Why are QSs so obsessed about limited liability partnerships when they're facing an altogether more challenging problem from their own staff?

Now that we are into 2006 and the halfway point in the first decade of the new millennium has been passed, I find myself thumbing through copies of last year's Building magazine, picking out news items that caught my eye and wondering if they will be repeated, copied or ignored during 2006.

One thing that is sure to grab the headlines in the coming months is the plethora of salary surveys that are published at this time of year. Several of my contemporaries made the headlines in 2005 by revealing their own pay packets as part of the new era of glasnost brought on by becoming limited liability partnerships.

It was as though hidden keys had suddenly unlocked the gates of the Kremlin and all the secrets tumbled out. Shock and horror followed. The "humble" chartered surveyor was suddenly seen to be earning a reasonable salary. Those at the top of the organisations were described in terms that wouldn't have disgraced Donald Trump. One was encouraged to envision polished private jets parked on freshly painted runways ready to whisk these top executives to their penthouses in Bermuda for some seasonal R&R.

But what struck me was not the salaries so much as the reaction to them. It was as though it is OK for contractors, architects and developers to take home six-figure packages, but not others in the supply chain who have an equally important role.

In our own organisation, which operates as a partnership and does not have the same need to publish such figures, the talk over the past five years has not been about how much we all earn but about how much we need to pay to get the best talent. We now project manage, orchestrate and control PFI projects, advise on tax breaks for property developers and implement power stations as well as managing costs. Suddenly we are wading knee-deep into a prospective talent pool that is full of competing organisations from management consultants to lawyers, financiers and accountants. The days of popping to the poly for a trainee surveyor are gone.

New graduates are not concerned about whether they work for LLPs. They live in a ‘show me the money’ world and see life through the myopic eyes of a footballer’s wife or a sports agent

The new graduate entrants are not in the least concerned about whether they work for LLPs or partnerships. They live in a "show me the money" world and seem to see life through the myopic eyes of a footballer's wife or a sports agent - complete with a vocabulary that drips with talk of signing-on fees, commission-based bonuses and golden handcuffs. Some of our older partners visibly wilt at the interview process where our candidates are psychometrically tested, personality probed and culture evaluated. Sadly, despite a vetting process that would be the envy of MI5, we often find that they lack the basic skills of numeracy and literacy. We are not expecting a cross between Carol Vorderman and Charles Dickens but it would be helpful if they could fill out the application form properly.

Every now and again when I meet with fellow professionals from the top five or so surveying practices, the talk is never of fees. The conversation of late has not even strayed into the area of limited liability partnerships. Currently, the talk is of the value of different members of the team, whether PFI-based or privately funded.

A newly qualified 23-year-old lawyer in the South-east can expect to earn £45k a year and a similar chartered accountant about £40k; a surveyor with two years' experience will earn about £33k. At the upper level, the median salary for a chief executive in a FTSE general retail sector has increased this year 14% to £343,000 and finance directors' salaries have gone up 54% to about £200,000. These would be enviable wage scales for many at a senior level in a top 10 QS consultancy.

A key issue for us as an organisation is that we are now multidisciplinary and, as a result, we need to search for new contributors outside of our traditional hunting grounds. That will inevitably affect salaries and at some point, this will feed through to the market. We are also competing on a global basis for projects and one advantage in having an international structure is that one can offer diversity of career opportunity through travel as well as select from a global skills pool. So for me, the most pressing question during this coming year is not whether we are best equipped to meet our business goals as an LLP or a partnership but whether we are in the best shape to attract new talent in 2006 …