Could you wield a software lightsaber like HS2 Ltd’s trainee surveyor Hetty Lee?

Hetty Lee is a trainee surveyor with HS2 Ltd. Her work involves working with Parliament, she meets lots of people in her job and uses software that’s “like a lightsaber for surveyors” too! Find out more...

Tell us about your job...

I work in property acquisitions, in HS2 Ltd’s Land and Property Team. Most of my work is to do with arranging to buy the residential, commercial and agricultural property required for the new railway. I’m responsible for meeting with property owners and other people with an interest in what happens along HS2’s line of route, assessing claims for compensation, managing suppliers (like the local surveyors we work with), and overseeing the property valuation process.

I’m also involved in working with Parliament as we get the right laws in place to build the railway. And I’m taking an Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) qualification, a big step towards becoming a Chartered Surveyor. The APC involves gaining practical surveying competencies including property valuation, property management and property law.

What are the best bits about your job?

My role lets me attend meetings and events around the country - visiting people who own land and buildings along the line of route, participating in public consultation events and attending Select Committee hearings at the Houses of Parliament.

I’ve also gathered quite a bit of on-the-job training, which gives me skills and knowledge that’ll really help in my future career. I particularly like the parts of my job where I meet and maintain contact with people from all walks of life.

What 3 top skills or qualities are important?

The ability to:

  • communicate
  • negotiate
  • solve problems (using analytical thinking).

What did you want to be when you were younger?

Many things, from a hairdresser to a vet!

How did you get into doing this as your job?

I’ve always been fascinated by property but when I was younger I had no idea that my career could include this personal interest. I started off working in the student housing department at uni, and went into working for a real estate agency from there. Then… I started working at HS2 Ltd on a temporary contract.

Four years later I’m still here, and still on a steep learning curve! I’ve been doing a postgraduate degree in Real Estate Development at the University of Westminster at the same time as keeping up with my work responsibilities, and it’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this stage. It’s a challenge sometimes to balance university assignments with work deadlines but I’m learning a huge amount along the way.

What subjects did you love at school?

When I was at school my favourite subjects were English, Biology and Geography. None of these subjects exactly led to what I’m doing now but they all sparked my interest in scratching below the surface of things to find out how they work. What these subjects all have in common is: they use analytical thinking to look at situations in detail, to find meanings and solutions.

I’ve always balanced my academic work with a lot of sport: at school I played hockey at regional and national level. From a young age I also had a part-time job during weekends and holidays. I really enjoyed the sense of independence that gave me, not to mention the extra pocket money!

Did training or courses help you get to where you are today?

The technical nature of the work I do with HS2 requires me to be qualified to postgraduate level. I’m currently doing a postgraduate degree, plus an Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) in Commercial Surveying. It’s taken a few years of really hard work but I’m becoming increasingly well-equipped to have an interesting and successful career.

Did you overcome any challenges to get to where you are?

The major challenge for me has been finding the money to study for the qualifications I’ve needed to get this far. Like lots of people my age, I’ve taken out all the student loans I can. I’ve also managed to get a scholarship from my university for the postgraduate fees, which has been a huge help. And I’ve made the case to get financial sponsorship from my employer. It’s not easy to get the financial help you need but there’s always support out there, you just need to know where to look and never take no for an answer!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do your job?

When I was at school, I had no idea what surveyors did in their work - and I certainly had no idea how I would become one. Now I know there are lots of different types: some specialise in building surveying or quantity surveying; others work in property development or sustainability; still others work for local authorities or, like me, for governmental bodies.

While there’s no substitute for doing your research, an even better way in can be to apply for work experience at a property firm to get a feel for the kind of surveying you might want to get into. Before starting at HS2 Ltd, I was an intern for a firm of property consultants and everything just followed on from there.

Tell us something we didn’t know about your job. Surprise us!

Ok – I’ll admit it: when I was younger, I thought that only middle-aged men were surveyors. But I can’t think that any more, can I! As I’ve found out for myself, surveying is a profession that has a lot to offer people from different walks of life and I’ve met surveyors from all kinds of backgrounds.

Any job hunting tips to share?

Make sure you have a strong CV and demonstrate that you’ve tried to get relevant work experience. It can be helpful to upload your CV and covering letter onto an online recruitment site, where it might get noticed by a company seeking someone with your skills and expertise.

I got my job through a recruitment consultant - they provided a huge step up for me, particularly because my role wasn’t very widely advertised.

Final thoughts or tips?

I’ve been trying to think of technical aspects of my work. The tools I use a lot are:

Gviewer – georeferencing software that lets me look at all kinds of maps along the line of route for HS2. The software lists lots of different features, drawing on information from sources like Land Registry, Google Earth, Ordinance Survey and satellite views. I tick the boxes with the features I want to see on the map – like who owns the land parcels, what land is public and what is privately owned, and so on. Then the software makes me a specially customised map.

DISTO machine – this is like a lightsaber for surveyors. Kind of. (It uses lasers… OK, it’s more like a supersonic ruler. Anyway – Pythagoras, eat your heart out!)

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