An emphasis on maintaining and improving existing stock means building surveyors could be in high demand during tough economic times. By Will Mann.
The market for building surveyor jobs is unusual among construction professions in that, during a recession, it is relatively well-insulated.
“Anything new build-related, for example, architecture jobs, always takes a hit, but building surveyors have more options because they work with existing building stock,” explains John Parsons, associate director at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Markets he points to include refurbishment, maintenance, insurance, and dilapidations.
Stuart Roberts, a director with recruiter One Way Resourcing, agrees that prospects are good for building surveyors. “I think this government will focus more on 'making the most of what we've got', rather than encouraging new build, so demand for building surveyors on refurbishment projects is likely to be quite high.
“We're seeing demand on MOD projects, with their barracks refurbishment programmes, and in social housing, on estate rejuvenations.”
Steve Gee, managing partner at construction consultants John Rowan & Partners (JRP), says the firm's building surveying team is “growing strongly”.
“Refurbishment tends to push on more during harder times,” he says. “We are seeing that in the commercial and retail sectors, where it is mainly refurb jobs that are driving the pick up in work.”
JRP usually recruits at a junior level, develops its own talent, and promotes internally. “We like to give new recruits a generalist grounding in the business,” says Gee, “though we do service specialisms. These are often the areas which are resilient during a recession – fire risk assessments, for example, have to be done regardless of the state of the economy.”
Another specialist downturn market Parsons points to is dilapidations.
“It's a real growth area, a classic niche market that grows during a recession,” explains Parsons. “When a company is vacating a commercial property, the lease will normally oblige the tenant to remedy any repairs or defects that have occurred.
“At that point, a building surveyor will be called in, possibly by both tenant and freeholder.”
Insurance can also provide extra work for building surveyors during a slowdown. “There are generally more people putting in claims during a recession,” explains Parsons, “so building surveyors often find themselves in demand from loss adjusters, or insurers, or from contractors who specialise in insurance work.”
One such contractor is Glasgow-based Clark Contracts, which is currently recruiting graduate level building surveyors for its insurance arm, having won two new contracts recently.
In the past, it has recruited from ex-tradesman who have retrained as building surveyors, which is a common trend. “It helps when they are dealing with the trades who have to carry out the work,” explains managing director Gordon Cunningham.
Business unit manager Gareth Bland describes the work as much more “fast-paced” than working in a private building surveying practice. “The number of jobs is higher as you have to deal with insurance claims, and the response time tends to be quicker,” he explains.
Clark Contracts likes good communicators. “You have to deal with the general public – for domestic claims – and loss adjusters – for commercial claims – so you are often talking to people who have limited technical expertise,” says Bland.
The other issue is customer care and service delivery, he adds. “In a market like insurance – and our other business maintenance – this is paramount, and we have KPIs to maintain our performance levels.”
Bland says there is a surprising amount of job satisfaction in the work. “If Mrs Jones has seen her house burnt down, rebuilding the house and helping her put her life back together is very rewarding,” he explains.
Looking further ahead, sustainability may open up plenty more opportunities for building surveyors.
Environment legislation and particularly the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive has created a new job market for building surveyors who can assess a building's energy efficiency.
“There tends to be a lot of attention given to the efforts public sector clients are making in this area, but in reality, the private sector has been addressing this for over 20 years,” says Parsons.
A building surveyor who specialises in energy assessment will often end up moving into building control for a local authority, he adds, something that has historically been a well-trod career path during recessions. “But perhaps that's less likely to be the case this time round, with the looming cuts in the public sector.”
Parsons believes the future job market for building surveyors, particularly the newer graduates, is exciting.
“There is so much new technology being used, for example, thermal imaging modelling of buildings, so you can see a building's hot spots,” he enthuses. “It's changing at a rapid pace, and it's an interesting job market to be in.”
However, Gee sounds a cautionary note about environmental opportunities. “We have just worked on a social housing retrofit project in Brent, which featured solar panels, insulation, and it was in many ways a model environmental project,” he says. “It will save each household £270 a year in energy bills.
“We all said at the time 'if only this model could be rolled out on other projects'. But the reality is, that kind of approach is not widespread yet.”