One cost consultant is sick of explaining his job function at parties and wonders how the industry can attract recruits if nobody knows what we do

Besides the credit crunch, the talk on everyone’s lips is about sustainability and implementing responsible construction practices for the benefit of future generations. But how can this be achieved if there is nobody there to do it?

Over the past few months, I have been working in a team that is continually expanding and has gone from strength to strength in its range of services – and workload.

I have noticed a similar trend in other industries, such as finance and the media, but not as much as in the building sector, where skilled cost managers are increasingly hard to find.

It seems to me that there has been an incredible demand for construction personnel, while the response in terms of growing and training the workforce has been slow.

So how do we go about attracting individuals to our industry? It could be viewed as a company’s responsibility to target other industries in the hope of attracting professionals that can be trained and moulded into construction professionals. But how do we make the industry attractive to these potential recruits – and to new graduates?

While the industry does have many attractions, these are just not being conveyed to the right individuals or being publicised strongly enough in general.

Why is it that when somebody asks you what you do for a living, you have to explain yourself in detail, explicating cost management from first principles? You might as well have replied that you are an ocularist! Quantity surveying is not a commonly recognised profession.

I believe that the reason individuals are not being attracted to our industry is that the general public are not generally aware of what we do or how we do it.

Over the weekend, I got talking to a mate in a pub who is employed in the advertising industry. I asked how one should market a company and what was real recognition.

In reply, he suggested: “When I mention a particular product line, tell me the company that comes to mind.” So he started: “soft drinks” – and I replied “Coke”; then “supermarkets” – I answered “Tesco”; then “cigarettes” – and I said “Marlboro”.

So then I said: “Well, that’s fine – but that’s because everyone uses the products and it’s in your face the whole time.” He said that was exactly correct: top-of-mind awareness.

There are construction projects on every street corner throughout the year, so how can it be that the public know nothing about them or who is involved in them? The reason is that they themselves are not involved or engaged.

Somehow the industry has to engage the public on a personal level and get them talking about construction projects and construction companies. It might be the case that we will have to resort to flashing lights and feel-good posters on every tower crane, site compound or piece of safety clothing, but the industry must do something about its level of public awareness.

Our industry has a long way to go to involve members of the public and get that knowledge out there on what we do. I am looking forward to the day when I can answer the question “What is it that you do?” with a simple “QS” and the response will be “Okay, wow – what’s happening with such-and-such a project?”