The assessment consists of a full day of 10 practical tests which demonstrate that the candidate is competent at carrying out the full range of common practical setting out tasks that would be expected of them as a site or setting out Engineer.

Candidates are provided with all of the information in advance so that on the day they can work through the practical tests as quickly as possible.

It is not intended to be a learning experience.  The purpose of the practical test is for the candidates to demonstrate that they are competent in the full range of skills needed to be an excellent site engineer.


The site engineer is in one of the most responsible positions on site in terms of keeping costs to a minimum, meeting programme deadlines and ensuring the correct records are kept. And conversely they are in a position to cause untold rework and wastage costs, time delays and contractual costs if they are not equipped with the skills they need.

Although a site engineer’s workload is varied, the majority of activities undertaken in course of the day to day duties and responsibilities are based on relatively narrow range of basic skills.

The record keeping involved in setting out is equally important as the quality of the practical task and this can often be overlooked.  The successful outcomes relating to variations, claims and compensation events depend significantly on the recording of setting out information at the time the task was carried out. Our certificate of competence covers all of this.


If an engineer can carry out all of the tasks below then they are a good engineer.  If they cannot do all of these things then they have critical gaps in their competencies which can lead to ineffective working, cumulative or gross errors and inadequate record keeping.

The certificate guarantees that the Engineer can competently and confidently carry out the following tasks:

  • Two peg test
  • Transfer a TBM
  • Set levels and record the evidence correctly
  • Carry out an inverted staff reading
  • Set out a square section of a building using a tape measure
  •  Carry out an independent check using a tape measure and record the evidence
  • Carry out calculations and set out profile boards for a drainage run
  •  Set out batter rails for a simple excavation
  • Carry out checks to ensure the Total Station does not have any errors and record the checks correctly (Horizontal and Vertical Collimation, Trunnion Axis, Optical Plummet, Plate Level Bubble, Diaphragm Orientation, Prism Constant)
  • Set up over a point, observe and record a full round of angles with the Total Station
  • Theory Test (capabilities and limitations of resection/ freestation, frequency of calibration checks, effect of sloping ground on batter rails and setting out by taping)
  • Check, understand and cross reference construction drawings


It is commonplace for employers/ recruiters to specify 6 months minimum site experience is needed to apply for a job.  There are 3 reasons why this is a flawed system:

1)      What happens to potentially good quality Site Engineers who do not have 6 months site experience? How can they get the experience in order to get a job?

2)      6 months experience does not necessarily mean that an Engineer is following good practice methods and keeping records in the correct and according to industry standards. They may seem to be performing well to an outside observer (e.g. site agent or project manager) who does not possess the practical skills and experience to ascertain if good practice is being followed.

3)      Not having 6 months experience does not necessarily mean that a candidate would not perform well (if they can demonstrate the relevant competencies they can be as effective as an engineer with many years of experience), and can immediately (with little or no experience) be more effective than those with more experience who have developed bad habits or who are reliant on Total Stations because they have bypassed fundamental skills.

In the near future, as the upturn takes off and the skills shortage intensifies, the numbers won’t add up. i.e. there won’t be enough Site Engineers in the labour pool with 6 months experience, to meet the demand of employers. Then what? Recruit from abroad?  Or alternatively find a system which reliably screens ability, regardless of time served on site e.g. certificate of competence.


  • Qualifications (Degree/ HNC/ HND) do not necessarily reflect the candidate’s ability in the specific area of practical setting out tasks. This is because Surveying and Setting Out modules form a relatively small part of the overall course.
  • On college and university courses, the practical experience and confidence in using the equipment is often very limited due to rushed timescales and large group sizes (it is possible to pass the module without being confident/ competent).
  • The content of college/ university modules can have an academic focus, rather than being directly relevant to the tasks carried out by site engineers at the workface.


  • It is difficult to detect that good practice is not being used by the Engineer until it is too late and costly problems arise.
  • The impact of setting out mistakes or bad practice are often discovered once high costs have been incurred due to time delays to the project or re-work. By this time the error is not attributed to a particular engineer.
  • Mistakes can be detected and prevented (by the Engineer or a third party) before high costs are incurred, if good record keeping practice is used. The length of experience doesn’t necessarily correlate to good record keeping.
  • The use of hi- tech Total Stations means that Engineers can cover up the fact that they are not competent in the basic understanding and practical competencies needed.
  • References given by former employers can be unreliable as they may focus on the candidates strengths rather than their shortcomings