In the ultra-competitive world of major construction projects, hiring the right talent is crucial for the success. Among the key roles in the industry, quantity surveyors play a vital part in managing costs, contracts, and procurement – and ultimately in project delivery.
In the first of our new ‘Insight’ series, we’ll shine a light on the current market trends for the key QS role from both the recruiter and candidate perspective. We’ll also share our advice on how to recruit successfully.
Our aim is to complement that well-known annual salary reports, with a more immediate ‘pulse check’ on current market conditions. This will provide candidates and recruiters with on-the-ground market intel that will make all the difference if you’re recruiting now.
Our white-collar team is actively recruiting for over 50 roles at any one time. We analyse the market data we receive from this, providing recruiters and candidates alike with the latest insight. This allows us to find the sweet spot where recruiter and candidate expectation match – and successful long-term placements can be made.
What the Quantity Surveyor recruitment market is like right now?
The QS market remains incredibly tight at the moment for recruiters – and so it’s an amazing time to be a QS, with supply and demand firmly in your favour. As Nick Hughes, one of White-Collar consultants put it, “if I had my time again, I’d absolutely train as a QS and reap the rewards from it!”
The much-publicised candidate shortage remains firmly in place across all levels of QS roles and across the UK. In particular, Senior QS’s capable of managing huge works packages on mega projects are increasingly tough to find.
This continues to drive up salaries with major project Senior QS roles in London commanding up to £110,000 or even £115,000 basic salaries with the trend continuing to tick upwards at c.2.5% per quarter. The trickle-down effect of these top end salaries means that a Senior QS on smaller projects and in other UK regions is now expecting salaries of £80,000 upwards.
In addition to the basic salary, QS’s will expect a rounded benefits package. Typically packages include:
- Bonus paid between 10 – 20%. Whilst clients can want these to be project-linked and discretionary, candidates increasingly look for payments linked to overall business performance. This is due to the increased certainty associated with this broader company metric. Whatever route you and the candidate agree, it is vital to honour the structure you’ve committed to as candidates will look to move if they feel hard done by on a bonus award.
- Company car or travel allowance for London-based roles
- Pension contributions typically sit between 4- 10% of basic salary. The employer-contribution becomes increasingly important for candidates over 45 years old, where they can act as a deciding factor if a candidate is considering multiple roles
- Holidays are typically around 25 days plus bank holidays with limited variation
- Work from home. Over the last 12 months the market has moved to pre-pandemic working practices. WFH is being phased out and our advice to employers is not to include this within the offer. Our view is that within 12 months, except for a very limited number of roles, QS’s will be 100% based on site or in the office.
WFH driven by the pandemic will be a distant memory in 12-months’ time. This is one area where clients are dictating the market and candidate expectations need to flex accordingly. The days of WFH being included as a contractual term are over.
Why is the QS market so tight?
The ongoing market tightness is impacted by three elements. First there continues to be a shortage of candidates training as QS’s and gaining the necessary experience. Sadly despite industry efforts this situation seems unlikely to change especially as clients continue to demand training and relevant experience.
Unlike other sectors, an absence of overseas candidates (driven both by lack of appetite from clients and minimal candidate interest) means that bringing labour in from other countries, is failing to make a dent in the tight conditions.
Finally, sector-specific experience preferences from clients means that the labour pool remains constricted. Major construction contractors continue to want QS’s with related-project experience and are reluctant to look at adjacent industry experience such as rail or infrastructure.
Commercial candidates are very quickly made aware of the market conditions when they become active, for example we recently spoke to a QS candidate who uploaded their CV onto CV Library and within 24hrs was inundated with over 50 calls from recruiters. The ideal candidate for your role will rarely be actively looking for a job – so it is important to factor in a variety of recruitment methods when hiring new staff.
What factors affect a QS package?
There are five key factors which affect a QS’s salary in 2023:
1. Seniority of role
The career path of a QS is clearly defined for most with progression from QS, to Senior QS, then Commercial Manager and for the talented few, Commercial Director roles. These clearly defined levels and roles will naturally act as a starting point for role requirements.
Like most roles in the UK, location plays a key part in package and role requirements. Expectations are typically 20 - 25% higher in London than other regions of the UK. But hotspots like Bristol and the South-West can also affect market conditions and expectations.
3. Project Size
The specific details of each project and the size of the responsibility plays a large part on determining the role requirements. Very simply, the bigger the project, the bigger the role, the bigger the package required and the fewer candidates exist.
4. The Contractor and End-Client
Employer and end-client brands are playing an increasingly significant role in the candidate decision making process. Candidates are wise to the market view of how companies treat their employees. Finding candidates for roles in companies who are known (or perceived) to treat employees poorly is becoming increasingly complex and pushes up salary expectations as candidates price in their perceived risks.
5. Sector Specialisms
In addition to the above, expect to pay a premium for sector specialisms like life sciences and hyper-scale data centres. Candidates with specific expertise in these areas will likely expect (and receive) an additional premium on overall packages in the region of 10 – 12%.
So with a savvy candidate and a tight recruitment market, how can you secure the top talent to fill your QS roles? We’ll take a look into how to attract and retain the top talent, giving practical tips you can implement.
How to retain a Quantity Surveyor
It might seem strange to hear from a recruitment agency, but the best place to start your recruitment process is to focus on retention. With external recruitment challenging, retaining and rewarding your existing team is essential to stop a talent drain. Here’s our quick fire guide on where to start.
1. Keep salaries within reach of market levels
Whilst internal salaries typically lag the market by 10 – 15%, you need to keep an eye on where the market is for QS employees. A QS who has been in role for 3 – 5 years without major salary increases could see an increase in salary of between 30-50% come with a move. Whilst employee loyalty is a factor, for all candidates, this level of increase will lead to a move.
2. Deliver on bonus commitments
Candidates will move if they feel bonus payments have been withheld or reduced. This market info will also seep into the market making it harder to recruit. If you’ve committed to a bonus and the targets have been met, pay in full. It will cost you more to find a replacement candidate.
3. Progression & experience
The promotion pathway as a QS is structured and stepwise. Reward increases in responsibility accordingly. Pay particular attention to QS’s who have been in role for 3 – 5 years as the is the sweat spot that new employers are looking for to ensure that a candidate will be sticky. Your loyal employee is likely the prime target for a recruiter seeking candidates.
4. Employer and project brand
Investments in your employer and project brands do pay off. Candidates want to part of successful and iconic projects – and they want to be part of the team who delivers the final product. Reiterating these messages and reminding candidates that they are part of something special is a simple, but effective step. This works on top of the fundamentals in points 1 – 3; on it’s own this won’t carry much sway.
How to Recruit Your Ideal QS Candidate
With the market tight and candidates savvy, employers need to smart to recruit the best QS talent. So how do you stay ahead to make yourself the employer of choice? Here’s our simple 5 step guide:
1. Get the package right
Multiple factors influence candidate choice, but ultimately salary and bonus will steal a lot of the limelight. Do you research, know the market and make sure you’re competitive if you want to attract top talent.
2. Be timely
As project mobilisation periods get shorter and shorter, employers need to balance the need to be ready to start projects with managing candidate expectations. If your project has yet to be awarded, be transparent with candidates. If you mess a candidate around and drag out the period from offer to contract, they will look elsewhere.
Most of your ideal candidates won’t be on the market, but once they have looked at the first opportunity, they won’t hesitate to look at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th…
3. Sell the dream
Candidates want to be part of iconic projects and high-profile schemes. Sell the vision of the project itself and also your proposal to deliver it. Don’t forget to include things like community commitments so that candidates know they will be part of building a legacy.
4. Use your company reputation
The best candidates will use their network to find out about your company reputation. If you have a great employer brand, use it. Make sure to signpost candidates to company videos and industry award wins.
5. QS’s want to progress
Most QS’s expect to be in role for 3 – 5 years minimum with major schemes frequently running for double this. So you need to talk up the opportunities to progress and be able to show proof where you’ve promoted and developed the team internally. Connecting candidates with internal success stories is a great way to do this.
That wraps up our first Insight report. Next month we’ll update a different role and share the insight and data that we’re seeing as we fill white collar roles across the UK construction, fit-out and M& E sectors.
If you have any questions or a white-collar role that you’d like to discuss with our team, please contact email@example.com