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In Focus: Can Salary Surveys Tell You Whether You Could be Earning More Money With a Different Construction Employer

You’re currently employed in a quantity surveying job, a site manager role or
one of the other key disciplines in the construction industry. Things are going well
but one thing continues to nag at the back of your mind. Are you getting the market rate for your skills and experience or could you be doing better elsewhere? So you pick up the latest construction industry salary survey to give you some guidance. But by the time you’ve finished reading through it you find you are as much in the dark as you were before you started. What has gone wrong?

Good for the employer, bad for the individual

“The problem with most salary surveys, whether they are covering quantity surveyors, construction engineers or even investment bankers is that they can only provide very generalised information,” says recruitment industry commentator, Adrian Barrett. “Consequently they are a useful tool for employers who may need to benchmark a relatively large number of staff across a wide range of departments and disciplines, but they are very unsatisfactory for individuals.”

“Take for example the construction salary survey published by ‘Construction Manager’, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building. The survey on salaries for quantity surveyors, for example, starts off well by breaking the country down into geographical regions ranging from Central London to Scotland and by looking at key quantity surveyor roles such as procurement manager, project manager, claims surveyor, new qualified surveyor, etc.

However, on more detailed reading it appears that the data is merely a snapshot of the quantity surveying profession based on a small number of responses. Figures are given for ‘Surveyor, ARICS, aged 29’ for example and ‘Associate, ARICS, aged 38’. How relevant can these very precise examples be to the great majority of practicing quantity surveyors in the country? What do we know about the abilities and career progression of these individuals or about the size and nature of the organisations they work for? The same is true with the building engineers’ salary survey. Although a wide range of positions are covered from structural engineer to water engineer to bridge engineer, again the figures seem to be pinned to the experience of a small number of specific individuals. And in all the tables provided, there is no attempt to take into account local cost of living, salary differences caused by the gender gap or the success of an individual surveyor’s or engineer’s previous career.

Your value to a construction employer?

“Assessing your own situation accurately involves too many criteria such as geography, specific job title, job content, size of team, size of organisation and the like for any general survey to cope with. All it can do is give you a very wide range of salaries which may diverge by anything from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. Not only is that frustrating from the reader’s point of view but it isn’t going to cut much ice in any serious pay negotiation with your employer.”

“Static surveys also only give an overall snapshot of an industry sector at a very specific time. They can’t take into account how new development will affect demand for experienced professionals such as quantity surveyors, risk managers or construction site managers on a day-to-day basis, particularly in situations like that in London at the moment where work on the 2012 Olympics is changing the market almost every week. And they can’t account for the extremes that companies will go to in order to secure or retain the right individual for a key project.”

So what is the solution?

So what alternatives are open to construction professionals? “It’s perhaps stating the obvious, but the most effective way of getting accurate information on your worth in the market is to talk to a construction recruitment agency that is plugged into it on a continuous basis,” says Adrian. “They will be able to give you a clear picture of what you should be earning in your immediate environment with your individual skills and experience. Equally importantly, they will be able to give you a ‘warts and all’ picture of potential alterative employers taking into account corporate culture, attitudes to work/life balance, staff retention issues and the like.”

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