APC competencies: quantification and costing of construction works

Measure for measure

22 March 2017

Susan Hanley outlines the skills you must demonstrate for the competency Quantification and costing of construction works

Measurement for the purpose of costing construction works is critical to the quantity surveyor’s role – yet the lack of measurement skills in the profession continually raises its head. Costing and defining construction works also need to be addressed to ensure you achieve the core competency of Quantification and costing of construction works to Level 3.

Many candidates look at the measurement aspect of this competency and voice concern that they rarely measure or do not produce bills of quantities in their role. How then can they become competent practitioners?

Measurement is not just about the production of bills of quantities, however, and the competency does not require that you must have prepared such bills. What it does ask in relation to measurement is you can quantify construction works (at Level 2) and that you can do so throughout the various stages of a project, whether producing a feasibility cost, measuring additional works after the contract or agreeing a final account.

For candidates who may not produce bills of quantities in their usual line of work, particularly those in contracting, the measurement and billing of variations in accordance with a standard method would be sufficient to gain this experience. You also need to understand that what you quantify can vary at different stages of the project, according to the information available to you at that stage.

Measurement forms

Any candidate who does not have measurement experience using a standard form needs to ensure they can readily demonstrate Level 1 knowledge of the various standard forms, in particular the one most relevant to their sector.

You also need to be conscious of the different methods of measurement, in particular the New Rules of Measurement (NRM) 1–3 and the purposes for which each of these is used. As part of your revision for final assessment, you should think about the following:

  • how you would explain the NRM suite of documents;
  • examples of how NRM differs from the Standard Method of Measurement of Building Works, seventh edition (SMM7), in its measurement of a particular section of works;
  • the risks you see with a new measurement format;
  • what you see as the main benefit of NRM2;
  • what the ultimate concern of NRM3 is.

Costing construction

Looking more specifically at the costing of construction works, you need to demonstrate experience of the different methods available, whether building up rates from first principles or using dayworks or bill rates.

You need to prove that you are a safe pair of hands, and this may be tested at final assessment in relation to the approach you take to costing, according to the specific level being assessed.

Level 1

You should show knowledge of the various costing stages, what cost data sources are available and how to ensure that data is relevant.

Level 2

If you state that you have  experience of measuring orcosting an element then you should be prepared to discuss it, including cost data sources, breakdown of measurement criteria and so on.

When writing your summary of experience, you need to remember that this will form the basis of the questions asked at final assessment. The assessors are interested in finding out more about what you have done and why.

Assessors’ approach

Assessors will use your summary of experience to identify your skills, and will then approach questioning in the following way.

  • Talk me through why you deemed that the most suitable method of costing.
  • What items made up the cost of the extra partitioning?
  • How did you determine that the quote you received for the cost of additional flooring represented good value for money?
  • Why did you decide that dayworks were the most suitable method of costing that variation?
  • Why did you use a schedule of activities?

Despite the clear advice in the candidate guide and also in the template for the summary of experience, candidates often fail to give examples that are project-specific. The following examples make this kind of omission.

  • I provide lots of cost information on various projects at various stages of the contract.
  • I have measured works at various stages of the project using different methods.

Having provided such answers in their summary, candidates would then at assessment need to start thinking of the best project to support them.

A lack of specific examples can force assessors to ask hypothetical questions, potentially making the process more difficult for the candidate. Such questions can take the following form.

  • Tell me about cost information you have provided to support variation costs on one of your projects. (You will need to think on your feet about the best project to cite to outline your experience.)
  • Tell me about a measurement you have carried out at feasibility stage. (You may not have measured at this stage, however.)

Keep it specific

Project-specific examples in your summary of experience that detail your role and involvement allow assessors to talk through what you have done, as well as how and why.

For instance, you could write:

'On the Whitemarsh project, I produced a bill of quantities for the drainage works in accordance with NRM2. This involved taking off quantities from the drawings for all aspects of drainage and inserting these into our billing software package to generate the bill for tendering purposes.'

Based on such a remark, assessors may choose to explore the considerable differences between SMM7 and NRM2, such as that the measurement of excavation, beds and surrounds is included in the drain-run length. Questions about the billing software used could also be asked.

It is much easier to respond to a question if you can picture yourself carrying out a particular task on a specific project and then talking through the stages. Answers that are project-specific are key to a successful interview.

Level 3

At this level, you need to think about advice you have given and more importantly the reasoning behind it, to demonstrate and support various courses of action, whether that advice concerns the measurement, costing options or value of construction works.

It helps if you think about examples with the following questions in mind.

  • Why was it the best course of action
  • What other options did you consider?
  • In hindsight, could anything have been done differently?

For demonstration purposes, if you are asked to discuss why the Civil Engineering Standard Method of Measurement, third edition, was the most appropriate, then 'Because it is what we always use in the office' is not an acceptable answer.

If looking at the settlement of final accounts, you should be willing to discuss any form of negotiated settlement, demonstrating how it was achieved, the process involved, and how it represents a fair settlement or value for money for their client; splitting the difference does not instill confidence in your abilities.

Assessors will prepare questions based on your document, focusing on your summary of experience. These questions are often a starting point, so be aware that your response may lead the assessors to ask further questions based on your answer, along the lines of the following examples.

  • Why did you use a schedule of rates on the multistorey office block?
  • Why was this the most suitable option? What alternatives were considered?

Assessors are trained to ask open questions, so it is unlikely you will be able to reply with a single-word answer. Questions starting with the following, for instance, require a more developed response.

  • Tell me about …
  • Why did you …?
  • What options were considered for …?

Measured responses

Assessors are experienced professionals who work in your field and are interested in your opinions and views. They will often ask questions in which your opinion is sought, both to assess that you are competent and because they are genuinely interested. Remember that there are no trick questions.

If we ask what you think about the uptake on NRM or why the production of fully measured bills is declining, then we are seeking your opinion based on your experience. We may not necessarily agree, but as long as you can back up your opinion then we will note your views with interest.

Susan Hanley FRICS is Director of APC Academy, APC Assessor and RICS Regional Training Advisor (Scotland)

Further information