Quantity Surveyor vs. Cost Engineer

Have you ever heard of Quantity Surveyors and Cost Engineers, but weren’t sure what the differences were between the two professions? Well, you’re not alone. Both professions deal with the cost estimation and management of construction projects and there are other similarities between them. The reason for having 2 different terms is kind of blurry but in this post, we will attempt to show you some of the more common explanations you may find.

What’s the problem?

When searching for the differences between Quantity Surveyors and Cost Engineers, it is likely you will be met with a multitude of reasons and possible explanations but find it hard to discover a definitive answer. It is also likely that depending on who you talk to or what you’re reading people have a different take on whether Cost Engineers and Quantity Surveyors are distinctly different professional roles that complete distinctly different tasks or, whether they are ‘complimentary disciplines’ that are so similar, the terms are used interchangeably in certain circles, companies and industries.

And this all likely to be the case because there isn’t a straight forward answer. But we will do our best to pull together some of the most common and shared understandings and reasoning behind the 2 terms.

You have may have noticed that the term ‘Cost Engineer’ is much more widely used in the United States whereas ‘Quantity Surveyor’ is a job title much more common within the United Kingdom, despite you probably coming across both roles in both countries in some capacity. Now, the exact reason behind there being a prevalence is quite difficult to determine for sure as there are likely to be a wide variety of cultural, historical and linguistic reasons. However, a possible explanation pointing towards the prevalence of these terms within the USA and UK respectively could be simply down to where the terms originated from.

Where does the term “Quantity Surveyor” come from?

The term ‘Quantity Surveyor’ originated within the UK. An Irish clergyman and architectural writer, John Payne, put his name to a “True Bill of Materials required for the Improvement at the Barrack of Horse at Trim” as “a full bill made by me John Payne, Clerk and Surveyor of Quantities”. The earliest quantity surveying firm of which records are available is a Reading firm in the United Kingdom which was operating in 1785. Check out our “Brief History of the Quantity Surveyor”.

And the term “Cost Engineer”?

The term ‘engineer’ within the United States, brings with it certain connotations and legal requirements in many jurisdictions such as Texas. And throughout the years the ‘cost engineer’ job title has become more synonymous within the Unites States than in the UK perhaps partly down to this reason.

What are the roles of Quantity Surveyors & Cost Engineers?

In relation to the roles and tasks that they perform – overall it seems commonly accepted that Quantity Surveyors are professionals who specialise in the measurement, valuation, and management of costs on a construction projects. They tend to work with architects, engineers, and contractors to accurately estimate the cost of materials, labour, and other expenses for a project. QS’s also manage the budget and contract, including disagreements over costs and variations, during the construction process to ensure that the project stays within budget and any disputes are resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In comparison, ‘Cost engineers’ tend to focus on the cost estimation and management of technical industrial projects, such as oil and gas plants or manufacturing facilities. They work with project managers to estimate the cost of materials, labour, and other expenses for a project, and they also develop cost-saving strategies and monitor the budget throughout the project to ensure that it stays on track. They seek the optimum balance between cost, quality and time requirements.

So, what is the difference?

As you can see, both roles can commonly cover some of the same tasks. Whilst both Quantity Surveyors and Cost Engineers deal with cost estimation and management and both professions require strong analytical skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work under tight deadlines.

The difference tends to occur when looking at the type of projects that they work on. Quantity surveyors generally work on construction projects, while cost engineers, on the most part, work on more technical, industrial projects. Although this is not always the case, it is a further reason provided within literature for the differing terms in the USA and the UK – the different industrial heritage with a prevalence of different industries and economic structures. The United States has a large and diverse industrial sector, which may be why cost engineering is more common there. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has a more significant and historical construction industry, which may be why quantity surveying is more customary in that part of the world.

So, in summary, whilst Quantity Surveyors and Cost Engineers may have a great degree of overlap in their responsibilities, the leading difference seems to be the industry they work within and type of projects they work on.

Despite not having an exact answer, it is certainly an interesting topic and could simply be down to the choice of language in different countries. It would be great to hear your thoughts on what you think the differences are between the two professions and where the origins of using different terms came from.

What is Metroun Learning?

Metroun Learning is a revolutionary platform that maximises the knowledge and output of Quantity Surveyors.

We provide concise, easy to understand and information packed courses (that are updated every month) that can fit into any busy work day as well as AI assistance, a QS specific dictionary and calculators.

We can help by offering you;

  • 30+ hours of QS specific courses with new courses added each month. All courses can be used as formal CPD
  • The Quantity Surveying Dictionary providing you with an easy reference point to every QS term
  • Industry-Ready Templates including NEC & JCT specific forms
  • Metroun AI, powered with industry leading technology to answer any question or query you have.
  • Construction Calculators to assist you with estimating and measurement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More To Explore