26 January 2022

Is Quantity Surveying a dying profession?

The digitalisation of the built environment fuels the application of sophisticated digital adoption in Malaysia. Digital tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) platforms, laser scanning, 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Drones, and Augmented/Virtual Reality change the traditional way of construction practices. These contribute towards improving productivity, and efficiency while at the same time bringing about many challenges to all the construction professionals including Quantity Surveyors.

Quantity Surveyor (QS), being a construction industry professional, have expert knowledge on construction costs and contracts, and can combine their engineering skills with that of management skills. A QS can excel in cost consultancy (skilled in cost engineering), be a contract expert (skilled in contract management and contractual relationships), be a project expert (skilled in project management), a construction expert (skilled in construction technology and management) and may also be an entrepreneur when he progresses into owning his own business.

And with the revolution of the built environment through IR4.0, quantity surveying has immense potential to improve industry’s practices. This is especially concerning current measures in construction and project management, the acquisition of sufficient data and information that no longer hinders project execution.

The 12 digital technologies highlighted in the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) Construction 4.0 Strategic Plan (2021-2025) will soon become a widespread practice in Malaysia. The rhetoric and mythos of digital technology adoption comfort construction productivity while highlighting the issue of technological unemployment. Short-term job loss due to technological change is widely accepted.

The view that it can lead to a long-term increase in unemployment has long been controversial, especially in built environment where AI is replacing think-tankers to a certain extent.

Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and AI allow machines to create an artificial neural network that can learn and make informed decisions all on its own. The machine learning process helps to solve complex design issues, creating innovative and creative designs through big data input. With AI in place, would that make Quantity Surveying a dying profession?

The demand for QS is affected directly by the demand for new construction projects. There is no civilisation without development. As long as there are new projects, the QS profession will survive. It is foreseeable that digital technologies will help in giving an accurate Bill of Quantities, where quantity take-off jobs might be reduced to a great extent. However, other aspects still need someone, a person, to work out the prices. These include site evaluation for interim payments, contractual issues, and tendering exercises.

Besides, critical attributes that cannot be executed by a machine such as thoroughness, diligence, and the ability to retain and reconcile information, are all retained in a QS’s head. A QS need to sift through documentation, identify inconsistencies and examine risk ownership. He also needs to be a good negotiator and can hold on to contractual principles to get a good deal.

In short, the QS profession may be changing but the dawn of digital technology will never make the profession obsolete.

The new era QS must equip himself with digital technologies skillset. He must be familiar with BIM platform software (Revit, CubiCost, CostX, Primavera P6, Naviswork etc) to compete in the employment market. Digital twinning “toys” such as 3D laser scanners, 3D printing, Augmented/ Virtual Reality and Drones will be an added value for QSs to embrace the impending digital challenges.

Most significantly, the demand for QS is never-ending! Building construction is a perpetual call for as long as humankind exists. There will never be a shut-down for the post of Quantity Surveyor. Anyone considering a career in QS most certainly is doing it right.

Ts Dr Chai Chang Saar is a Discipline Leader of Built Environment at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He is contactable at cschai@swinburne.edu.my