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RICS Member Spotlight: Andrew J Crawford BSc (Hons), FRICS

Written by: RICS Recruit
Published on: 18 Mar 2024

Andrew Crawford

RICS spoke with Andrew J Crawford BSc (Hons), FRICS, FCIArb, MSc, PG Dip, APAEWE about his experience of becoming a surveyor and starting his own business 

What attracted you to the built environment as an industry to work in?

During year 3 of secondary school, we were given a choice for year 4 of two half-days a week either undertaking practical experience at our local college in five building trades (carpentry, plumbing, brickwork, painting and decorating, and plastering) for six weeks in each trade, resulting in the selection of one of these trades for a further three months’ experience, or studying IT. I chose painting and decorating.

Having completed year 4 of secondary school, I left school at the age of 15 without taking any exams. I started working in a factory making lampshades and roller blinds, which led to me selling the products I made six days a week on a market stall at various locations.

This was not the career path that I foresaw for myself. Because I liked painting and decorating, after my 16th birthday I signed up to a government scheme, the YTS (Youth Training Scheme). It enabled me to learn more about painting and decorating, and gain practical experience, while being paid £26 per week. The primary objective of YTS was to provide initial training and then obtain employment for its young members. I was eventually given an opportunity to work for Ashby & Horner Ltd, one of the oldest building contractors at that time in London, as a trainee painter and decorator.

While employed by Ashby & Horner, part of the apprenticeship involved attending college one day per week for three years to obtain the City & Guilds certificate, and then the Advanced City & Guilds certificate, in painting and decorating. The other part of the apprenticeship involved working on numerous building sites for the rest of the week, and weekends when required, all around London. I worked on some fantastic buildings, most notably the private study of Prince Charles (as he was then known), and also obtained two industry awards for my work.

More specifically, why did you choose to become a surveyor?

While working as a painter and decorator, I was asked to work a ‘ghoster’, which is when you work throughout the night to get a job done. Having worked 9+ hours a day Monday to Friday, the ghoster was at Asprey jewellery store in Bond Street starting at 5:30pm on a Saturday evening and finishing at 5:30pm the next day Sunday – so a 24-hour shift. At the start, there were around 24 of us, but throughout the night and into early Sunday morning, colleagues would have had enough and leave. In the end, there were only three of us left but we had completed the work. My weekly paycheck, which included the ghoster money, was just under £500 and I remember feeling like I was one of the richest people on site. I said to myself that I would like to earn that amount of money so that I can buy my own house, but during normal hours in a five-day working week.

I looked at the professions in the industry. I first considered architecture, but I was never good at drawing, so I discounted that profession. I also considered becoming a structural engineer, but again this involved an element of drawing, so I wrote it off as well. I then thought about what I was good at during school. I was good at maths, so I looked more closely at surveying, and in particular quantity surveying as, from what I understood at that time, it involved maths. The example I found was that you would need to work out how many bricks were needed to build a house.

I wrote a handwritten letter to the RICS (there was no internet back then, and you had to be wealthy to have a home computer) stating that I had left school without taking any exams, and therefore I had no secondary school O-levels or any other qualifications, but I was an apprentice painter and decorator.

The letter I received from the RICS stated that it would not be possible for me to become a chartered quantity surveyor based on my current educational achievements, but it did include the typical path that people took to pursue a career as a quantity surveyor, as well as a path I could follow to become a chartered surveyor. Rather than give up, this made me more determined, and I took it as challenge to try and see what happens.

While working at Ashby & Horner, I continued my college studies on day release, learning construction craft studies. I was then entered into a competition where one of the painters on site would be trained as a painting and decorating estimator at head office. After several interviews, I secured the position and worked in-house as an estimator-surveyor for the painting and decorating department. As I was still focused on becoming a chartered quantity surveyor, I then enrolled for the BTEC ONC (Ordinary National Certificate) in building studies, which was supported by Ashby & Horner. The firm also permitted me, after my training in the painting and decorating department, to move to the building department and learn estimating for general building work. This led to me being based on site in Essex, working as a chain boy for the site engineer when building a large mansion for a high-net-worth family. Eventually, I became the site engineer.

That experience paved the way to understand more of the technical side of building. After that project, I returned to head office to continue estimating for general building works. At that time, Ashby & Horner became part of the P & O Group. Bovis Construction Ltd, another firm in the group, were seeking to employ two youngsters on their management training programme. After an interview with Bovis, two of us were selected as management trainees for a two-and-a-half-year contract. I was also able to continue with the BTEC HNC (Higher National Certificate) in building studies, which then led to me obtaining a BSc (Hons) in quantity surveying on day release.

Becoming a chartered quantity surveyor was later achieved, partly thanks to the level of support and the experience I had obtained over those years with my employers, as well as working for a small private practice quantity surveying firm.

This helped pave the way for me to run my own business as a quantity surveyor, which is now in its 21st year of trading. I also wanted another skillset to offer as a service, so I decided, prior to setting up the business, that I would further my education on a part-time basis (in the evenings) and obtained an MSc in Construction Law and arbitration from Kings College, London. This enabled me to also provide surveyor advocacy and expert witness services to clients in the field of construction law.

How do you think the surveying profession can attract more diverse talent and create a more inclusive culture within the industry?

RICS needs to focus their talent acquisition on locations in the country where secondary school pupils are themselves diverse. I am aware that RICS does go into schools and provide presentations on careers in surveying, but I am not aware of the makeup of those representatives. It is also fundamentally important that the people who are selling the surveying profession are themselves from diverse backgrounds.

There also needs to be a joint effort between RICS and employers, where both represent the surveying profession by attracting talent from diverse backgrounds. For example, if a secondary school student hears from a black person on how to attain a degree qualification and then how to become a chartered surveyor, but the story is continued by employers – including a contractor, a private practice surveying firm and a subcontractor – then the student has a complete picture of not only the qualification and the role of the chartered surveyor, but also what it is really like in the workplace and the benefits of working in this industry on a daily basis. It’s a rare occasion that I come across a chartered quantity surveyor working for a subcontractor, so these types of firms should also be a focus for attracting talent to the profession. After all, one could argue they are the most important in the chain as they deliver the end product.

Inclusion comes from the top in all organisations and should be driven down through the ranks. This is not by just paying lip service: writing polices that have no measurable outcomes or following the latest narrative in the media spotlight. Firms must, on an annual basis, show their results for how many ethnically diverse people are employed in the firm and what the gender split is, in what positions, what the pay range is and how these metrics compare with the rest of the workforce and targets set. If targets are not met, someone should be held accountable and there must be some sort of sanction for not achieving the target if the reason is unacceptable.

The industry really needs to take down the barriers, dismantle the ‘old boys’ club’ and accept that there are highly talented people in the industry that should be given an even playing field in terms of role, remuneration and career path.

What is your advice to those considering a career in surveying?

I believe that anyone considering a career in surveying should really look at themselves first in terms of what they are good at. Then, look for parts of the surveying profession where there is some sort of alignment with your skillset. For me it was maths, but I also wanted a career that enabled me to buy a house on my own, so the salary a chartered surveyor earns was a deciding factor in my choice.

People considering a career in surveying have the luxury these days of the internet and social media. So reach out to people in the industry from companies and bodies like RICS for advice on what the surveying profession involves on a day-to-day basis. Also ask about the career path, role, renumeration, experiences and other opportunities, from starting as a trainee, or assistant, right through to senior management, like CEO or board of directors. Maintain those relationships even after the advice has been given.

Once you are in the career, focus on building up your skillset, undertake further reading, attend seminars and meet with people to widen your knowledge. Don’t sit back once you have your degree or you have gained membership of RICS. Aim to be good at what you do, and your reputation will be enhanced. One of the keys to success is knowledge, so strive to broaden your knowledge but also have a wide network of people you regularly meet and socialise with. These same people usually turn out to be long-term friends, and both you and they can benefit in the future from each other’s knowledge and networks.

What is your advice to those considering starting up their own business in surveying?

Now this is a question that is dear to my heart, as there are too many people who shy away from the prospect of this next step even though, I believe, they could have done well. However, I do acknowledge that this path is not for everyone, as you need to have certain characteristics to first take this route and then maintain the business year after year.

Before formally going live with my business, a colleague I confided in with my plans simply said to me ‘what have you got to lose by doing what you’re planning on doing? If you don’t succeed in your plans, you still have the skills, so you can go back to being employed. You haven’t lost your skills and you won’t be defined as failing. The person who failed is the one who didn’t try, not you.’

This conversation has stuck with me for decades, so I would simply repeat this to anyone considering setting up a business in surveying – or any business for that matter. I would also add some practical considerations:

  1. Have at least four to six months of salary in your business account prior to going full-time in your business. I started my business part-time, working weekends and a few evenings during the week, while working normal hours for my employer. This enabled me to have a good bank balance and four commissions prior to going full-time with the business.
  2. Define the skills that your firm is offering, and to what sort of clients.
  3. Try to select skills that allow your firm to maintain revenue throughout the whole business cycle from boom to recession.
  4. Never sell your services below market rate; it hurts you in the long run.
  5. Set aside time for business development, including maintaining relationships with friends and colleagues.
  6. Do not work six to seven days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. Ensure you take time away from the business for at least one and a half days a week, and spend time with your family and friends.
  7. Invest in yourself with continuous professional development. This will help your business to continue operating through the slow times.
  8. Be polite but firm with clients regarding payment of fees. If an invoice is late, kindly ask why and whether the client has a problem with the service. The client, at least in my experience, always says that there is no problem with the service. I then ask ‘why did you not pay by the final date?’ It’s then paid.
  9. Good financial management of your business is also fundamental, including retaining profits for future low turnover years and investing in improving your skills.
  10. Finally, enjoy what you do!