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Quantity Surveyors: What are Your Job Prospects in 2019?

Posting date: 5 April 2019
Author: Tim Stranks

Why now could be the perfect time for your next career move 

Quantity surveyors are among a few professionals in the building and construction industry who may be worried about job and career prospects in the current economic environment. Particularly in the residential market, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and global economic activity levels appears to be taking its toll across the UK.

Pessimistic headlines appear almost daily, and there is little doubt that the general negativity of politicians and pundits is having a dampening effect on activity. The question is, what is the market really like for quantity surveyor jobs (link) now and prospects for the remainder of 2019? 

Here, we cut through the latest RICS Macdonald & Company Rewards & Attitudes survey, explore the prospects for quantity surveyor jobs, and give tips on the tactics that work best for those seeking a career move. 

Quantity surveyors reduce uncertainty – politics increases it 

One of a quantity surveyor’s most coveted qualities is the ability to reduce uncertainty by managing the costs of developing a residential project and increase value for money and return on investment. Unfortunately, the current UK Parliament has been unable to do the same for the construction sector. Brexit negotiations have rumbled on and on, and at each twist and turn it seems that the economy suffers an added dose of uncertainty. 

Since the EU referendum in 2016, the building and construction sector has, on the whole, proven to be very resilient, more so than most anticipated. However, the Q4 2018 RICS Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey painted a mixed picture, with some moderation to growth across most sectors. However, while moderating, expectations are still positive for growth. Here are the main findings of the survey. 

Workload growth mixed at the end of 2018 

Public sector works have helped to prop up the construction sector, with growth in output showing particular resilience in infrastructure projects including roads, rail and energy. In fact, rail and energy experienced the biggest uptick in output for two years. Overall, there was a net balance of +18% seeing a rise in infrastructure activity over the fourth quarter. 

In housing, the additional £1 billion in HRA borrowing prompted a net balance of 14% of surveyors who saw a growth in workload. In private housing, a net balance of 20% reported an increase in activity. 

Is investment moderating? 

Responses to the RICS survey suggest that business investment is slowing. This is probably due to a combination of factors, including the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the slowdown in the housing market (discussed in more depth later in this article). 

Growth in the enquiries for new projects and contracts has tailed off, with a positive balance of just 10% of respondents to the survey reporting an increase. This compares to a positive balance of 24% reported in the Q3 survey. 

Financial constraints have been cited by 78% of surveyors to be the most significant obstacle to investment in building projects, with cash flow, liquidity issues and general difficulty accessing finance being the commonly quoted reasons.

Growth is still expected over the next 12 months 

Despite the moderation in output and workload in the last quarter of 2018, the Brexit-related malaise in the market, and the financial constraints that are dampening investment, survey respondents still expect building and construction activity to rise over the remainder of 2019. Although down from a positive balance of 33% expecting activity to rise rather than fall, 24% more respondents expect activity to increase in the next 12 months than those who expect activity to decrease. 

The housing market - an amber light 

The RICS December 2018 UK Residential Market Survey showed that 2018 ended weakly, and expectations are for this weakness to continue. However, as the year progresses and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit reduces, then optimism should return. 

The main findings from the survey are that: 

  • New buyer enquiries, sales and new instructions all declined in December 
  • New instructions have declined in 19 of the previous 24 months 
  • Price expectations continue to slip 

These are, of course, national balances, and there are some marked regional differences. London and the South East are weakest, while across the remaining regions of the UK the 12-month expectations for house prices are that they will remain steady or rise. 

New buyer enquiries and stock fall in line 

Affordability is still an issue that is inflicting damage on new buyer instructions. Coupled with a lack of supply, it is not surprising that the number of agreed sales has fallen. The headline figures are that: 

  • New buyer enquiries fell by a net balance of -17% – the fifth month in a row that they have fallen 
  • New instructions numbers fell for the sixth straight month, and matched the decline in new buyer enquiries 

Consequently, stock levels on the books of estate agents is at a near record low, with an average of only 42 properties per branch. 

The market is expected to pick up through 2019 

Despite the sluggish state of the market and the negative mood surrounding Brexit, the survey shows that there is some optimism for the market as we move past March and Brexit issues begin to fade. At a net balance of -28%, expectations for sales over the next three months are at the lowest reading since the series began in 1999. Looking forward, a positive balance of around +17% believe that the number of sales will rise. 

Even though the headline numbers are listless, the UK housing market has shown a distinct robustness in this current phase of the economic cycle. With expectations for an upturn in fortunes as we work through Brexit (if it does indeed happen), the UK residential market is not so much at a red light, but at an amber, waiting to accelerate. As RICS Chief Economist Simon Rubinsohn says: 

Looking a little further out, there is some comfort provided by the suggestion that transactions nationally should stabilise as some of the fog lifts, but that moment feels a way off for many respondents to the survey. 

Meanwhile it is hard to see developers stepping up the supply pipeline in this environment. Getting to the governments 300,000 building target was never going to be easy, but pushing up to anywhere near this figure will require significantly greater input from other delivery channels including local authorities taking advantage of their new-found freedom.” 

It seems likely that the imbalance between demand and supply will remain going forward, and this should be supportive of house prices – which in turn should be supportive of development and investment going forward. 

Now, let’s turn to the employment market, and the outlook for quantity surveyor jobs and other professionals working in building, construction and the built environment. 

No magic wand to fix skills shortage 

The Q4 2018 RICS Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey took the pulse of recruitment expectations within the sector.

The shortage of skilled labour is highlighted as a major challenge by more than half of the survey’s respondents. In particular, they note the shortage of professional services such as quantity surveyors. The solution to this issue is considered to be more education and training. This long-term policy was cited by 68% of respondents, while only 15% considered that immigration is the solution to the skills shortage conundrum. The RICS survey is not the only study in recent months that has noted the skills shortage as being problematic for UK industry, and the building and construction sector in particular. 

There is a supply and demand problem in professional occupations. The KPMG/ and REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation) UK Report on Jobs (a survey of 400 recruitment specialists) released in December highlighted the imbalance between supply and demand – and it’s bad news for businesses and good news for professionals seeking a new challenge. 

The headline of the report could have read “UK companies hire fewer skilled professionals as Brexit approaches”. But such a headline would put a negative spin on the underlying findings. Here are the key points of the report: 

  • The number of vacancies rise 
  • The supply of candidates is falling sharply
  • Permanent appointments rose at their slowest pace since April 2017 
  • Starting pay rates are rising 

Let’s take a brief look at each of these points. 

Vacancies rise 

The number of vacancies rose toward the end of December 2018 across the UK. Increases in open posts were witnessed in both temporary and permanent positions, and the growth in demand for new employees was far higher than the average during the course of the survey’s 21-year history. 

The supply of candidates is falling 

The number of suitable candidates seeking jobs has fallen sharply, and the pace of decline rose sharply from November. James Stewart, Vice Chair at KPMG, explained: 

A lot of people don’t want to move jobs right now because there is so much uncertainty around. In addition, the supply of EU citizens entering the UK for work is slowing whilst every sector continues to take on more staff. This means a near-record number of vacancies are going unfilled by employers searching for talent.” Comments Jamie Williams, Director, Macdonald & Company. 

Permanent jobs pace slows

The shortage in the supply of job-ready candidates weighed on appointments made in December. The number of permanent appointments made did rise, but at a slower pace than in the previous 12-months. Temporary appointments increased, too, though you would perhaps expect acceleration in these as we headed toward the busy Christmas period. 

Starting pay rates are rising 

The jobs market is like any other – when demand outstrips supply, prices rise. It has been proven in the jobs market, and especially for skilled workers. Pay rates continued to rise for both permanent and temporary employees, and the starting salary inflation rate increased at one of the fastest paces in more than three years. 

Where are employers hiring? 

Hires are increasing across all regions, again in both permanent and temporary positions. The sharpest rise in permanent appointments was seen in the South of England. 

While the public sector remained robust, especially in the rate of growth of permanent appointments, it was once again the private sector in which the highest growth in demand was seen for both permanent and temporary jobs. 

Quantity surveyors are among the most in-demand construction hires 

There are many reasons for the shortage of skilled staff. These include: 

  • Brexit, and the effect on the number of available candidates from the EU 
  • The increase in activity in infrastructure and residential development 
  • The lack of long-term planning in education and training

This combination of factors affecting the jobs market in the UK is keenly felt in several sectors. Vacancies across the market are at or near all-time records, the unemployment rate is at a multi-decade low, and the employment rate is at its highest since the early 1970s. 

The construction industry is rightly worried about this. Recently, nine industry organisations (including the Federation of Master Builders, the Chartered Institute of Building, and the National Federation of Builders) published a list of the trades suffering the most from skills shortages. Quantity surveyors are high on this list. 

The partners to the report are pushing the government to add quantity surveyor and other professions in the construction industry to its Shortage Occupation List, and make it priority in its skills-based immigration policy. 

A golden opportunity for quantity surveyors 

For quantity surveyors at all levels of experience, the next few months offer a golden opportunity.

There is a commitment from the government to build more homes, and supply is woefully inadequate to meet underlying demand. The government has also made a commitment to honour the rights of EU citizens currently living and working in the UK, so the forecast exodus of employees from the UK is unlikely to happen. 

As we move toward the Brexit date, there may be increased anxiety in the housing market; but this is likely to fade as we move through and past March and the economic uncertainty is removed. As this process happens, people will become more confident about the future and begin to look for new challenges and new positions again. The current shortage of quantity surveyors could rise. 

Now could be the perfect time for a quantity surveyor to seek their next career move: companies are hiring, but the reticence of people to change jobs is making it difficult for businesses to find suitable candidates. If you are considering searching for a new quantity surveyor job, you are likely to find plenty of opportunity with less competition for the role – improving your chances of securing your most desired position with a salary boost. Right now, we are in a candidate driven market. 

How can quantity surveyors find the best job opportunities? 

In a social media world, a winning strategy to employ in your job search is to target social media. For professionals in the building and construction industry, LinkedIn is a must for career advancement. Once you have created an account, you should: 

  • Optimise your profile 
  • Create a network 
  • Join appropriate professional groups 
  • Create a career history 
  • Gain endorsements and testimonials 

You should also be active on LinkedIn – interact with your connections, comment and reply to conversations to enhance your visibility as a Quantity Surveyor with authority and opinion, not just another candidate. However, there is one other action that will help you get the best from LinkedIn... 

Connect with specialist recruiters on LinkedIn 

There are two primary types of recruitment company: 

  • Generalists, who fill many vacancies across multiple industry sectors. 
  • Specialist recruiters, who focus on specific sectors and niches within those sectors. These work on active, inactive and mapping searches. This adds value to companies searching for talent (many roles are unadvertised), and talent searching for roles. 

If you aren’t connecting with specialist recruiters on LinkedIn (even if you aren’t in the process of job hunting), your chances of finding your ideal career move is reduced. 

Macdonald & Company is a specialist recruiter, focusing on real estate, built environment, energy and environmental sectors. As proven specialist recruiters within property, we are the RICS preferred recruitment partner. 

When we search for talented professionals, we check our internal network and connections built up over many years as well as our LinkedIn connections. If you aren’t in our network, you are far less likely to be connected with the new and exciting opportunity that could be your dream quantity surveyor position. 

If you have ever witnessed one of your colleagues receiving approaches for exciting opportunities and thought that you would have been perfect for the role, or wondered why you don’t receive the same advances, it may be that you need to review your connections on LinkedIn and be more visible on line. 

The way in which companies find their next quantity surveyor may have changed with advances in technology, but for candidates there is only one constant that is as true today as it has ever been: “It’s who you know”.

For a confidential conversation to explore the current market and discuss your next career move, contact Macdonald & Company – connect with us on LinkedIn and search for your next quantity surveyor role now 

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