British expertise in quantity surveying is in demand in America, but there are some pitfalls to be aware of


For the past decade or so the East has been a beacon drawing aspiring construction industry professionals to its booming building scene. Now Asia is slowing and big opportunities there are no longer a given. The focus is turning westwards and the US is now heralded as a re-emerging leader of world economic growth.

Every category of US construction is seeing employment gains and all forecasts from Fitch to the IMF indicate good industry growth there from 2014. At Sweett Group we can see the reality of this already – we have just set up our own offices on both coasts, joint venturing with local firm VVA in Boston and in Los Angeles (adding to their presence in New York and Washington), and are winning a flow of assignments.

Yet economic growth is not the only reason for young job-seekers to recall the historic American quotation – “Go west young man, and grow up with the country.” Americans have discovered quantity surveying, especially as practiced by the British. This is both for our expertise in cost and project control and independent professional management.

In the United States there are only 2,150 registered RICS members across all the surveying disciplines

Thanks to some spectacular corporate scandals over recent years, US regulation has been tightened up. Specifically the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, more comfortably “SOX”, has implications for all corporate cash flows. As a result, many clients seek to outsource this responsibility, and at the same time ensure the highest standards. The penalties for lax control are stiff enough to result in changing construction management practice. This is the opportunity.

Major corporations want independent cost advice costs, and indeed, specialist advice to control whole projects. Yet in the United States there are only 2,150 registered RICS members across all the surveying disciplines. So undoubtedly there are significant opportunities for growth in the profession.

For a British QS there are no formal barriers to entry.  British professional qualifications are recognised, although it is well to bear in mind that while we both speak English, usage in our two countries often means we are divided by the same language!

From my personal experience, I can point to a few pitfalls. I recently sat entry examinations for the Certified Real Estate Executive (CRX) which proved to be a voyage of discovery of different technical terminology (just what is a Faucet or a Candela?), real estate practices and procedures coupled with the US retention of Imperial Measurement and even different floor numbering!  

While British skills and values may be welcomed with open arms, getting through the entry visa process is not always plain sailing. From our own experience, I can say that there is a plethora of different Visa statuses and a somewhat lengthy process to go through. Visa status is specific to a particular employment role and is not transferable. We can show why the skills of a non-US national is required for a quantity surveying position in the USA, but even so still need very large files to prove the point.

Derek Pitcher is a managing director at Sweett Group