Take your job for a test run: On-the-job training lets graduates try a wide variety of specialisms

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The Independent Online

When Knight Frank offered Edward Plumley the chance to go to Paris as part of his graduate training to become a surveyor, he jumped at the chance. “When I was interviewed, they said there was a possibility to spend time overseas. I have French roots and was very keen,” says Plumley, who, like a growing number of graduates on these schemes, has a noncognate undergraduate degree (ie, not related to surveying) – in his case, a BA in international management.

Two-and-a-half months into his placement overseas – and a year into his overall training scheme – Plumley is in the thick of helping the international desk buy and sell properties on behalf of clients. He believes there’s something for everyone in surveying. “You get introverts and extroverts and they both enjoy it.” Indeed, there is a huge variety of employers and specialist areas. “There’s no one type of surveyor,” agrees Fiona Goût, graduate development manager at DTZ. “We recruit people who are really comfortable getting up in front of lots of people, right through to much more analytical types.”

The benefit of most graduate training schemes – which usually last two to three years – is that youget the chance to “try before you buy” when it comes to specialist areas, at the same time as working towards chartered status with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). “Having moved round the firm quite a bit on the rotational graduate scheme, I feel I can make a really informed decision about what suits me best,” says Nigel Simkin, graduate surveyor at GVA Grimley Ltd. He is now on his last of three eight-month rotations. “The first was on the commercial programme, where I did things ranging from valuing the property portfolio of a large bluechip firm to valuing properties onbehalf of banks. Then I moved into the industrial agency team. The work there was more like marketing, acquiring and disposing of property interests on behalf of clients.”

Besides the day-to-day work, graduates are expected to attend training sessions, as well as networking opportunities. You can also expect regular performance evaluations. “At GVA Grimley, all graduates are allocated a counsellor who they meet with every six months and a supervisor who they meet with every three months,” says Nina Tanner, HR business support assistant. For graduates who don’t have a surveying degree, there are two options – to do a postgraduate course and then embark on a graduate training scheme or to do the two concurrently. In both cases, employers may foot the bill.

“There are 204 postgraduate courses available,” says Sue Roberts, operations manager at RICS, who adds that the number of students studying them has increased by 58 per cent in the last two years. “While the most traditional surveyor used to be someone who’d done an accredited undergraduate course, got a job and got qualified, more people now do a degree in any subject and study surveying later.” Amy Preston, graduate recruitment and development consultant at EC Harris is among those who believe their best graduates are noncognates. “They’ve often worked for a couple of years and may have a house and other commitments. Making the decision to become a chartered surveyor at that point means they have to be really dedicated.”

Sean Beharell is studying to be a surveyor at EC Harris. “When I came out of university, I did some temping for EC Harris and I liked the idea of surveying. I’d always wanted a job where you could be in the office some of the time and be out and about the rest. I asked EC Harris if it might be possible to train with them and they said yes, they’d support me to do a conversion course and go on the graduate training programme. “Over the two years of the graduate training programme, we all get bimonthly workshops on things like report writing, networking and presentations.”

Expect to have to work hard to gain chartered status. Indeed, the pass rate is currently 70 per cent. But, RICS reassures people that if they don’t reach that standard, there is the option to go back and build up skills and knowledge in areas of weakness, ready to return to the RICS panel for revaluation of chartered status. Graduates could be forgiven for thinking twice about a career in surveying at a time when the property market appears to be on a downward spiral. But Adrian Wilson speaks for most of the sector when he says, “The property market has always been cyclical, so that kind of pessimism is futile in surveying. In any case, we’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to restrict our graduate intake, even during really tough times. “Graduates are the lifeblood of our firm, the people who’ll become senior partners. Unless we invest in them, we’d see a situation in four or five years’ time when we had a dearth of people at a certain level.”