Adding value to construction projects

(HM): Can you briefly introduce yourself to us and share with us what your job entails as a Quantity Surveyor?

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(JB): I have a BSc. Honours in Quantity Surveying from the university of the Free State (RSA) and a Diploma in Geomatics or popularly known as Land Surveying from NUST (NAM). I was born and raised in Rundu, and attended high school in Tsumeb at Etosha secondary School.
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My current job as a QS includes but not limited to estimating construction project costs, advising clients on costs, Preparing Bills of Quantities (BOQs), management construction contracts and sometimes project management. My job has to do a lot with mathematical calculation and understanding how something is constructed and making sure the project is completed within budget. It required you have to understand both architecture and engineering. Many times, when people ask me what I do, I simply say I’m an accountant for construction.

(HM): What made you venture into this field of construction?
(JB): Growing up, I was always fascinated by buildings, wondering what it took to get skyscrapers up and how bridges and roads were built. I wanted to be in the construction Industry I just didn’t know what field. When I was in grade 12, my business teacher gave me a career book to help me find careers within the construction field and I stumbled upon Land Surveying and Quantity Surveying. After doing some research on both careers, Quantity Surveying stood out for me but, because back then it was not offered at any Namibian University, I settled for Land Surveying. After I had finished my Land Surveying Diploma, I decided it was not for me and I ended up taking a gap year to sort of “Find myself” and to truly discover what I wanted to do with my life.

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That same year a friend of mine linked me up with her Mentor, Ndeulipula Hamutumwa and it’s through him that I found my way back to Quantity Surveying. Part of the mentorship program was that I had to identify what I wanted to do and he would help set me up to shadow at a company in the specific field I was interested in. I told him I really wanted to do Quantity Surveying and to my suprise he said, one of his best friends owned a Quantity surveying firm. He set me up the next day to shadow at AIJ Project Cost Consultants and I’ve been there ever since. Now I am in training to become a professional Q.S with NCAQS.

(HM): What are some of the challenges you have faced bearing in mind a slowing construction sector over the past few years?
(JB): Personally, job security was the biggest challenge. I constantly second guessed if I had picked the right career, considering that I had just come into the industry when it was starting to decline, companies were closing down or downsizing and at a time where companies were not hiring. The uncertainty of how long the recession will last was starting to affect my professional growth as a Quantity Surveyor. There a huge decline in projects roll out and some projects were put on hold. I was concerned about whether I was going to be able to get the necessary exposure and experience that I needed to grow my skills. However, this made me realize how important it is to diversify one’s skills in order to remain relevant and afloat in times of recession.

(HM): Do you think the sector is going to find its feet again as a leading sector in Namibia’s construction?
(JB): Namibia is a developing country and there’s still a lot that needs to be done with regards to infrastructure. For as long as the population keeps growing, the need for more schools, housing, hospitals etc. will always be there. So, yes, I do believe the construction sector will pick up again. Namibia has great potential.

(HM): What are the pros and cons of pursuing a career as a Quantity Surveyor?
(JB): Pros: You are exposed to many different kinds of people in different sectors. You deal with clients from all works of life and you get to build a network of people. You get to work on different projects simultaneously with a team made up of Architects and Engineers where you see a project from inception stage all the way to its completion. There’s nothing more fulfilling than driving past a building and knowing that you were part of its creation.
Cons: Unfortunately, in Namibia you are limited to work mostly in the construction industry. If the industry crashes, there’s not much else you can do unlike in many European countries you could work in insurance institutions and investment companies.

(HM): The demands of your work do not compliment the need for personal and family time. How do you balance these two?
(JB): From a consulting point of view, most of my work is done based on a time schedule. It is easier to plan and balance family life. There are certain times when you have to meet a deadline or instances where something urgent is needed, but it’s not every day. I am still able to work 8-5 and spend quality time with family.

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However, I do know that, this might not be the case for QS’s that work for contractors, especially when the company has projects in different towns and you are expected to be there either for the duration of the project which could be anything from 2 months to 6 years depending on the size of the project or perhaps the constant travelling that could be demanding. Unfortunately, it’s these instances that make being a woman in the construction industry somewhat tricky; it helps when you have an understanding family, especially for the married folks.

(HM): What do you think needs to be done to create more opportunities for those who want to venture in Quantity Surveying?

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(JB): I think in the past few years a lot has been done considering the years when I wanted to venture into Quantity surveying. The introduction of the Quantity Surveying degree as NUST is a notable achievement to say the least. Students can now pursue careers in QS without having to go to SA. However, I believe that because the general public does not know nor understand what quantity surveying is, there needs to be greater awareness of the profession and information about the profession, including bursary opportunities should be accessible to everyone. This could be done through career expos held in all the Namibian regions. If I didn’t meet my mentor who eventually exposed me to this world, there was absolutely no way I would have known where to go and find “Quantity Surveyors”.

(HM): In your view what is the quality of Quantity Surveyors produced in Namibia in comparison to those in other parts of the world?

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(JB): The issue of quality with Quantity Surveying boils down to exposure. Unfortunately, we are in an era where technological advancement is taking over the world and as a country, we are years behind the rest of the world. With regards to exposure to the construction systems and software’s used in other countries we have a long way to go before we can catch up, provided we embrace these technologies. However, what makes a good Quantity Surveyor has little to do with the university one came from, but the individual’s desire to learn and grow. Our graduates are facing a tough time in finding training opportunities considering the fact that we do not have many QS firms to train the number of graduates being produced, especially not in this recession. The Principals of QS remain the same no matter where in the world you go, it all boils down to your technical knowledge and cost management skills, which is something you truly learn in the real world and not as varsity.

(HM): What inspires you to keep working this Quantity Surveying space?
(JB): I love it. I love working with people. I love the thrill of seeing buildings come to life and I would like to make a difference in the community with the skills I am acquiring especially in the area of Social and Economic Development.

(HM): Would you like to add anything else? Please do.
(JB): Just an encouragement to my fellow young female professionals in the QS environment or the construction industry in general; the light might be dim right now, but when it does come back on, I hope that you will be ready to take on the baton and take our industry to the next level.