Jessica Walker is currently an apprentice in Watts’ building surveying team while she completes her building surveying degree at the University of Salford. This is an essay she submitted for her RICS coursework explaining her thoughts on why real estate is a great place to work.

Jess Walker

Jess Walker

The world-renowned architect Julia Morgan said: “My buildings will be my legacy, they will speak for me long after I am gone”.

I love buildings. It sounds a bit odd, perhaps especially so for a young woman, but I always have. I loved to build Lego constructions and I loved looking at buildings with my dad and taking photographs of them as I got older. Those buildings will be here way, way longer than me and I am young. Building projects are being undertaken all over the world that will create legacy, and in some cases fundamentally change the way we live.

At the most extreme end, NEOM city in Saudi Arabia is reportedly a $500bn (£407bn) giga-project, that will “incorporate business districts, residential areas, leisure complexes…. up to nine million people will live powered by green energy, making it carbon neutral”.

The ambition, scale and creativity to create a city of this nature is nothing short of inspirational. Creation of a city of this scale in such an inhospitable landscape, the desert, is groundbreaking in construction and could set the scene for future developments in areas we have never seen development before. So where does the role of the chartered surveyor come in and at what point in such a project do surveyors get involved?

In this article I consider aspects of my own journey and thinking as I embark on my path to becoming a surveyor with RICS. How do you become a RICS professional, what is being a chartered surveyor about, the increasing trend for women within the profession, and the professional status of a surveyor.

As a young woman with a passion for visual arts and creativity (and my love of buildings) there were some other options open to me but the opportunity to become a professional in an area that is both interesting and with the capacity to be involved with the change in our cities and countryside was too much to ignore. There was also the sheer variety and diversity in the role, which appealed to me – from being on a massive building site in a professional capacity to working in an office environment in the city.

What is a chartered surveyor?

The definition of ‘chartered surveyor’ is a surveyor who has gained, and consistently demonstrates, a high level of skill or competence in their field of work, recognised by the award of formal accreditation from RICS. RICS is a globally recognised professional body, where everything it does is designed to have a positive effect and change in both the built and natural environment. With more than 134,000 highly qualified professionals and trainees, it promotes the highest standards in the development and management of land, real estate, construction and infrastructure.

Chartered surveyors are involved in a range of projects, from planning high-tech housing and creating vibrant workplaces to playing a key role in sustainable developments and improving public health through new transport systems. Surveyors also help in developing new high-tech, sustainable cites such as the NEOM project in Saudi Arabia, tackling climate change and helping to find solutions to global issues such as urbanisation.

As restoration projects go it doesn’t get much grander than the Palace of Westminster. Built in 1016, it was demolished in 1834 because of a fire and then rebuilt completely between 1840 and 1876. The budget for the restoration project has risen from £4bn to more than £27bn and is estimated to last for up to 76 years. Surveyors play a key role in the beginning of any project, as well as throughout. This is a massive restoration scheme and surveyors will be used throughout to maintain a safe working environment.

Hinkley Point C power plant is another great example of the huge and impactful role that chartered surveyors play. This project will transform the shape of the UK by providing power from our own shores, meaning the UK will become less reliant on overseas sources. The power plant, costing a whopping £22bn, is vital in the fight against climate change and helping the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Surveyors have a key role by providing planning advice and managing the safety of on-site workers. Projects like Hinkley C provide jobs for 30,000 people, including 1,131 apprentices.

What do surveyors do on a day-to-day basis?

The role of a surveyor is to guide construction and development projects, and to provide professional advice on matters such as the structural integrity of a property or its value. But no two days are the same and generally surveyors work from a variety of locations.

Chartered surveyors work closely with a range of other qualified professionals, such as architects and engineers, bankers and ecologists, town planners and property developers, to name a few. They also have access to the latest technologies in their chosen field – for example, flying drones to map land and measure buildings, creating virtual reality models of buildings, or using big data to tackle global issues.

As an apprentice chartered surveyor, I have recently been working behind the scenes in one of the 28,500 new jobs created as part of the HS2 high-speed rail network. I have been working closely with highly trained chartered surveyors, where I have learned new skills, such as drawing scale plans and elevations of surrounding buildings of the HS2 train line. I have witnessed the true professionalism of the job and how exciting projects such as HS2 can be.

Women in the surveying industry

The surveying industry is perceived as male-dominated, focusing on building sites and heavy-duty work. However, based on an article published in November 2019 by RICS, the percentage of women entering the surveying profession was 31%, with a 93% increase in the number of women enrolling since 2014. Additionally, statistics provided by RICS show that the percentage of chartered surveyors who are female was 16% in August 2020, having increased from 12% in July 2012.

Laura Collins began her surveying apprenticeship at 18, after leaving college originally having no sense of a career path. After graduating a few years later at 27, Laura’s career very quickly developed as she became the youngest person ever to be promoted to associate director at the company Mace, and in 2018 she was named RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year. Laura’s inspirational story demonstrates professionalism, not only for young women but for all students.

And finally…

You’ve probably seen the current news regarding reinforced autoclave aerated concrete (RAAC), and the danger it poses to many buildings across the UK. The cheap lightweight alternative to traditional concrete mixes was used in thousands of UK public buildings from the 1950s to the 1990s. However, the material’s lifespan has come to an end, threatening thousands of buildings and the people in them. The Health and Safety Executive announced in August 2023: “RAAC is now life expired. It is liable to collapse with little or no notice.”

Professional surveyors across the country are now required to survey all buildings containing RAAC, therefore ensuring the health and safety of schoolchildren, in particular.

It is certainly an interesting and exciting time for me to become a chartered surveyor. There are some great opportunities to get involved in projects where I would love to be able to create a building legacy of my very own.

Jessica Walker is an apprentice in Watts building surveying team

Emma Cox, head of marketing at Watts, says:

“We are thrilled to welcome Jessica as an apprentice to our building surveying team in Manchester. Jessica is attending the University of Salford as part of a degree apprenticeship in building surveying one day a week and spends the rest of her time ‘on the job’ learning and earning.

“Her day-to-day gives her real experience under the guidance of the Manchester mentors and although we cannot promise to match her on a spin bike we can’t wait to discover more about her passion for geography and photography outside her learning.

“Jessica’s eagerness to learn is evident, and her commitment to professional development aligns perfectly with our company’s values and goals. Her enthusiasm is contagious and is sure to bring a positive and motivated atmosphere to Watts.

“Diversity and inclusion are important to us, and Jessica’s presence on our team contributes to this commitment. Her background, experiences and perspective add to the richness of our company culture and will enhance our decision-making processes.

“Jessica’s apprenticeship represents a long-term investment in our company’s future. We anticipate that as she continues to perform well and develop her skills, she will become an integral part of our organisation. Her success will not only benefit her personally but will also contribute to the success of our team and Watts as a whole. Another team member who began her career with us as an apprentice and completed her degree leaving with a first, is now an invaluable qualified building surveyor.

“In summary, Jessica’s arrival as an apprentice is a cause for celebration. Her enthusiasm, creativity, skills and potential, combined with her commitment to our company’s values, make her a valuable addition to our team. We look forward to supporting her as she embarks on this journey and to witnessing her contributions to our continued success.”