Trainee Quantity Surveyor Sam Whitehouse has spent the last two years getting to grips with a new industry.
“I decided to enter the construction industry in 2015 and retrain as a quantity surveyor. At the time I had no experience of the profession and very little knowledge of the industry, but after a few of years dealing with the cyclical seasons of the retail sector I was keen to find a project-based career where the results of my work would be tangible. Let’s be honest, buildings are fairly tangible!
Choosing to retrain is a big decision. There are various hurdles to jump and it involves significant time and financial investment. I already had a degree and master’s under my belt so no longer had the option to take out a student loan, and was loath to risk beginning a degree with the uncertainty of finding work afterwards. Many construction firms and QS practices offer training positions that sponsor recruits through part-time university degrees, allowing trainees to earn while they learn. This, however, involves five years of university study and as an older candidate I felt under pressure to qualify sooner. For this reason I looked for a master’s degree in quantity surveying. A number of universities offer an MSc, though entry requirements differ. Some are designed to provide official qualifications to industry veterans; others are set up as convergence courses open to graduates from unrelated disciplines.
Prior to committing myself to a course, I contacted Cooper & Hall, my local QS firm, to ask for some work experience. To my luck this enquiry led to a position as a Trainee QS, with the company sponsoring me through an MSc at Northumbria University.
Two years on and the end is in sight, with my final dissertation due at the end of September. The degree has been intensive, with little time off between modules but – considering the alternative – I have preferred this crash course style of learning. For anyone considering retraining and studying at masters level, I would advise finding a job in the industry at the same time. Working at C&H has provided context for many of the theoretical aspects of the MSc, as well as giving me the chance to apply learning in real contractual situations. Without this support, I believe the MSc would be significantly more difficult.
When choosing a master’s course it is important to ensure that it is accredited by RICS so that graduates will be able to undertake the APC, which is the next stage of professional training. The RICS website contains a list of accredited courses that can help direct you when considering universities.
In terms of top tips, expect to work hard – both during and after your degree. No matter how intensive a two-year course is, you will struggle to accrue the same amount of knowledge as trainees with five years of study and work experience. I expect to spend some time after completing my degree filling in any gaps in my knowledge.
As a final thought, it can be daunting taking on a trainee position when you have a few years on the other trainees. At my interview with C&H, I was asked whether I could deal with taking instructions from, as Graham Hall put it, ‘cocky youngsters’. I have honestly found little issue with the age gap. If anything, I suspect that being a little older with more experience of working life has led to me having a greater level of responsibility than a fresh-faced school leaver would receive.”