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Spotlight: Gary McLean, Section Surveyor, BAM Nuttall

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I once had a job as a jam taster!

Tell us about your career journey so far.

I would say I was an average student at high school who stayed until 6th year and achieved 5 highers in 2004. After high school I went straight into full time work, mostly in factories as I was unsure what I wanted to do workwise. Eventually, I decided I had had enough of factory working and decided to make a change in my life.

In 2009 I decided to find a career relating to a subject which I enjoyed, Graphic Communication. I wasn’t sure about heading to University for four years after being out of education for so long, so instead I applied for a HNC course in Computer Aided Drawing and Design (CADD) to get started and see if I liked it. After I completed the course and received an A, I was accepted at The University of Dundee to study Civil Engineering. In 2014 I graduated with a 2:2 with Honours and was one of the proudest moments of my life, as to me this was a massive achievement and I was one of the few people in my family who had gone to university, let alone completed an honours degree!

My plans changed after this, and I was accepted to be a Trainee Quantity Surveyor in September 2014. I found the change to quantity surveying actually suited me better, and so I continued and progressed through this career path ever since. I really learned that I could adapt quickly, and even though I no longer use what I learned in university to the same extent, I’ve got the understanding to be a Quantity Surveyor with Civil Engineering knowledge, which is still very much relevant and the perfect outcome for me.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

Graphic Communication, of which I achieved an ‘A’ at Higher level. I had a really good time in Graphic Communications with technical drawings and learning about computer modelling packages such as AutoCAD. I found the whole course made sense to me and I genuinely found it really enjoyable, to which I did regret for a while not going on to do Advanced Higher level, however this has not held me back from achieving what I have done so far.

What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?

I can speak from two perspectives. As a Civil Engineer, it is important to have a good understanding of Physics, Maths and Graphic Communication, as this job role is where the things you learn within these classes are used and it helps having a baseline before learning the calculations for building structures.

For a Quantity Surveyor, maths is equally as important, as people look to me to provide an explanation why costs incurred on a project may rise, or whether this is balanced out by value coming in to the project. Apprentice routes to this career are available and can be beneficial in gaining work experience as well as learning the theory in a college / university level, as site experience helps to fill the gaps between theory and reality.

In my own experience, also having the degree in Civil Engineering has been beneficial to me by giving me an appreciation of civil construction, and the methodology of how structures are built and therefore costed. Because of my interest in Graphic Communication, I’ve also been readily able to look at technical drawings and understand what they depict, and what changes may need to be costed.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I like the challenge of problem solving, and the satisfaction when the answer is discovered, and things ‘click’ into place. In my role I monitor costs and try to find a way to get the project to show a profit.

I also enjoy being on sites as I get to see the construction of the structures throughout their development, and the satisfaction of being involved in it from start to finish.

When a new project starts, I get to witness the process start anew, and the variety of projects mean the job is not overly repetitive, so for me there is a fresh start to experience and new people to work with every 2-3 years.

I have been involved in the construction of some really interesting substations, one of which was in the Cairngorms, with incredible snow topped mountain scenery, and currently I’m involved in a massive substation project up in Shetland where we are building one of the biggest substation projects in the country. Where my next site will be is unknown, but I do know it will be an exciting opportunity.

What is a normal day in your role like?

I usually work in the offices on site, with the project team. I work on my laptop and find out what is going on with the site. I check online databases and find out what new changes have been requested by the client, and whether they need pricing up. I’ll then discuss these changes with the site team and work out how much it will cost to do the work and submit the quotations to the client. I’ll send emails and work predominantly on spreadsheets keeping track of costs, registers for changes and Compensation Events, which are the means we sometimes use to win more money for the project.

When I get the chance to, I’ll walk around the site for about an hour, to see progress and talk about the works with engineers and labourers. I arrange payment of subcontractors, assessing their applications for payment against work that has been done on the site within that period, and get them paid.

Every month I also collate the costs for the project to monitor the financial position of costs against value (money coming back in) and what can be done to help keep the costs in check.

And what does your job title mean?

One thing that I found through high school was nobody knew what a Quantity Surveyor was or did. I only really got an appreciation for the role once I started my career path in it, after completing my Civil Engineering degree.

As a Section Quantity Surveyor, I work with more senior Quantity Surveyors, and provide guidance and support for junior members of the commercial team, such as Trainee QS’s and Assistant QS’s. My job is all about measurements, pricing work, and finding solutions to cost forecasting (if costs are rising, how can the site seek to get more money back in or save money).

I create cost forecasts and present the information to the project agent and senior members of the team. I am involved in contract matters for the project, when there is a change to a project, and instructing subcontractors to carry out the work if it is required, and I justify claims for money to do the work for the client.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Bit of a random example, but say you offered to weed the garden for a family member, and you had to cost up the work. Have a think about:

  • What you need to carry out the task (tools, gloves, weed-killer, etc.)

  • How much would the tools and materials cost to buy?

  • How much weeding is to be done? Can you measure how much by area (square metres?)

  • Consider how long it is going to take to do (1 hour? 2 hours? A whole day?!)

  • Then consider how much to charge for the labour.

Have a look and ask, “is that a realistic amount to charge for this work?” If not, is it too high that nobody will accept your offer, or is it too low that you won’t make any money at the end of it? Ideally you want to make a bit of profit, but still make sure the chance for repeat business is open


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