It has become a topic of conversation on the grapevine that recruiting qualified surveyors is not as easy as it was a decade ago. Anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers of graduates entering the profession are down, meaning less new blood to go around.

This should be a concern to anyone in the property and construction industries. Surveyors play a central role in planning, valuation, development, safety and environmental management and much more. In fact, it is hard to think of an area of property and construction that surveyors’ work doesn’t touch.

With such a wide variety of work opportunities, not to mention good levels of pay, surveying should be a popular career choice for graduates. So why are numbers down, and what can the industry do to reverse it?

Brain Drain

The reason we are seeing a shortage of chartered surveyors coming through the system is probably a legacy of the immediate aftermath of the 2008 crash. With the property industry in turmoil for a while, the perceived guarantee of a job which used to help recruit young people onto undergraduate and postgraduate courses faded away.

As a result, numbers on the courses dwindled. With the time it takes to become a Member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (MRICS), it is that generation who now make up a significant portion of the job market. The lag effect has left numbers down as market demand has picked up again.

Not that the industry should sit on its heels and wait for market forces to correct the balance. In fact, current shortages only underline a longer term recruitment issue faced by smaller firms, particularly regional ones, and provides an incentive to address it.

When it comes to recruiting graduates, the Big 6 chartered surveying firms dominate the landscape. They market their Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) programmes aggressively and attract a large chunk of available graduates because they can offer a comprehensive rotation programme covering all aspects of the profession.

The recruitment process at the Big 6 is hugely oversubscribed and notoriously cut throat. Those that win through are often set up for long careers with that firm, and are often whisked off to head offices in London.

The rest of the industry is then left with the applicants who did not get a place with the Big 6. When the number of graduates coming out of university is low, this might not be enough to go round.

Competing for Young Talent

This really is the crux of the problem. If smaller, regional firms want to ensure they can recruit the chartered surveyors of tomorrow, they need to be more proactive in taking on the Big 6 to compete for the best young talent.

Here is how:

  • Offer an APC programme. Larger regional firms do offer APC, but it is not enough. To offer the breadth of choice in different specialisms to compete with the Big 6, smaller firms need to be involved as well. Smaller firms might not be able to compete with the rotation programmes the big firms offer, but you have to be in the game to have a chance of winning. There is also an element of strength in numbers – if more small firms offer APC, market themselves together and even collaborate on placements and rotation, over time it will come to be seen as a viable alternative.
  • Market aggressively. The Big 6 attract so many graduates because they target universities and careers services directly. Smaller firms don’t have the resources to do this at every institution up and down the country, but they can certainly focus on building a strong relationship with local universities. Attending careers fairs, providing careers materials to course leaders and inviting students in on work experience will all help to promote graduate opportunities.
  • Play to your strengths. There are certain benefits that a small firm can offer graduates that big firms cannot. Training at a smaller firm, a graduate is much more likely to be working alongside key decision makers, and be given opportunities to work on big cases. Smaller firms can offer depth of experience over breadth. There is more opportunity for direct mentoring by an experienced professional, and every chance therefore that a graduate will learn and develop faster.
  • Offer better salary packages. The Big 6 model tends to be to offer low salaries to graduates as they work towards APC, with the carrot of a big increase once they pass. Smaller firms can offer better packages from the start. If a firm is taking on just one or two graduates a year, they can afford to be more flexible than a firm that is taking on a dozen. And as they will be working more closely with senior surveyors with more responsibilities, there is every chance they will be bringing more value to the table.