Meet the drone-flying, BIM-using, forward-thinking, user-experiencing, dog-walking, AR-dwelling, blockchaining, continually thinking, scenario-designing, wax jacket-wearing, value-adding, data-wrangling, change-embracing surveyor of the future. Recognise yourself in there?

Meet the surveyors of the future

Knowing the future is impossible, but, with technology up-ending old ways of doing things and emerging economies shaping up to be dominant forces by the middle of the century, there is one thing we can be sure of: change is coming. What will this mean for professions such as surveying? We asked a panel of experts from across the world for their viewpoints.

Around the table

  • Natalie Cohen MRICS, National Manager, Commercial, Herron Todd White (Australia), Brisbane
  • James Dearsley, Founder, PropTechConsult, London
  • Kath Fontana FRICS, Managing Director, ISS Technical Services, London
  • Prof KT Ravindran FRICS, Dean Emeritus, RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University, Noida, India
  • Erland Rendall MRICS, Director and Owner, Atorus Consult, Durham, UK

What are the skills and attributes that will make professionals successful in the future?

Kath Fontana (KF): Apart from technical skills and experience, successful professionals will continue to require skills centred on the “three Cs”: commercial, communication and collaboration. The professional will always need strong negotiation skills, be able to spot risk and opportunity and have well-honed analytical abilities. Good communication – verbal and non-verbal – will be crucial as the working environment evolves to accommodate a diverse workforce spanning five generations.

KT Ravindran (KTR): Fundamental to any profession is technical competence in the subject, and the skills to adapt quickly to changing technological applications. The space for the maverick professional is shrinking and the ability to work in teams will be imperative. An aptitude for innovation will also be crucial.

James Dearsley (JD): Two things will be more important than anything else: a willingness to be flexible and agile in the work you’re undertaking, and the place you are working physically. Our openness to change is a key attribute for the work we do and for our employers. Our jobs are likely to be more transient, more virtual and more varied.

Natalie Cohen (NC): As the latest innovations change the way we work, it will become increasingly important to allow technology to do the heavy lifting, in turn freeing us up to provide professional judgement, risk identification and solutions. Embracing change is paramount. Collaboration is how we get there, making sense of change, new ways of working and new ways of doing business: in essence, coming out of our silos.

KF: This is key. Working in silos can no longer guarantee success. The professional of the future will be a strong collaborator.

Erland Rendall (ER): We all agree that for professionals to be successful, they must be good communicators across myriad platforms. They must also be comfortable with data, having mastery of information capture, distillation, interrogation and dissemination. They will need to deploy technology appropriately, dealing with the cultural challenges of the advent of smart technology. Finally, they must diversify, providing a suite of specialist services and products aligned to the market.

Which skills will we no longer be as reliant on?

JD: In the shorter term, there will be many more automated workflows coming into business; largely manual, repetitive tasks will become a thing of the past. Gartner predicts that 16% of all US jobs will be eliminated by 2025 due to technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and automation. Moving further ahead, there is the risk of near or almost complete automation. It is highly skilled workforces that will have the best chance of taking advantage of the shift, but this requires great understanding of the change and a willingness to move with the times.

KTR: No professional skill can be expected to become completely redundant in the future. Skills will grow in their complexity and¬ they may shrink in demand, but they will still be required in some measure. Certain roles in production and materials testing will be less sought after in the future, as technology there will displace humans.

KF: Hopefully there will be less transactional activity in the built environment. As technology develops, the professional is likely to spend less time on repetitive tasks and more on value-added work such as providing insights to the customer in order to enable better decision making.

ER: A technical understanding of the whole-life development cycle will still be required, albeit one developed and modified as a result of technology, new materials and environmental considerations. Existing built assets will still need to be assessed, maintained and restored or repurposed. It’s possible that new digital skillsets will replace potentially redundant skills.

Will qualifications carry as much weight with employers as they do currently?

NC: The importance of qualifications through academic study, accreditations and approved training courses to provide trusted solutions will never diminish. However, the importance of on-the-job training is certainly growing. With RICS supporting apprenticeships, this further opens up surveying as a career. The challenge is how we educate today’s children for jobs that don’t yet exist, which will emerge from new technology. The way to address this is through collaboration – a case in point is the partnership between RICS and property technology specialist MetaProp NYC, which looks at the global opportunities and challenges posed by technology. This will provide great insight for the industry.

ER: Professional qualifications will still form a core part of the training, education and benchmark of entry-level competence. But the range or specialist nature of those qualifications will change. Soft skills, data analysis and social awareness will need to be enhanced as the professional process worker becomes the professional knowledge worker.

KF: It’s crucial for clients to trust the competence of the professionals they deal with, and formal qualifications provide that shortcut to confidence. Formal learning also offers the opportunity to learn important foundational elements of theory, which sometimes the day job just doesn’t deliver.

KTR: The nature of delivery of professional qualifications may change through technology, but they will remain the only guarantee for performance. The trend towards ever-higher levels of specialisation in the industry will only increase our dependency on qualifications.

Is a university degree still the best route into the surveying profession? And what about the role of apprenticeships?

KTR: The role of the university can never be overrated. In these days of big data, universities are the centres of synthesis, reflection and innovation.

KF: University is a great option for some people, but we need a blend of highly skilled trades, crafts and professions to create a sustainable built environment industry. Apprenticeships are an excellent way for us to build that future workforce – in no way is an apprenticeship a second-best option.

ER: The critical thinking, research, networking and other life skills that are developed at university will still be valued. However, there is clearly a divide growing in the vocational market around the most appropriate and efficient route to achieving the required level of training, education and competence to deliver the professional services required, both now and in the medium term. Professional bodies will need to maintain standards while encouraging innovative and flexible ways of learning those standards.

What does professionalism look like in very fast-developing countries such as India and China, and how do professionals fit in?

KTR: Professionalism is now finding a much firmer foothold in populous countries such as India and China. Although the pace of change in their economies outperforms the pace of change in the built environment industry, the skills gaps for professionals are so wide that they are sure to remain relevant for some time.

ER: Professionals will need to recognise the stage of maturity of those markets. Over the past 50 years, areas such as the Middle East, North Africa and Asia have recognised the development of their own cultural, educational and market-maturity status. The professional, therefore, needs to adapt their service offering to align with those markets and the expectations and values inherent within them. The advantage that developing and emerging economies have over the more mature Western economies is that they are relatively unencumbered by history, convention or institutional structures and culture. As a result, their ability to assemble the collective knowledge, experience and methodologies of those mature markets enables them to fast-track their own processes and structures.

Is technology such as automation threatening the idea of the “profession” altogether?

JD: The industrial revolution was all about mechanisation, which meant a replacement of human labour. It resulted in a theory known as the Luddite Fallacy as, after a short-term loss of jobs, there was a recovery and more jobs were created as a result of huge surges forward in terms of productivity. This time it’s different. Mechanisation is now automation. People need to be aware of
what is happening, open their minds and stop believing that it will have no impact on their lives. To some this is frightening, to others it creates opportunity. Either way, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to look to the future.

NC: With new technology comes new roles and disciplines. It is exciting to think of the professions that may exist in the next five to 10 years in the built environment. I believe technology has a role to play in the profession, but it needs to be used with caution. As professionals, we must probe and question to ensure the integrity of the advice we give. That is our point of difference as chartered surveyors, and no single technological solution can replace that. Technology is there to facilitate, support and increase the speed to market of the advice we give, but it can never replace the professional.

KF: The almost universal availability of knowledge could certainly encourage the enthusiastic amateur to try their hand at some of the traditional professions. It will be interesting to see if professionals continue to exist in their current form. I suspect they will evolve to be very highly skilled indeed, and focused only on areas that still need human intelligence.

ER: Technology has always supported the development of the professional, going back to Neolithic times. Advancements in information technology and artificial intelligence might have helped to accelerate the processing capability of the computer, but the need for human intervention remains. So, too, do the key attributes that a human brings to the overall experience of problem solving.

KTR: I agree. Technology is no threat to professionals, but a major asset. There may be less need for manpower as we move towards building off-site and improving delivery, yet the need for ever-higher levels of skills are inevitable.

Will technological advances inevitably lead to the merging of specialisms? Or might they in fact lead to greater specialisation?

KF: My bet would be on more specialisation, but working in a much more collaborative fashion. You can see this happening already – a great example is BIM.

ER: New categories of expertise will be created. We already see this in relation to BIM, as early adopters have developed their levels of expertise and provide specialist knowledge and advice in relation to data capture and management. Data analysts will form a core part of the professional business, as will process analysts and cultural experts.

KTR: It will certainly lead to increased mergers of specialisms. Look at how the application of technology has led to modular production techniques, increasing flexibility and broadening potential use. This will lead to mergers that create more efficient production processes, with fewer components retained within organisations. The changes will affect the full life cycle of the built environment profoundly.

Work under way on widening pathways to profession

The knowledge, skills, experience and competence needed to become a chartered surveyor are assessed within RICS’ 2006 pathways and competencies framework. RICS has recently conducted a review to ensure it is globally relevant and represents contemporary practice.

The review acknowledged the crucial role of PropTech in today’s profession, as well as demand for new competencies in areas such as data analytics, data security, 3D printing, automation and use of drones, smart cities and intelligent buildings. It also showed support for an inclusive design competency to be added. This covers the design of environments to enable people of all physical abilities and psychological differences to work and live in dignity and equality.

There are 20 pathways across construction, property and land. The review revealed the need for new pathways for Corporate Real Estate, and Land and Resources; guides will be developed for both. There will be a second-stage consultation later this year, with a view to implementing changes in early 2018.

Comments (2)

  1. The frightening aspect of the scenario your five contributors paint is not the threat, or indeed the opportunities, that automation presents to the surveying profession, but the threat it presents to the stability of the society in which surveyors operate. The surveying profession does not exist in a vacuum. If the society, in which it exists, is composed of poverty stricken, unemployed, unemployable and homeless people because their employment opportunities and incomes have dried up due to automation and robotics and only a very small highly educated elite have any prospect of gainful employment, then my view is that the most desirable professional skill would be competence in fortification and the use of firearms. Talking of a profession open to change with high level skills in negotiation, critical thinking, networking and research is a pipedream unless there is a vibrant and wealthy society in which these skills can be exercised.

    Muiris de Buitléir Muiris de Buitléir, 7 August at 15:13PM

  2. Good discussion. This article deals with the intellectual supply to an industry with a buoyant demand - what about when the demand is seriously challenged through economic downturn or a very realistic lowering in investment growth for new build properties or Infrastructure through changing work practices? This semi-dystopian collective view is during a period of relatively high investment - imagine the views and challenges we will face should this change.

    Michael Stephens Michael Stephens, 10 August at 08:30AM

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