Building Surveying: Bricks and mortar

Building surveyors play a key role in cementing an eco-friendly future, says Sarah Sayce
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The Independent Online

At first sight you might think that building surveying sounds a bit dull - it's all about crawling around in lofts and doing home inspections, isn't it? Think again! Certainly many building surveyors often do put on their protective clothing and investigate defects in buildings - but that's not their main role.

Building surveyors have a passion for buildings: how they work - or don't - and why and how they suffer from problems. To choose an analogy with people: buildings surveyors are the GPs of the property world. Their role is to deal not just with building defects, but to ensure that they are well maintained so that they continue to work well for their owners and users.

One of the most exciting things about building surveying is that you can really make a difference to our world. Buildings are one of the main sources of carbon emissions. Working with fellow professionals, design teams and building users to make our existing buildings more eco-friendly is an increasingly important part of the job.

It is a common misconception that you need to be good at physics and maths to be a building surveyor. You do need to be numerate and you will study building science, but most courses seek to recruit people from a range of educational backgrounds. What is important is that you can succeed in academic subjects such as law and economics as well as having the ability to design and draw.

An analytical approach to problem solving is needed to help you diagnose building defects, and attention to detail will matter as you study design and technical (normally computer-aided) design. Above all you have to be able to communicate well with people and be able work as part of a team, or better still, lead it.

The normal route to becoming a building surveyor is by studying an accredited degree. This can be taken full-time, sandwich or part-time. "Learn-as-you-earn" is also becoming more popular, with many employers sponsoring students through their studies. In addition to your academic study, you must spend a minimum of two years undergoing professional practice experience with an appropriate employer before coming forward for Assessment of Professional Competence.

The course itself covers a wide range of subjects. Some of them are technical, including construction technology, building design and computer-aided design, building defects analysis, materials, and building science. Additionally, you will study modules in subjects such as business management, law and economics. You will also undertake a dissertation or major investigation project. Most degrees courses will ensure that you develop your skills through group work, presentations and research methods.

But if you still aren't sure that building surveying is right for you, there are many related degrees, such as quantity surveying, construction management or architectural technology, that might be of interest. If you choose one of these routes you can change to building surveying by taking a postgraduate "conversion" diploma or Masters.

Once you qualify, the career prospects for chartered building surveyors have never been better. Many graduates choose to work in specialist consultant firms, working for private and corporate clients; others work for large multi-disciplinary practices in teams alongside engineers, architects and planners.

Undertaking consultancy work may involve you in, for example, the project management of extensive refurbishment schemes for shops and offices or in developing property management schemes for schools or hospitals. Others will work in the residential sector.

Hanel Parmar works for Atkins, a multi-disciplinary consultancy. He is in no doubt that his Kingston degree has helped him to his current position managing a multimillion-pound estate for an international bank. "Project management is business driven and obviously that's what I'm interested in," he says. "However, working in a large team, you are always able to get the experience required for whatever building surveying path you choose."

If consultancy isn't right for you there are many opportunities to work directly for building owners in the private or the public sector, helping to ensure that the owner's valuable property assets are well managed and maintained. One growing field of work is within the heritage sector. "A career in conservation surveying has enabled me to appreciate and understand the complexity and diversity of construction techniques throughout the centuries and how these techniques have shaped the built environment we live in today," says Rob Umney, a Kingston graduate, who works for the Historic Royal Palaces.

Whatever field you work in, you will have a huge role to play in ensuring that buildings can contribute positively to our future heritage and environment, as recent Kingston graduate Chris Ennels testifies.

"As a building surveyor, I have found that there is no such thing as a typical day, and the type of work, property and clients I deal with day-to-day vary quite widely. As much as half my working week can often be spent out of the office and it is this kind of variety that attracted me to building surveying."

Professor Sarah Sayce is head of surveying at Kingston University. For further information log on to the websites of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors ( www.rics.org) and the Chartered Institute of Building ( www.ciob.org.uk)

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