How to be lord of all you survey

Mechanical and electrical surveying offers travel and an absence of student debt as well as great responsibility, writes Claire Smith
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The Independent Online

So what does such a surveyor do? Well, scrabbling around in the bowels of a building, in dark and dingy holes where there may be asbestos hazards, is all in a day's work , according to Tony Walsh, managing director of London-based Services Management Limited.

It is the surveyor's job to assess a building's heating, air conditioning, electrical supply systems and data and communication centres and to decide whether they need to be upgraded or replaced, ensuring that they comply with statutory regulations. They may also be called upon by prospective tenants of a building to assess whether the building's facilities will match their business requirements.

"Every day is different and you never know where you are going to find yourself next," says Walsh.

"By going into the heart of the building you get to see all sorts of engineering innovations and disasters. There are a lot of puzzles to solve, a lot of nightmares to contend with. For this you need to have an adventurous spirit and be quick on your feet, and you cannot be claustrophobic. You also need to be a fast thinker who deals with situations as and when they arise."

A good grasp of the English language, including good grammar and spelling, is imperative, as are good communication skills. As you progress in the job you will be learning technical English to use in written reports and in discussions with clients.

Walsh suggests the best route into the mechanical and electrical surveying is to get work experience at a consultant engineering firm like Troup Bywaters + Anders or Burro Happold. Visit the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers for a list of companies.

"If they are bright and have an aptitude in English and maths, they will be offered a job as a trainee building services designer on leaving school and will have their education paid for them," explains Walsh of the prospective surveyor. "This route gives you the best training and opportunities to branch out, into either surveying or engineering."

To begin you will study a two-year BTech, offered at many local authority colleges, which you will attend on day release. It will be paid for by the company. A few years after completing your education you can hope to earn around £35,000.

As you move up through the ranks, a degree in environmental engineering might be your ticket to a higher managerial position. Again, you could study this while working, and it would be paid for by the company. Universities offering the course include UCL, Southampton and Newcastle, among others.

A related career, with a chance of earning closer to £50-60,000, is in mechanical and electrical quantity surveying. Such quantity surveyors measure the value of the building's mechanical and electrical installations, which includes everything from the toilets through to the cabling, the lighting and the servers.

Again, people with an aptitude in maths, English and computer science are hired straight out of school on a salary of £15-20,000 and are trained up on the job and on day release, studying a BSc in cost management (offered at Nottingham Trent University) or a diploma in quantity surveying, offered at Reading, South Bank University and the Hertfordshire College of Building, part of Oaklands College.

Michael Gallucci, managing director of MPG Associates, looks for candidates who are "enthusiastic about buildings, willing to work hard, are dedicated to learn and have the discipline to study on their own".

Both careers are male-dominated, with Gallucci estimating that only one out of 100 surveyors are women. But if you don't mind working in the "brotherhood", the job brings opportunities for travel. British engineering is highly regarded around the world. Every week, SML sends surveyors to Italy, Germany, Holland and Ireland, while MPG Associates have people in Uganda, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Singapore.

And the biggest challenge of the job? "Keeping your clients happy while working to a tight deadline," say both Walsh and Gallucci. Surveying is usually the last thing people want to spend money on when they are buying, selling or putting up a new building, and so it is the thing they always leave until the last minute.

School leavers can send their CVs to Michael Gallucci. See for address details.