'I found it easy to fit into the regime of early starts - a frightening experience for any student'

Tom Lowe is studying building surveying at the University of the West of England (UWE). He has just completed a one-year sandwich placement at Tuffin Ferraby Taylor LLP (TFT)

After two years of study, I decided to do a 12-month sandwich placement, to give me a break from academia and help me decide whether I really wanted to pursue a surveying career.

In spring 2006, I secured a job at the Guildford office of TFT, a national building and project consultancy, starting in August that year. I had never worked in an office before and it was also the first time I'd had to be fully self-sufficient.

I found it surprisingly easy to fit into the regime of early starts - a frightening experience for any student - followed by a full day's work. My colleagues were extremely helpful and supportive throughout my 12 months, providing me with expert advice, guidance and information. Like everyone else, I took my turn making the tea and buying sausage rolls.

One of the most important elements of any surveying placement is gaining experience that will count towards the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC). Very soon after joining TFT, I applied to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), to ensure that my time there would count towards the overall 26 months of work experience required. I was allocated a supervisor and counsellor within the office to help me with APC issues.

I kept a diary, which I used to write a summary of my experience and an interim submission to the RICS. I also had monthly meetings with my APC supervisor, and a mid-term meeting with my counsellor and supervisor. These meetings allowed me to raise issues and request experience in new areas.

I had to develop a wide experience of surveying to complete my APC requirement for the year, and that is precisely what I got. During my 12 months at TFT, I undertook contract administration and monitoring on several projects, also working in areas such as dilapidations, party wall procedures and inspection requirements of schedules of condition.

It wasn't all serious, though. One day, while helping a senior surveyor inspect a building for damp, I was mistaken for his son. My colleagues were highly amused and repeated the gag regularly afterwards.

As a result of my placement, I now feel competent to carry out many tasks. Through a structured training agreement with TFT, I was able to meet the targets set by my team at the level expected by the practice, while maximising my own experience.

I have also been able to improve other skills, notably in communication, and am now comfortable giving out information and responses to colleagues, consultants, contractors and clients.

My written skills have improved as a result of writing formal letters, e-mails and contract documents. I have also acquired skills in IT, time management, self-presentation and even played football for TFT at Charlton Athletic's Valley Stadium. If all else fails, I can always fall back on a career in football!

My placement has proved ideal preparation for my final year at university. I am now a more rounded and adaptable individual with a solid skills base. I have developed as a surveyor - in terms of skills, professional competence and knowledge - but also as a person. I'd definitely recommend a placement year to anyone considering a career in surveying, provided that it is carefully planned and monitored to ensure maximum progress.

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