The job of a QS can be just as exciting as those 19th century American pioneers, says the associate director at Capita Symonds
In the mid 19th century, the US was in the midst of a tumultuous expansion of its western frontiers. Thousands of brave pioneers streamed across the plains in search of a new life while establishing a nation that would stretch from one great ocean to the other.
One newspaper of the time cried “Go west young man…”, a phrase that has since become a byword for broadening one’s horizons with travel and adventure.
The problem is that for some QSs in the UK today an imploration to “Go West…” would most likely see them heading for Taunton! Too often we forget that being a QS is one of the most interesting and varied jobs around and that the opportunities to work in some of the world’s most exciting countries are vast. What’s more, the work of the QS is no longer restricted to the Commonwealth – these days there are opportunities all over the globe.
Since joining Capita Symonds three years ago, I haven’t gone specifically west, but I have been lucky enough to go south-east (ish), working for major clients in countries such as Turkey, Switzerland, Greece, Libya, Egypt, Nigeria and even Kazakhstan.
It’s hard to really impress upon people how exciting and challenging working overseas can be (not to mention the hazards you get in some places). Whereas every construction project is, by nature, different, with international work there is even more variation. As you have to adapt immediately to a new climate, different language and unique cultures, you really need to quickly banish pre-conceptions and hit the ground/desert running.
There is a misconception that surveying is somehow dull when my experience has been the exact opposite.
As we all know, the key to success is to create relationships where trust and respect have been gained in equal shares. Never is this more true than when working on international projects where global clients want, for example, their new office or factory in Africa to be designed and built to exactly the same standards they expect in the Western world.
Of course, sometimes it can take time to bring local contractors and designers round to your way of working, especially when it comes to heath and safety, but with a hands-on approach any issues can be quickly overcome. It’s also a chance to learn new ideas and approaches (of course, never forget the fun of ad-hoc parties at the ambassador’s residence, the snow in Switzerland, or five-star luxury).
Nevertheless, there can be the odd seemingly insurmountable hurdle. For instance, I recently worked on a project in Kazakhstan and there was such a massive shortage of materials that every piece of construction material from masking tape to paintbrushes had to be imported - thousands of miles from Europe (finding razors, socks and underwear was also something of a trial when your bags don’t show up). Nevertheless, it’s these sort of challenges that really test your skills and, in successfully negotiating them, you quite simply become a better QS.
There is a misconception that surveying is somehow dull when my experience has been the exact opposite. The key point is that the opportunities are out there – you just have to be with the right company. Of course, whereas working for a young, broad-horizoned company like Capita Symonds has been vital is presenting me with these opportunities, never forget that you still have to wave your passport in the air and get yourself on that flight.
Ciaran Dolan is an associate director at Capita Symonds.