The Transformation of the Quantity Surveyor – In the last decade there have been dramatic changes in procurement and practice within the Caribbean construction industry.  These changes have been driven by major clients both within the public and private sectors and have demanded cultural change and the implementation of best practice.  Quantity Surveyors have been at the forefront of these changes representing both the client and contractors.  Indeed, recent years have seen quantity surveyors become the key advisers on construction and development strategy; and they continue to re-invent themselves to remain at the head of the design team.

Quantity Surveying is on a roll – a big hitter in virtually every aspect of construction management and strategic property consultancy.  But this was not always the case: the profession has had to work hard over the last 30 years to achieve the elevated status that it now enjoys.  So what caused this rise in the profile and importance of the profession?

Traditionally, QSs were mostly involved with the measuring and valuing of construction work being carried out under a building contract.   They were handed the architect’s drawings, advised on likely costs, drew up tender documents itemising the work to be carried out, helped to let the construction contracts, valued works as it proceeded and prepared final accounts.

Two huge changes came about that shook up the profession – QS firms found themselves facing severe fee competition and their clients began looking for new ways of managing contracts. However, quantity surveying firms set out to address these changes using a very pro-active approach, most importantly, they began to expand the range of services that they offered to clients.

At first this meant developing project management services, followed by the provision of development appraisals, lifecycle costing, risk and facilities management and health or safety.  This led to a more collaborative approach to construction and an end to the traditional method of treating the contract sum as a starting-point and then squeezing additional money out during construction.

At the same time, clients were looking for designs that already reflected the limits of the budget, rather than waiting for the QS to identify likely cost overruns.  The result was that the QS stepped forward, and today provides complex, solution-based services on a scale that few could have imagined.

Although QSs do still provide traditional services, this is now on a global level, and today they service new industries and offer a wider range of services to a wider spread of clients.  This is opening up new commercial possibilities for QSs, whether working for companies, client groups, contractors or other advisory and consulting firms.

The relationship between QSs and clients has also changed dramatically.   QSs of today are providing clients with strategic advice at a much higher level than was previously the case.  Some comments made by partners of major worldwide QS practices include:-

“Thirty years ago or less, clients used to select a quantity surveyor like they used to hire a carpenter.’  “QSs were selling their trade.”

“Today we work in a world in which our customers, both in the public and private sectors, are being challenged to do more for less, and supporting them to do that is our opportunity.”

“Twenty years ago, we might be employed to advise on the cost of a single building.  Today, QS firms are also being called in higher up the corporate agenda to help the client do more for less. “That can be by advising on how best to manage the entire estate or, at the strategic level, to advise the client on how its property portfolio might be better aligned with customer objectives.  Strategic advice at entire capital programme level will entail issues such as prioritising spending, whether to outsource and whether to develop building or to let somebody else do it and lease them.”
It is not just in providing over-arching strategic advice that quantity surveyors have developed – they have also made a number of specialised areas of practice very much their own.  Nowadays, QSs act for parties in adjudication and litigation support, as expert witnesses, as mediators and as court-appointed experts or arbitrators.

And they have had to up their game, too, as the courts are now concerned to see that professionals enter the market with a thorough understanding of the relevant rules and procedures, as well as sound competence in their primary profession.

As clients’ needs grew more complex, the QS moved up the food chain to become the lead consultant.  This was partly due to the fact that many architects preferred to remain as the designer rather than become the project manager.  Nobody is better placed than a QS in advising a client on their needs.  Although quantity surveyors are currently seen as being indispensable construction and strategic advisers, they will have to continually re-invent themselves if it is to be they, and not other disciplines, who continue to find high-value services to meet the evolving needs of clients.

QSs may have to change as much over the next 10 years as they have over the last 30 if they are to exploit the opportunities and deal with the challenges that are already taking shape.  The profession managed such a transformation when demand for the old-style quantity surveyor slackened, and they may have to manage it again.  

Quantity surveyors have come a long way in the past 30 years. Where will they be in another 30 years? Well, if employers, contractors universities, Caribbean QS associations and the RICS pull together to attract sufficient numbers of new entrants, and if today’s professionals work hard to stave off competition from other sectors and continue to adapt to changing client needs, then there is no reason why the profession cannot still be top of the tree for years to come.  It will be interesting to see where the profession goes next.

Sanjay Amin is a Director of BCQS ( as well as the RICS representative in the Caribbean region. This article contains information taken from RICS Business (the official publication of Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and Research from a selection commissioned by RICS.