Interview with a Quantity Surveyor | Women in Construction (NI)
31st Jul 2019
My name is Sarah McGimpsey, I’m a Construction and Property Recruiter at Corvus Recruitment. I’ve developed an interview blog series with Women in a variety of roles in the Construction industry. This series aims to inspire the next generation and increase the number of women choosing a career in all sectors of the Construction industry.
The interviews I’ve conducted will provide an overview of current experiences of women in the industry and their motivations for choosing the Construction industry. This interview is with Clare Cairns, a Quantity Surveyor at K&M Technical. Learn how Clare got into a career in Building Services and her advice to other women considering this industry.
Interview with Clare Cairns, Quantity Surveyor in K&M Technical
What is your current role?
I am currently the M&E Quantity Surveyor at K&M Technical Services – it's like being an accountant but for building projects. I have an overview of the project and am implementing new procedures to help Contract Managers understand the cost on their project, forecast where the costs will end up, help them manage that process and advise the directors of problem areas and profit projections to enable them to plan for the future.
Different projects require different levels of input and some contract managers require more support than others, depending on how many projects they have on and what stages they are at. I price some variations completely whilst others, the contracts manager can price and I check them before they are issued. I apply for payments from the client and split the payments between M&E once monies are received.
I write subcontracts for our specialist contractors and manage that process – payment certificates, payless notices etc.
What attracted you to choose a career in Building Services Engineering?
I graduated Heriot-Watt with a First Class honours degree in Quantity Surveying and got a job doing FM admin. So, I sort of fell into it and learnt a lot from working in different roles. For a QS, the M&E industry is perceived as a specialism and I have found it more useful from a personal perspective.
Can you tell us about your career journey?
I was given the opportunity to join Harvey Group as an HVAC technician. They really put me through my paces and helped me to learn so much about services, sending me to site, training me to install pipework and eventually employing me as an M&E QS in the Contracts Department. Whilst on site I was writing RAMS, managing deliveries, managing subcontractors, doing take-offs and redesigning the heating system of the project. I completed my HNC at Belfast Met and decided to the NEBOSH Certificate so I would be more confident in the Health and Safety of the site.
I completed a law course with Quigg Golden to better understand the NEC3 contract and help my employers to use the contract to their advantage as well as following the rules of the contract so the company can’t be penalised.
I recently joined K&M Technical to help them set up different processes and procedures as they aim to grow over the coming years. It is a challenge that I am really enjoying. The projects are also completely different - more focused on refurbishing high-end properties such as apartment blocks, homes, restaurants and bars as well as high profile projects such as the Royal Opera House.
I have worked in some capacity on many different types of projects ranging from the MOD, education, offices, airports, restaurants, hotels, healthcare and high-end fit-out. The variety of projects has also meant a variety of clients and contract types ranging from the less formal to full JCT and NEC projects.
The Contracts Managers I work with think I am a spreadsheet Queen. I use it for everything from manipulation estimates to get a budget to pricing Variations, templates for Purchase Orders, job costings, payment certificates to subcontractors and payment applications to clients, contract reviews. It is my main tool.
What do you enjoy about working in Building Services?
For me, seeing how things work and are put together is intriguing. I find myself walking into a building and looking at the workmanship and coordination. Sometimes I cringe but thankfully on my project I walk away proud of the workmanship that our team have provided. What is it they say…. “The builder builds the building but the services make it work, without them, it’s just a shell.”
The people are the best thing about the industry. Tradesmen have a great sense of humour and they certainly make the day go in a lot better. I find if you can build up a rapport with the tradesmen, they help you out and often keep you right.
I am currently on the Board of Governors of Parkhall Integrated College and the understanding of how buildings work has really helped me in that role especially as we have just moved into a new building and need to manage that process.
What do you think could be done to encourage more women into Building Services or Engineering in general?
A mentorship type programme between industry and university would be great – it is something my university offered.
Myself and four others were paired with a female Quantity Surveyor at a large construction company. We had a site visit every term with the company so see what it meant to actually be a Quantity Surveyor rather than just learning in the lecture theatre. I feel that this encouraged me and helped me realise what I would be doing day in day out. Although that idea isn’t just specific to women, I do feel that the extra encouragement would help women have the confidence to move into the industry.
What changes have you noticed or would like to see within the industry?
With the number of projects in Northern Ireland slowing down, more M&E companies have looked to England and Scotland for work and whilst that isn’t exactly new, the realisation that Main Contractors working in those areas are far more contractual has lead to the M&E industry as a whole realising that Quantity Surveyors are vital in managing contracts and assisting Contract Managers in their role.
The one thing that I have found with the industry is that, in general, some companies prize tradesmen over degrees for the role, but the direction of the industry is slowly changing in that respect and K&M is a good example of a forward-thinking company who want the best-skilled people for the roles.
What would you say to young females today thinking of a career in Building Services?
Whilst it may seem quite daunting from the outside, the industry is very accepting of females in any role so, just go for it. If it is a QS role you are thinking of and you have no services background - consider doing a course in Building Services.
By sharing more female’s stories, I hope to increase the number of girls and women who will consider a career in the Construction Industry.
If you’d like to share your story for my next blog, you’re in the market for a new job or need help with a vacancy, please get in touch.
028 9091 2874 | firstname.lastname@example.org
More interviews in the Women in Construction series-
Ulster University Building Services Student, Jade McGee - Read here
Electrician, Ciara Rooney - Read here
Mechanical Estimator, Nicole Wharry - Read here
Commercial Co-ordinator, Ellen McGuinness - Read here