groundworks and civil contracting. It also has elements that are similar to other things we’ve worked on.”
Opportunities at bigger companies
If you want to change sector, don’t think you can only move to smaller companies. Larger practices, such as Henry Riley LLP, have training in place that helps people to bed in to the new role. Partner Andrew Pollard FRICS explains: “Twenty years ago we just worked on retail projects but have now successfully diversified into many other sectors. This shift gave our teams the opportunity to change their area of expertise and get a wider knowledge of the industry.
“If you have the desire, right attitude and excellent core skills, you have a good chance of moving sector. Many of the core skills are transferable, especially if a candidate has their APC. It gives you a strong understanding of general construction, and measurements and costs which is invaluable.
“We operate a buddying-up system where a new employee to a sector shadows a more experienced team member. We find this is a great way for them to learn the necessary skills for a particular sector. Good people who already have a strong knowledge base quickly pick up the more specialist skills.”
The bottom line
If you’re considering changing sector, first talk to your manager. There could be scope for moving over at big or small companies. On your CV, accentuate your core skills and real-life examples of where you’ve picked up new skills quickly – companies will want to see that you’re flexible and have the aptitude to learn at speed. If you’re looking to widen your expertise and work on many different projects, then a move to a general practice SME could the perfect next rung on the surveying ladder.