Across the global real estate, infrastructure and land sectors, public and private organizations are relying heavily on quantity surveyors to help strategize the economic recovery — except in the United States, where the role remains largely underutilized and often unknown. But especially in the post-COVID-19 recovery, many contracts don’t account for today’s extreme circumstances, infrastructure and construction projects have new mandates, and deliverables and legal issues are unclear. Quantity surveyors may be what the U.S. built environment needs.
What most employers in the larger building and land industries have in the U.S. are cost estimators and cost planners. While these are important roles for projects, their scope is narrower than that of quantity surveyors. They don’t often bring the breadth of industry knowledge to help resolve conflicts and put projects back on track or plan ahead from early in the design and engineering process to avoid those setbacks.
Quantity surveyors bring a broad base of expertise that carries far-reaching benefits for employers. In addition to accounting and math, successful quantity surveying work involves an in-depth knowledge of commercial practices, contracts and the law. They understand the massive ecosystem of documents that create a framework of obligations, and they understand the construction and engineering processes, as well.
Often, a quantity surveyor is brought into a project to help resolve a major dispute, and lawyers are relied on solely to structure contracts and project deliverables and resolve day-to-day changes and conflicts. From governments and developers to oil and gas companies and infrastructure and construction firms, organizations can benefit from involving qualified quantity surveyors involved throughout the lifecycle of a project, from planning to closeout. Dispute resolution is a part of the job, although quantity surveyors can provide the on-the-ground insight needed to help prevent disputes in the first place by ensuring a contract is realistic and knowing what the job requires across the board and ahead of time.
What makes quantity surveyors especially useful in the U.S. is that when it comes to contracts, the terms are usually bespoke, rather than relying on international standards for measurement and obligations. The large amount of art involved in forging contracts makes that expertise highly valuable in terms of understanding efficiencies and avoiding delays and legal expenses.
In my career in the oil and gas infrastructure world, I’ve seen first-hand how our profession brings a variety of experience together through a mixture of formal education, office- based business experience and first-hand experience on sites. This diversified knowledge really makes life easier for firms, as we can analyze the minutiae of a contract. Still, we can also head out to a site to measure concrete and study productivity.
There are well-documented disruptions to work and the global supply chain, which will inevitably cause an increase in contract disputes. Quantity surveyors are measuring the effects of the pandemic, and we’re studying the best ways to move forward for everyone’s benefit.
For example, we could see the construction labor pool reduced by industry-wide layoffs and business closures or the largely migrant construction labor force leaving to quarantine and being unwilling to return to remote projects. These events can actually create increased project costs as organizations compete for a reduced labor pool. This could lead to a rise in pay rates and an influx of less-skilled workers to meet the demand, resulting in long-lasting cost increases and productivity reduction. This all might not be immediately apparent when assessing the situation today, but quantity surveyors would take this into account, knowing how to identify, forecast and calculate these effects to help companies make more well-informed decisions.
What we’re ultimately working for is an industry that works better for everyone.