Why we'll always need surveyors

Some jobs are 'recession-proof', says Steve McCormack
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The Independent Online

Despite flickers of evidence that the housing market might be on the turn, it is clear that the recession will continue to dampen the market for land and property for some time yet. So, the professions whose business relies on the steady churn of houses, flats and building land are in for a further period of lean pickings. Prominent among these are the surveyors, whose valuations are essential to all such transactions.

But all is not gloomy in the surveying world, because there are numerous careers – many unrelated to the property market – that are showing signs of being almost recession-proof. Surveyors are needed, for example, to settle boundary disputes and help in compulsory purchase order decisions; they're essential in the production of maps, and they come up with solutions to problems where land has become contaminated.

All of these areas feature a common component of many surveying sectors: the accurate mapping of large and small tracts of land and sea, and an understanding of what's going on underneath the surface as well as on top of it. In the surveying world, the word used to cover this broad area is geomatics, which is a career option recommended by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

It describes the career so far of Andy Dare, 32, who's worked for the Aberdeen-based company Andrews Survey since finishing a degree in mapping sciences at East London University in 1998. He has mainly worked on overseas projects, where the firm helps energy companies construct and position pipelines on the seabed. The job involves periods of up to a month based on a ship, electronically linked to divers or remote submarines. "We provide navigation for the ship and basically tell it where to go," he explains.

For nearly a decade, Dare has criss-crossed the globe in the role, working in the Middle East, Singapore and the Caribbean, and on the way accumulated the professional experience that's enabled him to become a chartered surveyor. In common with surveyors in all fields, after graduating from a RICS-accredited degree course and starting work, he had to undergo an Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), while recording at least two years' worth of professional experience.

"I set up the APC myself, working with people at the RICS, setting my own goals and working on the client relations and communications elements while I was working on the offshore projects," he recalls.

All ocean floor installations of the sort made possible by Andrews Survey and others must these days meet stringent ecological standards and be shown to be safe and sustainable in the long term.

In fact, the ever-expanding challenge of sustainability, now impacting almost everywhere in the commercial world, is creating more work for surveyors. In a recent survey of worldwide RICS members, three quarters of respondents reported sustainability issues assuming growing importance in their working lives. Businesses paying for the services of surveyors are seeking more and more advice in the areas of energy supply, waste management, natural resource consumption, transport, land contamination and flood defence.

"A lot of our members are now using sustainability tools and techniques as part of their work," says Arlette Anderson, the Head of Sustainability at RICS. "And this is helping their clients get ahead of the game for when things pick up in the economy."

So it seems indisputable that any surveyor who beefs up his or her knowledge of the sustainability factors affecting their area of work will be markedly bolstering their employability and job security.

And finally, there's one group of surveyors whose increasing workload is directly linked to the recession: those specialising in valuing property and assets when businesses go bust. These are members of the RICS Recovery and Insolvency Forum, whose annual conference takes place at the end of this month.

"While in crude terms we may be regarded as corporate undertakers, in many circumstances we play an integral part in saving a business," says Mark Isaacs, a director of the Manchester firm JPS Chartered Surveyors and an RICS spokesman on insolvency.

And the fact is that, both in times of boom and bust, businesses succeed and fail, so surveyors acquiring expertise in the insolvency field are substantially strengthening their CVs.