A quantity surveyor (QS) or cost engineer is a professional person working within the construction industry. The role of the QS is, in general terms, to manage and control costs within construction projects and may involve the use of a range of management procedures and technical tools to achieve this goal.
The profession developed during the 19th century from the earlier "measurer", a specialist tradesman (often a guild member), who prepared standardised schedules for a building project in which all of the construction materials, labour activities and the like were quantified and against which competing builders could submit priced tenders. Because the tenders were each based on the same schedule of information, they would be easily compared to find the most suitable candidate.
The professional institution with which most English-speaking quantity surveyors are affiliated is the UK based Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) , Quantity Surveyors International (QSi) and Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES).
Although all QSs will have followed a similar course of education and training (for those entering the profession today, this is usually to degree level), there are many areas of specialisation in which a QS may concentrate. The main distinction amongst QSs is between:
- Those who carry out work on behalf of a client organisation: often known as a "professional quantity surveyor", "professional QS" or "PQS".
- Those who work for construction companies: often known as a "main contractor's quantity surveyor".
CONSULTANT QUANTITY SURVEYOR
The functions of a consultant quantity surveyor (traditionally referred to as a professional quantity surveyor or PQS) are broadly concerned with the control of the cost on construction projects. The methods employed, however, cover a range of activities which may include cost planning, value engineering, feasibility studies, cost benefit analysis, lifecycle costing, valuation, and cost estimation. Some senior quantity surveyors are known as construction economists, cost engineers or commercial managers. The field of cost engineering is closely related to quantity surveying.
Quantity surveyors control construction costs by accurate measurement of the work required, the application of expert knowledge of costs and prices of work, labour, materials and plant required, an understanding of the implications of design decisions at an early stage to ensure that good value is obtained for the money to be expended.
The technique of measuring quantities from drawings, sketches and specifications prepared by designers, principally architects and engineers, in order to prepare tender/contract documents, is known in the industry as taking off. The quantities of work taken off typically are used to prepare bills of quantities, which usually are prepared in accordance with a published standard method of measurement (SMM) as agreed to by the QS profession and representatives of the construction industry. Many larger QS firms have their own in-house methods of measurement and most bills of quantities prepared today are in an abbreviated format from the one required by the SMM.
Generally a experienced surveyor would facilitate all the skills available to minimise additional costs to project and maintain a first class service for customers
CONTRACTORS QUANTITY SURVEYOR
A contractor's QS is responsible for the performance of operations that mirror those of the owner's QS; i.e, the measurement and pricing of construction work, but specifically that actually performed by the contractor (and the contractor's subcontractors) as opposed to the construction work described and measured in the construction contract between the owner and the contractor. Such a difference in quantity of work may arise from changes required by an owner, or by an architect or engineer on an owner's behalf. Typically, the settlement of a change (often referred to in a contract as a 'variation'). (see, the following reference sources: "Fundamentals of Construction Estimating and Cost Accounting," by Keith Collier (2nd ed.) (Prentice-Hall, 1987); "Construction Contracts," by Keith Collier (3rd ed.) (Prentice-Hall, 2001) These two texts each contain a comprehensive glossary.
The role of a contractors QS will extend further than the day to day running of building projects and will cover such other areas as sub-contract formation, forecasting of costs and values of the project, cash flow forecasts and the collation of the operation and maintenance manuals of the project (O&M manuals). This increase in the capacity of the surveying profession has led to an increased demand for qualified personnel and goes some way to explaining the popularity of related degrees at university.
Some contractors and others may attempt to rely on a general accountant to deal with construction costs, but usually this is not effective, primarily because an accountant does not have the technical knowledge to accurately allocate costs to specific items of work performed, especially at times prior to the particular work's completion as required to make accurate assessment of the amounts to be paid to the contractor during the course of the work