ZOË O’CONNOR looks at the challenges and consequences arising from the decline in enrolments on surveying courses.
In spite of indications that property and construction firms are once again beginning to recruit, 2013 saw a decline in entrants to surveying courses nationwide for the fifth year in a row, with 134 students enrolling on the first year of Society-accredited undergraduate degree courses. This figure represents 44% of peak enrolments in 2008, when some 300 students enrolled on the first year of property and construction courses.
Pressures on institutions
Seven institutes of technology offer Society-accredited quantity surveying degrees, while two offer Society-accredited property economics/real estate degrees. In spite of low enrolments, most courses are still recruiting, albeit in very low numbers.
But for how long can third-level institutions support such small cohorts, and what will it mean for the construction and property industry?
“The biggest stumbling block in respect of attracting students to surveying courses is the negative perception of the industry that is regularly reinforced in the media,” says Martin Hanratty, Assistant Head, School of Surveying and Construction Management, DIT Bolton Street. “Secondary school students and, more importantly, their parents and teachers, are turned off by what they see as a lack of job prospects for anyone with a property or construction degree.”
The Society has taken immediate steps to address the issue at grassroots level. A Schools and Colleges Liaison Officer was appointed in Spring 2013, and a series of outreach initiatives have been rolled out, including Day in the Life school visits, a transition year placement programme, and increased presence at careers fairs nationwide and on popular careers websites, such as CareersPortal.ie. Formal links have been established with the institutes of technology, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and the Techno Teachers Association, and the Society ensures targeted media coverage around key education dates, such as the CAO deadlines.
A key initiative was the Autumn 2012 research report on ‘Graduate Employment Trends in Construction and Property Surveying’. The report quantified, for the first time, the scale and consequence of the emerging gap between low college enrolments and increasing recruitment levels within the industry. The report generated nationwide media interest, and was widely distributed at careers fairs and schools visits.
The Society is currently undertaking an expanded and enhanced report in early 2014, setting out the employment opportunities and skills requirements for property and construction surveying in 2014-2018, and beyond.
In addition to contrasting the continuing decline in enrolments with growing levels of recruitment, the report will also address wider issues affecting surveying education, recruitment, and the industry in general.
Overall, secondary school students are less inclined to select professional/specialised courses at undergraduate level and there has been an overwhelming shift towards general undergraduate degrees, such as arts, business and science, with students delaying specialisation until postgraduate level. Some questions that need consideration are:
- Should the institutes of technology and the Society seek to develop ‘conversion’ postgraduate courses to attract graduates into the profession?
- Should we develop more ‘common’ surveying undergraduate courses, similar to models employed by other professions, whereby property, construction and land students take a common first year and divert towards specialisation thereafter?
An added complication for the industry in respect of recruitment is the new regulation requirements of those working in property and construction. Both the Property Services Regulatory Authority and the Registration Body have now set down minimum academic requirements, which, while welcomed, have severely narrowed the pool of potential candidates available to fill vacancies at graduate level. How can employers recruit a sufficient number of staff from prescribed courses, if those same courses are in danger of closure due to low enrolments?
Because of low graduate numbers, and restrictions to recruitment arising from the regulatory bodies, employers are now looking beyond degree-level courses, including Level 6 (certificate level) and Level 7 (ordinary degree level), and even beyond Ireland, to fill vacancies. Finally, in addition to quantifying the number of surveyors (and courses) required by the industry in the medium to long term, the 2014 report will identify the profile and skills required by employers, and whether it is necessary to develop ‘top-up’ courses for those already working in the industry – for example, property and asset management, fixed-charge receivers, mechanical and electrical quantity surveying, and dispute resolution.
The report will be strongly promoted through nationwide media channels, and will be targeted at all interested stakeholders – including guidance counsellors, teachers and careers websites and fairs, as well as the institutes of technology and industry employers.
It is also intended to bring the report to the attention of the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, as well as the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, which advises the Government on the skills needs and labour market issues that impact on enterprise and employment growth.