LAND JOURNAL

How we got to grips with the telecoms APC

Two recent APC graduates working in telecoms explain why they went into this niche but exciting sector, and share their experience for current APC candidates

Author:

  • Kalin Bennett MRICS
  • Victoria Stoyanova MRICS

07 December 2023

Loch Etive, Scotland

Land Journal: Victoria, can you tell us about yourself?

Victoria Stoyanova: I'm not from the UK but I've been living here for 13 years. I came here to study and loved Edinburgh, so I decided to stay.

I did my bachelor's and then my master's in real estate management and development. I now work as an acquisition surveyor at Dot Surveying, a small but mighty property consultancy specialising in the telecoms sector. I passed my APC last year, and I hope to become an assessor myself in the near future.

LJ: What does an acquisition surveyor do in the telecoms sector?

VS: Dot Surveying is a property consultancy providing land acquisition, project management, planning and valuation services for the telecoms sector in the UK.

In simple terms, our job is to secure the rights for our clients to roll out new networks or upgrade existing ones so people can get reliable coverage for their phones wherever they are. Not many people know that not everywhere in the UK has 4G coverage.

We review the legal agreements between landlords and tenants and provide advice on what rights the operators have. We sometimes review individual portfolios of telecoms sites and provide strategic advice for the upgrade of the network in particular areas of the UK. We also negotiate heads of terms and wayleave agreements, carry out rent reviews and do site searches.

LJ: Did you know you wanted to go into telecoms?

VS: Absolutely not. Telecoms is the best-kept secret in the commercial property field. It is not well advertised, which is probably the reason there's such a shortage of younger surveyors.

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LJ: And Kal, can you tell us about yourself?

Kalin Bennett: I've lived in Edinburgh for 14 years. I came here to play rugby and then got injured but decided to stay.

My background is commercial property in general, and I worked in commercial real estate. I passed my APC in May this year on the commercial pathway. I work in the acquisition department at Dot Surveying, and I do a lot of the site searches for the company, whether that be street works or replacement or new sites for the client. The company specialises and works mainly for mobile network operators.

I have been involved with one of the biggest roll-out of street works installations in Europe, I have also worked on remote sites. That involved finding difficult spots to put telecommunication installations for people who need the emergency services or those who just need to be able to work from home.

We start with coordinates from the radio planners and then view maps, carry out a desktop review of the area, and recommend suitable locations for the installation. Once located, the acquisition process begins, which usually involves acquiring all the access rights and land wayleaves, before we go all the way through to build.

LJ: What was the biggest challenge for you in the APC?

KB: Personally, it was time management. Having a full-time job in telecoms that is fast-paced and demanding, then finding the time to sit down and do the necessary reading of journals, the latest legislation and so on was hard. Finding someone who understood the path we're on was difficult because telecoms is a small discipline.

But it's critical to have someone to bounce ideas off. If you don't have that, it's easy to fall down the rabbit hole of legislation, such as the difference between England and Scotland across all competencies. It's easy to get caught up in legislative minutiae that may not be particularly relevant, but surveyors need to understand the practical implications of the law. 

RICS doesn't set out exactly what you need to do for the structured training, either – it's just recommendations rather than milestones. So it's up to the company to help you get experience of everything you need to know and Dot Surveying has been great at doing so.

VS: Trying to concentrate and work on your submission outside office hours was the biggest challenge. You finish work at 5.30pm in theory, but sometimes you need to work overtime to ensure your clients get the best service possible.

Then you go home and spend another four hours sitting in front of a screen. So you have to be very disciplined to get out of the mindset that when you finish work you have free time. You don't: you have to start working on the APC.

Another thing I found out about myself was that I didn't much like studying in a group. It didn't work for me, so finding the right study buddy was extremely important. Kal and I studied together. When there's a person to whom you're accountable, you don't want to let them down.

LJ: What helped you with the APC?

KB: Having a Gantt chart kept me accountable. Then I knew that I had to do, for instance, data management or landlord and tenant competencies on a particular day. I found out where the gaps in my knowledge were and worked my way through them.

I agree with Victoria about being in groups. There's nothing wrong with working in big groups if everyone's in the same field. But I don't know one other telecoms graduate. So I can't ask other APC candidates: 'What are the code rights under the Electronic Communications Code?' They wouldn't know. We can't help them, or vice versa, because telecoms is so niche.

LJ: What was the most interesting part of your APC?

KB: Because I was on the APC 12-month structured training programme, I had a year to learn telecoms. For me, the summary of experience was the most interesting part, where I critiqued my own experience as I was writing it. When you read it, you see how you've covered all those competencies and how much you learned in that year.

VS: I particularly enjoyed the case study. Seeing a big piece of work completed and reaching the finishing line of something I'd been working on for years was satisfying. Starting with a simple instruction, then going all the way to the build completion.

It was interesting to see how everything changes. You start with an instruction from your client and a set of expectations that you are supposed to achieve. But when you analyse this piece of work, you realise that you wanted to achieve something but couldn't because of X, Y and Z. It's not just about what you've done, but analysing it, realising what you could have done better and trying to learn from the analysis.

KB: Because we work in a small company and there were so few of us at graduate level, our exposure to high-profile projects was immediate, which was rewarding from an APC point of view, and gave us the opportunity to learn.

Victoria and I started as graduates and we've gone all the way to being project managers as well as chartered surveyors in a relatively short time.

VS: It's not only the exposure to the big fish. We are surrounded by people who have a lot of experience, and you can learn from that. So many of our colleagues have been in this sector for many years, which I find invaluable.

'It's not just about what you've done, but analysing it, realising what you could have done better and trying to learn from the analysis'

LJ: What challenges does telecoms bring?

KB: The biggest challenge is keeping up to date with legislation because the Electronic Communications Code, and telecoms in general, is changing all the time, especially with tribunals and the interaction with the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. And it's one of the fastest-growing commercial sectors of real estate.

The government is spending billions of pounds to roll out networks, aiming for 99% coverage. There are plenty of opportunities for any young surveyor if you keep up to date and stay on your toes.

The industry is secure because of the amount of funding. Now 5G has come out, 6G will be out in around two years. That means we'll have to go through another cycle of upgrades, rollouts, decommissions and recommission searches.

VS: As Kal says, it is a fast-moving sector, and as one of the best-kept secrets, that's an issue when it comes to training the next generation of telecoms surveyors.

It's also worth pointing out that it was a very male-oriented profession. I'm a young woman who wasn't born or raised in the UK. My first language is not English. So that came with its own challenges. There aren't many women like me in our sector, so I'm grateful to RICS for trying to include diversity and equity in so many areas of surveying.

I'm passionate about seeing more women in telecoms surveying, and more women with my background. It's such a fantastic place to be, and I believe that becoming a member of a prestigious and globally recognised institution such as RICS is pivotal for your career.

So is this a challenge? Yes. I'd also love to see more collaboration between the surveyors representing the operators and those representing the landlords. For me, this is probably the biggest challenge. It's something that I've been thinking about for some time.

LJ: What advice has stuck with you?

VS: Use your own initiative. Don't wait for anything to be served on a silver platter. You've got the skills. Don't be scared to go ahead. Ask questions then take the initiative.

KB: Chartered surveyors are all inquisitive problem-solvers. If you don't know something, do your research, think outside the box and use your initiative. If you don't know it, somebody else will. Talking is the best way to get to the answer.

'I'm passionate about seeing more women in telecoms surveying, and more women with my background'

LJ: How can RICS help?

KB: In my opinion telecoms is an overlooked but rewarding sector. RICS has not published much telecoms guidance since the Electronic Communications Code changed, so an update is needed. But the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act 2022 will help telecoms surveyors to facilitate the roll out of networks.

From a telecoms APC point of view, the technical competencies need to be looked at, because we're under the commercial banner and we have to learn commercial jargon as well as telecoms.

Certain competencies should really be mandatory, such as Landlord and Tenant and Legal/regulatory compliance, which are both currently optional. In my opinion, these are key for any future telecoms surveyors.

VS: Yes, I think there has to be a change to the APC pathway for surveyors who specialise in the telecoms sector. Or at least we should have the choice of whether to go down the commercial route and have a broader understanding of real estate or to specialise in telecoms.

I think the competencies need to be tailored so we can show what we're capable of. It's not about passing or failing the APC, it's about showing the people assessing us what our skills are.

We don't have enough telecoms assessors. I was fortunate to have one on my final assessment panel, and I was really grateful. But not everyone does.

So we need to promote the assessor training. I want to do it myself to give back and ensure that other young surveyors specialising in this field don't end up without a telecoms assessor on their panel. And I'm talking about at least one: in a perfect world, you would have two or three.

LJ: Do you have any tips for candidates considering a career in telecoms?

KB: You need to read more broadly than for other pathways. We had to learn about measurement, even though measuring a telecoms mast doesn't come under the IPMS or other measurement standards; but we still need to understand it. You need a good understanding of certain legislation, such as the Electronic Communications Code as well.

And don't leave your APC practice or submission until the last minute. Start early. Mock interviews are essential. Ask for feedback and questions. And your counsellor should be up to date on your experience and give you more if you need it.

VS: Like Kal, I would advise starting work on your submission as soon as possible. Do not wait a year. Don't start in the last six months. Also, update your diary every week. Make it your Saturday morning activity.

Do as many mock interviews as you can with your colleagues. Reach out on LinkedIn to different companies. Find any surveyor and ask whether they would be willing to share tips or to look at your submission.

Don't leave things until the last minute. I can't stress enough how important this is.

Kal Bennett MRICS is a senior surveyor at Dot Surveying Ltd

Contact Kal: Email | LinkedIn

Victoria Stoyanova MRICS is a senior surveyor at Dot Surveying Ltd

Contact Victoria: Email | LinkedIn

Related competencies include: Inspection, Landlord and tenant, Legal/regulatory compliance

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