David Drake tells Sonia Soltani why he's glad he swapped manufacturing for quantity surveying

How did you get to work for a QS with a background in manufacturing?

After doing my maths degree, I took a masters degree in manufacturing management and went to work for steel manufacturer Corus, spending three years at its steel plant in South Yorkshire.

I decided to move though because I felt that there was more variety in construction. I had a number of friends who were involved in the industry, principally on the engineering side, and each seemed to enjoy their work and the challenging range of activities it encompassed. After a little investigation I found that it was possible to move into the industry and to use my maths background in the QS field.

What's the most challenging aspect of being a non-cognate?

Most of it is almost familiar because of my background in maths and manufacturing.

But a lot of it was new to me. Learning the terminology without formal training was the main difficulty to overcome. I also had to learn about the legal aspects of the job.

Do people in the industry treat you differently as a non-cognate? How do clients react when they first find out?

In most client contact situations I haven't experienced a difference. I think the fact that you are representing a well-known organisation gives the client a degree of confidence in your abilities. Obviously within your office the tasks on which you are initially employed differ in that they are tailored to your particular skills, but I found that within a short period of time my work was similar to that of cognate graduates.

What do you think you do better than your cognate colleagues?

I think that although a different background means an initially lower level of technical understanding, this can be balanced by useful knowledge in a specialist area that is relevant to the role, such as maths and finance.

Has the career move lived up to your expectations?

It definitely has. I really enjoy the variety of projects I am working on. I think that the construction industry is very much based on the idea of collaborative teams, whereas the manufacturing industry is much more insular - all the decisions are taken internally and you don't have much link with the external world.

Do you find it easy to play bad cop and ask for cost cuts?

It's unfortunately necessary and, well, yes, I have had some complaints from architects. But I have learned that it's important to keep some level of control. In a project team you can develop your ability to know your people very well, so it makes you more diplomatic to tackle sensitive issues.


Age: 27

Qualifications: BSc in mathematics and MSc in manufacturing management at Bradford University. Currently studying part-time for an MSc in construction cost management at the University of Reading

Employment history: Worked for steel manufacturer Corus for three years and has worked at cost consultant Davis Langdon’s Leeds office since September 2005

Lives: Wakefield, west Yorkshire

Hobbies: Walking, climbing, cinema and watching motor sports