Quantity surveyors throughout Australia are increasingly becoming integral to project management and are moving beyond traditional measurement role toward advising on matters such as the structure of contracts as well as ways to reduce construction costs and improve project delivery.
In a recent interview, Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (AIQS) chief executive officer Michael Manikas FAIQS stressed that the quality assurance aspects of the traditional quantity surveying role remained imperative, but added that greater efficiency in terms of bills of quantities measurement through tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) had freed up quantity surveyors to add more value and become a more integral part of the management of projects.
They were able to do so by, for example, advising on different types of procurement methods and contract structures or by suggesting alternative building materials and ways to speed up construction through measures such as off-site fabrication.
“A lot of firms are becoming more of a business advisor than a traditional quantity surveyor,” Manikas said. “Some are positioning themselves as the kingpins of the construction industry, especially in relation to government projects and large infrastructure projects. The traditional role of a QS where they used to sit down for hours on end and measure bills of quantities has definitely changed.”
Manikas added that critical challenges for the profession revolve not only around the drying up of work for some firms exposed to resource-based clients but more broadly from a shift toward pushing risk away from the client and toward the building contractor.
He said clients are increasingly looking to start projects sooner and many are entering into contracts before the design development and quality assurance checks are complete, a phenomenon which leads to challenges down the track as it can be difficult to make changes to the way projects are built once the contract has been let.
Manikas is not alone in his view that the profession faces challenges. David Mitchell, a partner of 5D quantity surveying firm and a board member for BuildingSMART Australasia sees the profession having to confront a number of issues going forward. These issues include the prospect of the calculation of quantities being performed by a technology or an alternative party within the supply chain; growing international competition – especially from countries which have mandated BIM such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, the UK and US as well as a number of European nations; and the potential for the value of a quantity surveyor’s local price libraries, knowledge and benchmarks to be eroded as information becomes more accessible and therefore more easily shared.
To succeed in what he calls the "BIM world," Mitchell said not only do practitioners need to be comfortable working with a broad range of software, but individual firms need be aligned to BIM and have a strong focus on step-by-step processes. The importance of teamwork and collaboration cannot be understated.
“I don't believe people can be open on one job and closed on another,” he said. “You're either an open person or you're not, so this can have an effect on the type of people that businesses will employ and want to attract as part of their wider human resources strategy.”
Notwithstanding the aforementioned challenges, Manikas said QS professionals and firms should not underestimate opportunities in international markets.
Already, he noted, almost 36 per cent of AIQS members are based outside of Australia – a number he expects will reach 50 per cent in the not too distant future.
“Especially in the Middle East, there is a big demand for quantity surveyors,” he said.
“I think they have been through a period where Dubai was establishing, costs didn’t seem to be an issue and everyone was building the biggest thing they could at whatever price. (However,) I think the focus shifted after the GFC whereby post-GFC they cancelled a lot of contracts and QSs became involved in disputes over cancelled contracts but now they (QSs) seem to be more involved in costing and value add of projects upfront as well.
“It’s also a very new profession in places like India and the Philippines, who don’t have formal QS training at the moment. There is a big opportunity for people for formal QS training to get into decent work in those areas as well.”