As a professional quantity surveyor, Amanda White has taken on two challenges. After centuries of service to the construction industry, the role of the quantity surveyor is still not broadly understood outside the profession. As a woman, she’s also part of a small group of quantity surveyors in a profession largely represented by men.
White is the owner of Foresight Atlantic Quantity Surveyors Inc. located near Halifax, N.S. It’s a boutique quantity surveying firm focused on residential, multi-residential and small commercial or institutional projects.
“I’ve always been interested in math and budgeting and was good at it,” she recalls. “I used to steal math books from my older cousin so I could do his math assignments. Everybody pushed me toward bookkeeping and commerce and becoming a chartered accountant.”
White attended Maritime Business College, taking its accounting specialist program with an emphasis on bookkeeping and found work at a construction management company. Her fascination with construction inspired her to return to school at Nova Scotia Community College to complete its construction administration technology program.
“Sheldon Doyle, my instructor in the estimating course, had connections with the Canadian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (CIQS) and thought this would be a good career path for me,” she says. “He invited me to a Christmas party where he introduced me to other CIQS members, and the rest is history.”
White began work as a junior cost consultant at the Halifax office of Hanscomb Quantity Surveyors in 2009. By 2015 she had achieved her CIQS designation and became a senior cost consultant. In the summer of 2017, she launched Foresight Atlantic as an independent consultant.
“In Nova Scotia, there’s a lot of construction happening and a lot of need for people with my skills, but I made the move mostly for flexibility,” she says. “I have a daughter in high school and my mother has lived with us since 2009. In my family, it’s tradition to care for family members and this gives me the flexibility to do that.”
The company focuses on project loan monitoring, concept cost estimates and quantity takeoff. For White, that boils down to providing practical, unbiased advice to her clients, who include contractors, property developers, professional firms, associations and financial institutions. Yeah, she’s good at math, but she loves to get out to worksites to interact with and learn from the people who are actively building a project.
Her largest project to date is the renovation of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax. She recalls the accuracy of her professional work, but her strongest memory is of submerging herself in project details and learning about the engineering and the complex interaction of contractors and subcontractors in bringing the project in on budget.
“I’m currently working on a commercial project involving the construction of a new business — a nature spa using prefabricated units,” she says. “It’s really cool to see them put up fast, covered over with a building envelope and then having the interiors fitted up.”
White’s favourite quote is from pioneering management consultant, Peter Drucker: “What gets measured, gets managed.” In construction, the corollary is also true—if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
She says she’s aware that the professions with which she interacts are still dominated by men — construction companies, developers, real estate companies, lenders and commercial mortgage brokers.
“But I don’t know that I’ve ever felt unwelcome or out of place,” she says. “I’ve never received anything but respect from colleagues and counterparts. I don’t think anybody cares if you’re good at what you do.”
She’s worked to promote both her profession and entrepreneurship among women, but believes more should be done to encourage women to consider construction-related careers at a young age.
“There should be more awareness in junior high and high school that these professions are available to students,” she says. “Throughout school, nobody mentioned estimating, construction engineering or quantity surveying. You can’t aim for these positions if you don’t even know they exist.”
Her advice to women considering non-traditional careers, including those in the construction field?
“If you discover something you want to do, find a way to get there,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to take risks. No guts, no glory.”