The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and completion of the Shanghai Financial Centre skyscraper are concrete examples of China's property and infrastructure boom. While all eyes are on opportunities in the mainland, quantity surveyor experts advise industry newcomers to widen their scope to include other developing countries.
While there is a great demand for surveyors on the mainland, there are many construction projects in regions such as the Middle East, India, Vietnam and Russia that require an extensive range of expertise from seasoned quantity surveyors, says Paul Ho, head of the division of building science and technology, City University of Hong Kong.
"A small percentage of GDP growth alone can trigger a huge demand for quantity surveyors in these countries," Dr Ho notes. "It is therefore important for professionals in the field to establish a global vision while maintaining a China focus."
Quantity surveyors, sometimes referred to as construction cost consultants or cost engineers, are typically tasked with calculating the time needed for building processes, as well as working out the exact quantity and cost for a construction or infrastructure project. They are also financial controllers and in some cases, project managers who oversee construction costs, tendering processes, life cycle costing, project management, risk management and other advisory services.
"A professional quantity surveyor should have an understanding of disciplines ranging from building economics to construction law, financial control, procurement and project management," Dr Ho expands.
There is no doubt that business opportunities in the next few years will lie in Hong Kong and China, but Dr Ho emphasises that professionals should recognise the growth potential in developing countries and be flexible and adaptable so as to compete in the global market.
In spite of concerns over a pending recession in major world economies, and the mature state of infrastructure development in places such as London, the huge volume of revamping and maintenance projects in these cities continue to offer ample opportunities.
"The Hong Kong government has been taking an active stance on promoting the 10 major infrastructure projects, urban redevelopment and building maintenance in recent years," Dr Ho says, adding that this creates a demand for locally trained quantity surveyors, from entry level to senior levels.
Dr Ho, who is also past chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS), believes there are no geographical boundaries for quantity surveyors. In view of increasing globalisation, the HKIS has signed reciprocal agreements with counterparts in mainland China, Japan, Canada, the UK, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia to ensure that member qualifications are recognised abroad.
City University of Hong Kong, the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University currently offer degree programmes in surveying.
According to Dr Ho, the curriculums include local and overseas company visits, offering students the chance to gain first-hand industry experience, and observe quantity surveyors at work. "We focus on training students to be all-rounders, preparing them for entry-level positions in the real world," he stresses.
University studies are however only the beginning and the "real" professional training starts in the two years after students leave school, Dr Ho notes. "Top Hong Kong quantity surveying firms and property developers usually offer good professional training to equip graduates for the working environment," he remarks.
Quantity surveying firms traditionally provide on-the-job training, and new recruits must complete a minimum of two years' practical work prior to taking the Assessment of Professional Competency (APC) examination, which sets the industry standard and ensures that practitioners provide quality service and adheres to professional ethics.
While Hong Kong currently exports professional quantity surveying services to mainland China, Dr Ho believes the mainland will in time establish its own industry practices and train local students to a global standard.
Hong Kong quantity surveyors and surveying firms should aim to continuously upgrade their services to maintain their competitiveness, he says. "Next-level" services such as life-cycle cost, including long-term running costs and energy costs, as well as project management, risk management, facilities management, arbitration and meditation, are currently important factors in many developed countries.
"These could be the value-added services that Hong Kong quantity surveyors can provide to differentiate themselves from competitors," Dr Ho concludes.