Originally from Invercargill, Kurt McRae has fond memories of childhood holidays in Queenstown. Now, as a Consultant Quantity Surveyor (QS) at Rhodes & Associates, he and his family call New Zealand’s adventure capital home.
After having their first child in 2018, Kurt and his wife decided to move to Queenstown to be closer to family. When the role at Rhodes & Associates came up, he says he jumped at the chance.
“We’d already decided to move South, so the Consultant Quantity Surveyor job appeared at just the right time and I was lucky enough to get it. For me, it’s a dream role in many ways – not just the location, but the variety it offers. Rhodes & Associates provides quantity surveying services to a mix of projects, from high-end residential homes to hotels, commercial office blocks and adventure tourism projects.”
As a Consultant QS, Kurt manages project costs through a job’s entire lifecycle. This includes everything from feasibility studies (working out whether a project will be viable before it’s given the go-ahead) to advising clients on the procurement/tendering process or managing the cost impact of project variations.
“That’s what I enjoy about the role – the diversity it offers. I work on a variety of cost management aspects across many different projects. I’m also not just solely based in the office but will often be out on different job sites.”
Starting on his career path
After high school, Kurt completed a Diploma in Construction Technology and Design in Western Australia and, when he first started working, he had no idea what Quantity Surveying was.
“I worked in the Construction industry for a few years. Then, in 2011 the builder development company I was working for gave me the chance to train as an estimator, looking mainly at estimating and scheduling for investment properties. So when I moved to London in 2014, I decided to look into Quantity Surveying as it had similar aspects to estimating.”
Kurt was offered a QS role with a main-contractor in 2014, which both challenged him and grew his skillset immensely.
“The role certainly threw me in at the deep end, but I learnt so much. We worked primarily on interior office fit-outs, many of them in historic London buildings. By the time my UK visa ran out, I knew Quantity Surveying was what I wanted to do, and decided to get a degree to enable me to take on bigger projects and move forward in my career.”
Realising it was more economical to complete the degree in New Zealand, Kurt moved home and started a Bachelor of Construction, majoring in Construction Economics at Unitec. He was able to cross-credit his Diploma towards the degree, which allowed him to complete it in three years instead of four.
Kurt studied full time in his first year, and his good grades saw him win the Keystone Scholarship – which gave him both a monetary grant and a part-time role at Quantity Surveying firm, Barnes Beagley Doherr (BBD).
He says getting the opportunity at BBD was a real turning point in his career, and he spent the next two years working part-time while completing his degree.
“I found my final year at Unitec particularly valuable. I had some fantastic lecturers and tutors who supported me through my industry project, which was a very different topic to that of my classmates. I looked at the psychological phenomenon known as the ‘Planning Fallacy’, which occurs when people attempt to predict the final cost or time to complete a future project or task. They generally tend to show an optimism bias, and as a result tasks and projects end up taking longer and costing more than originally predicted.”
Kurt had seen the phenomenon documented in public infrastructure projects in Europe and wanted to determine if it was occurring in commercial projects in New Zealand. His findings eventually showed that commercial estimates were, on average, within 5% plus or minus – a good result.
“My supervisor was pivotal in helping me undertake the research. He met with me every fortnight – pointing me in the right direction, redirecting me if I was going off track and winding me in if I was gathering too much information! He kept me focused on what I needed to achieve.”
Cross-departmental support experience at Unitec
“I wanted to use a particular statistical model for the analysis of my project, but I wasn’t sure how to apply it. My lecturer put me in touch with the math department, and they helped me figure out what I wanted to demonstrate and how to set up the formulas.
“Unitec helped kickstart my QS career in terms of the support they provided and the industry connections they gave me through my scholarship placement. I feel pretty lucky to now be able to work in such a great city in a role that is both challenging and enjoyable.”