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Tue 23 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Surveying the new way

Ben Millington looks at new technology in the surveying market.

Ben Millington looks at new technology in the surveying market.

Once upon a time the term "surveyor"' referred to a man with the theodolite assessing the geometric points of a plot of land.

It was once a distinguished and skilful practice that used elements of geometry, engineering, trigonometry, mathematics and physics to map and build the modern world

But from the 1990s this traditional skill was starting to become obsolete due to huge improvements in technology.

"The technology is currently so advanced that it only takes a surveying technician to operate the data gathering devices in the field," said Martin Seaward-Case, director of cost, contracts and procurement with Reaction Project Management.

"The data is then downloaded and automatically plotted or incorporated into master planning or similar mapping or related exercises in the field".

"In the UAE surveying technicians tend to be recruited from the Asian sub-continent and perform a more manual role relative to other surveyors worldwide."

"Other surveyors" refers typically to valuation surveyors and quantity surveyors who manage projects to ensure that they are built on time and to budget.

"Surveying is an extremely diverse area and can include project management, facility management, construction management and consultancy.

"In this capacity, surveyors are an underpinning force of the UAE's construction and property markets while surveying technicians make up a part of the construction industry's labour force," Seaward-Case said.

If professional surveyors underpin the construction industry, what kind of salary are they earning?

Seaward-Case said it can be surprisingly modest to begin with.

"A new quantity surveyor could be starting on as little as US $3,400 (AED12,500) a month," he said.

"But this rapidly rises as the employee gains experience and it's not unknown that young chartered surveyors in their late twenties are earning $9,500 a month.

"The more seasoned professionals would now be earning upward of $11,000 - again dependant on experience."

Seaward-Case said salaries have dramatically increased recently in line with increasing demand.

"A guy who was earning $3,000 a month four years ago is now taking home $10,000, which is a sign of the times and suggests a chronic shortage of quantity surveyors in the Middle East region."

With construction booming across the Gulf, the shortage of labour is a constant concern for an industry which is highly dependent on expatriate workers. Supplying enough labour from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China is an ongoing issue that is constantly making headlines.

However, Lee-J Walker, sales director for online jobs board RecruitGulf.com, said the supply of professional expatriate surveyors is no exception.

New tech means more timeThe world of surveying has certainly moved on since the days of measuring distance by laying a chain across the land. The total station is the surveyor's latest gadget, with the latest model - the imaging station, currently making the earth move in surveying circles.

The imaging station allows the surveyor to take thousands of measurements in a short space of time and take thousands of measurements from his office chair, should he so desire.

"This is the most effective means of measuring the volume of land that we have excavated at any given time in the project" says Peter Silvius, a chief surveyor at Van Oord.

"The client can walk in at any time and ask how the project is progressing and we can give them an accurate reponse" he said.

Modern surveying machines have a small motor, which rotates, and by using sophisticated technology based on satellite positioning as well as laser levels, mean that in theory a surveyor can leave the machine to do its job alone for half an hour at a time.

"Construction is our biggest market and everyone here is calling out for surveyors, especially for quantity surveyors. There is a massive need," he said.

"If you go on to RecruitGulf.com and put in a surveyor search you'll see loads of vacancies. They are few and far between, which makes it one of our strongest categories.

But as the global economy takes a downward turn and the construction sectors slump in the West, things may surprisingly get better in the Gulf before they get worse.

Walker said they have recently noticed a significant increase in expat job-seekers looking for work in the Gulf now the term ‘credit crunch' has become part of the Western vernacular.

"The majority of big construction companies prefer to recruit surveyors from Western countries such as Australia, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Canada and the US," he said.

"They are attracted to the region by good salary packages, tax-free wages, the sheer size of the projects and strong career opportunities.

"These advantages are now starting to look more attractive considering the uncertainty in the UK and elsewhere."

The director of the Middle East's Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (Rics), Alan England, agreed.

"With the global credit crunch and the downturn in the global economy we're seeing an awful lot of professional staff becoming available for employment in the GCC," he said.

"I think people are more open to foreign opportunities than perhaps they were before the global credit crunch."

The Rics considers itself the pre-eminent international organisation for surveyors, offering advice to its members, governments and policymakers around the world.

It also sets, maintains and regulates the industry standards that distinguish a regular worker from a fully qualified professional chartered surveyor.

"We take a surveyor and examine them to make sure they are at the top of their game and secondly that they conduct themselves in an ethical and professional manner," England said.

"In the Middle East only about 58% of people pass this assessment of professional competence which gives you an idea of how high our standards are."

Although the majority of surveyors are not chartered, England said the Rics's membership in the UAE has more than doubled in the last four years from 400 to 1,100.

He put the increase down to the now-past construction market boom, and an increase in awareness about the benefits of being a member of a professional body and being chartered.

"We're seeing a much greater demand for chartered surveyors than ever before," he said.

"Clients have confidence in the ability and service delivery of a surveyor who has been independently certified to meet a stringent set of international guidelines."

Market has real potential for a growth of 90%In a recent interview, a spokesperson for a surveying equipment manufacturer suggested that only 10 per cent of the market has been penetrated so far, with most of the Middle East being largely unaware of the technology.

This means plenty of room for the three main players, being Trimble, Topcon and Leica Geosystems to compete.

"There are plenty of opportunities for all the competitors.

Many non-users are planning to get on board with the latest technology," according to Catherine Mansfield, marketing communications manager at Trimble, told World Highways magazine.

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