If you want to be a good Construction Cost Estimator (US) also called a Quantity Surveyor (UK), then you must get a College Diploma or University Degree at an institution that offers the course. Getting an education at a recognized institute of learning will equip you with knowledge in many aspects of the Quantity Surveying profession. After getting an educational qualification, you can even go further to be a certified professional by writing examinations offered by an international or local body of Quantity Surveyors. Such bodies include the ASPE in America and RICS in the UK. Depending on the advancement of the profession in the region, some countries have their own examining and certifying bodies which offer professional status to qualifying individuals.
A professional QS / Estimator is different from a self-taught individual or somebody who was trained in-house but without qualifications. Such an individual might have a lot of essential experience, but he or she will lack in some technical knowledge, subjects and aspects of training that are acquired at a higher institution of learning. Most of the time, when a company is hiring, a qualified individual is preferred over an unqualified but experienced individual. This is due to the fact that the modern Estimator is required to have broad skills and competencies in various subjects related to Costing, Project Management, Design and Construction. Modern estimating is not a streamlined trade like carpentry or locksmith where your talent is a big factor. It is not just about taking off quantities from architectural drawings but it involves a lot more.
The quality of work that is produced by a professional estimator is several miles ahead than that of an unqualified estimator. In order to be a good and competent estimator, you must have knowledge in specific subjects that are taught at a tertiary school of construction. Let’s have a look at these subjects.
Measurement of Construction Work
A good Quantity Surveyor should know how to take off quantities from a building plan. This is a basic skill that every estimator should have. Knowing how to do plan takeoffs is essential because this is where the accuracy of the estimate is based. An accurate takeoff means an accurate cost estimate, and this allows you to arrive at the right tender value. It also allows you to project an accurate budget for the client. In a construction project that is managed by a QS, and where quantity takeoffs are not accurate, the contractor may find leeway to file claims for Bill of Quantity inaccuracies.
A Construction Estimator should know how to interpret architectural drawings as well as any drawings by the engineers. Drawing should be a part of the Quantity Surveying course to equip the student with design skills as well as visual comprehension intelligence. If you are able to design and draw a house plan on paper from scratch using a drawing board and ink, then you are able to understand the elements of a building better than somebody with no technical drawing experience. You will understand how the construction process works and you will be able to measure items accurately without leaving out some parts that are a non-skilled person won’t notice. You will be able to make design proposals, additions and queries if you think the plan is missing out specific details. Sometimes, architectural plans come with missing details and minimizing these will help in creating an accurate Bill of Quantities with fewer provisional sums.
Taking off quantities is an essential skill and if you are able to visualize structural elements in 2D and 3D, you will be a better estimator. Learning how to draw plans using computer software such as AutoCAD or TurboCAD will equip you with visual comprehension skills and the ability to design. The ability to interpret Drawings affects your take-off skills in a big way, so immerse yourself in as many drawings as possible.
Construction Technology is a subject that helps you understand the structural elements of a building, how the components are fixed and installed in relation to another. You will learn about methods of building, fixing, installation and setup. Essentially, you learn about construction methods used in the industry from excavation to roofing. As any student of estimating will expect, you will encounter a lot of drawing details and cross sections that attempt to explain the construction method used in a specific phase of the construction process and element of the building.
If you know how a door is fixed or how the cross-section of a foundation looks like, then you will be able to account for items that should be there and measure them accordingly. For example, when you are measuring a building foundation, you don’t just measure the concrete footing but you also measure the excavations, compaction, ant-proofing, blinding, earthwork support and brickwork. Construction technology will help you understand the building process and it will definitely make you a better estimator.
It is the job of an Architect to prescribe a wide range of building specifications such as materials, design and water reticulation. These specifications are often handed out to the bidding contractor as schedules for example – floor schedule, window schedule, door schedule and wall finishes. However, a Quantity Surveyor is also expected to have some knowledge of building materials.
If you know your materials well, you will be able to order the right materials from suppliers. You will also be able to get the right quote. But this is not the only reason for having Construction Materials as a subject in your Quantity Surveying course. A quantity surveyor is responsible for creating Bills of Quantities which contain detailed descriptions of every item in the building project. In this case, if you are a QS, you are required to provide an accurate and complete description. Materials should be properly described and not confused for something else, otherwise there might be problems with rates. Knowledge of construction materials is helpful in the buildup of rates.
Project Management and Contract Law
A QS is a professional who works with other professionals in the construction industry so he or she must know how to manage a project. This includes enforcing contract clauses that are stated in the BOQ preliminaries, attending site meetings, liaising with client, architect, engineers and stakeholders involved in the project. In addition, the QS is the financial manager of the project, overseeing the budget and payments to contractors. Anything that has to do with cost throughout the project is the Estimator’s responsibility.
Quantity Surveying Courses:
UK universities like Loughborough University offer a full and well-rounded quantity surveying course:
Loughborough University – BSc (Hons) Commercial Management & Quantity Surveying
NOTES: On this blog, Estimator refers to Quantity Surveyor (QS) and vice-versa