Short-sightedness to kill Cost Consultancies in Australia. 


For the first time in Australia’s young construction history, there is an over supply of Qualified and Australian Experienced Quantity Surveyors. 


There is also a pandemic.


And whilst work maybe scarce for many PQS firms, wide spread recruitment freezes, shorter working weeks and a reduction in salaries are likely to drive experienced quantity surveyors into areas experiencing growth circulation such as IT,  Technology and Mining. 


It could be argued that this is an economic problem as opposed to a cost consultancy problem. However, I believe the contrary.


Everybody knows (well the ones with the scars to show for it) that when you’re employed by a contractor, you’re largely employed for the project and the task at hand. It’s very rare that any contractor has backlog of work to complete. 


In the world of contracting, it’s now or never. It’s cut throat, but when it’s good it’s great and when it’s bad, well, it’s not good. 


I’m sure many of you will notice, it’s very common to review the CV of a Contracts Administrator who’s had a job every 1-2 years.


Why? Because they are following the projects that require their talents and expertise and unfortunately a CA, like many others in the contracting world, is dispensable. 


In the world of cost consulting and professional quantity surveying, it’s A LOT more common to have employees working in the business for 10+ years. Many Directors have experience of 20+ years within one business. This is pretty much unheard of in the fast paced world of main contracting. 


Now, when we take that into account and compare the average tenure of a PQS Vs that of a Contract Administrator it’s quite evident, for every PQS a consultancy hires, a contractor is likely to hire 2 or 3. (or fire 2 or 3!) 


With this in mind, when main contractors are reducing headcount by 10-20% during a pandemic, it’s certainly doesn’t come as a shock. 


No project, no party.




However, having recruited in two continents and four countries, I know it’s much harder to find qualified and experienced PQS’s in comparison to CA’s or Project Engineers. 


Why? Because of Qualifications, Accreditation’s, Memberships, Local Experience and ability to communicate and present. 


It’s very common for me to receive a job description where I should adhere to the following: 


  • BSc in Quantity Surveying or MSc Quantity Surveying (Rare Degrees in Australia)
  • Member of the AIQS
  • 5 years Australian PQS experience
  • Pre & Post Contract abilities 
  • Strong client facing skills.


When we analyse the above typical job spec and realise that 


A) we are in a global pandemic with international borders closed for a long time to come


B) less construction students will be graduating due to the pandemic and therefore less internships 


C) less students will enter the construction industry due to the lack of opportunity and will enter high growth sectors such as Technology, IT, Mining.


This all in turn, creates a huge vacuum of talent to the industry for years to come. 


I’ve been there and done it, and climbing out of a recession with no talent to chose from is exceptionally tough. In Ireland post GFC, I placed 11 out of the 17 graduates from the local Quantity Surveying Degree Course.

The remaining QS’s left for England, Australia and Middle East.

These candidates of course, won’t be coming to Australia any time in the near future.


It’s also no secret that some of the top quantity surveyors in Australia come from UK and Ireland. I can think of at least one in each consultancy firm in Australia.


So, with international borders closed for the foreseeable, what does this mean for the sector? 


In my opinion it means, that growth will stagnate considerably for the next 2-5 years due to a lack of strategic resource planning.


Right now there is better talent in the local quantity surveying market than ever before. In the last fortnight I’ve known of; Associate Directors (10-20 years exp) and experienced senior and intermediate quantity surveyors hit the market. All of which, in many cases tick all of the boxes in the aforementioned job spec. 


Many of those were made redundant due to company decisions of reducing overheads to build long term stability and as a business owner myself, I totally understand this.


However, if your closest competition is talking to the best talent right now, who they’re hiring at a 10-20% salary reduction, then your market share is likely to deplete over the coming years. 


And what happens when the talent that’s on the market right now decide that life is better back home?

With Australia and China at logger heads the last few months and notable senior level politicians in China indicating that Chinese aren’t safe in Australia, it’s likely to cause further ramifications.


It could be argued that the typical cost consultancy in Australia is completely reliant on Chinese and Asian workers especially in Pre Contract, Cost Planing, Measurement and Life Cycle Costing.


And one further question.

What are consultancies going to do when a vaccine is found, projects are won and they’re fighting against some of the commercial giants to acquire the talent that’s looking now?

Talent Acquisition is likely to be far more difficult than it was before, due to the reasons above.
These are all aspects as to why I believe that a lack of foresight could kill the Australian cost consultancy in years to come.

Written by

Mick Donaghy

Managing Director of Franklin Smith Australia

Quantity Surveying & Project Management Recruitment Specialist


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