In July 1998 Rachel Tyrrell returned from her honeymoon to start an exciting new job that included working with The Survey Association. She didn’t know it at the time, but she brought with her all the ability, skills and experience a trade organisation needed to thrive. Twenty years later, TSA’s manager is just as enthusiastic about every aspect of her role.
You don’t have to be in the company of Rachel Tyrrell very long before she feels bound to tell you that she loves what she does.
A forward thinker, committed to instigating and embracing change, Rachel has been at the centre of TSA’s evolution from a small, professional group, comprising 60 members, to a strategic organisation, with a membership of 181, comprising full, associate, affiliate, academic and supplier members.
Managing the UK Land & Hydrographic Survey Association Ltd in 2018 is a multi-faceted operation, run by Harmony Business Support Services, which Rachel co-founded with Rory Stanbridge in 2006. A year later, in the wake of cuts to the Environment Agency’s budget, TSA hosted a planned event at the House of Commons to explain to MPs the importance of accurate survey data to mitigate against flood risk.
As Rachel puts it, ‘’TSA had come a long way.’’
Prior to 2006 the Shipbuilders & Shiprepairers Association (SSA) were contracted to provide Secretariat services for TSA, first from their office in London, and then briefly in Basingstoke and then in Egham.
SSA Director and TSA Secretary General, Nick Granger was delighted to find that the energetic ‘self-starter’ he’d hired to oversee the office move to Egham was not only spotting where improvements in systems and processes could be made but was willing and able to tackle the changes herself.
Rachel explains, ‘’We spent a huge amount of time and money compiling, printing and distributing a directory of TSA members with their profiles and as soon as it was printed, it was out of date. TSA had no email facility and it used to take a whole afternoon to send a circular by post.’’
‘’We also shared a website with SSA and I felt TSA ought to have a separate domain and email addresses. I didn’t know quite how to do it, but I found out and then set it up from scratch myself. It’s the only way to learn.’’
‘’Nick was very supportive of my willingness to change things. It made sense to him because I could explain the benefits. I’d learned a lot about IT in previous jobs and it allowed me to start building a track record. When I interview staff now, I place a much greater value on experience, attitude and what people can do, as opposed to paper qualifications. Having the ability to adapt, because you don’t know what the next challenge will be is what I’m all about.’’
Attending her first TSA council meeting opened a window into the geospatial profession. Low fees and skills shortages were as high on the list of members’ concerns then, just as they are today. The former would lead to the launch of the TSA Surveying Course in 2001, a landmark in survey training, run at The Survey School in Worcester.
‘’I just listened and absorbed everything. When I started to understand the surveyor’s role, what really spoke to me was the pin- point accuracy of the work and the fundamental principles of surveying that underpin it. All the advanced technology doesn’t change the fact that you still need a surveyor to correctly interpret the data. Being spot on really appeals to my values and I don’t think surveyors blow their own trumpets nearly enough!
‘‘I wasn’t in the least put off by being the only woman round the council table – I’ve got four brothers. I was fascinated by the cutting edge nature of the technology, the characters, personalities and dynamics of the discussion and how they made decisions. The council are elected members and all volunteers. The secretariat is paid to listen to what council want, advise and then make it happen.’’
In 1999, Rachel succeeded in convincing council members that TSA’s 21st anniversary should be celebrated with a big event. Nothing like it had happened before and just a year after joining the organisation it was a considerable responsibility to take on.
‘’We invited all the past presidents to a dinner and leisure activities were organised for the next day. It was a huge success and there was a sense of pride in what TSA had become that evening. A memorable moment for me was sitting next to the great Alan Wright. The comedian we’d laid on looked at his white hair and beard and immediately christened him Moses. Alan roared with laughter like the rest of us and the name stuck.’’
Harmony employ six staff, spread between TSA offices in Newark and at The Survey School in Worcester. Being her own boss means that in any given week, Rachel could be visiting applicants seeking membership, representing TSA at industry events and meetings, designing promotional flyers and brochures, training staff or gathering feedback from the membership on key industry issues.
‘’TSA wrote the Level 3 Diploma in Engineering Surveying to enable experienced surveyors to gain a qualification which is accepted by CSCS. This was in direct response to members’ concerns. I’m always looking at different and better ways of communicating with members and welcome their feedback.’’
Occasionally there’s even a chance to educate members on the dangers of stereotyping and to share her thoughts, in person and via social media, on the other passions in her life – Formula 1, football, cricket, photography, music and not least, her family and her Christian faith. She was elected Churchwarden this year, having served on St Swithin’s Parochial Church Council for two years.
‘’People jump to conclusions that because I’m a working woman with a family, I must be part time. No. Full time. We relocated to Lincolnshire in 2002 and my husband, John became a house husband when our children were born. We converted our garage into a proper office for me and just cracked on. We certainly broke the mould there.’’
Equipping other people with new IT skills, she says is also satisfying.
‘’Seeing people fly. That’s fun. I enjoy getting the best out of people and motivating them to do well.’’
To apply for full and associate membership of TSA, surveying or measurement services must constitute at least 50 per cent of the company’s turnover. Samples of work, references and accounts are submitted. Comment and feedback from other members is sought on each application and fed back to the applicant. The next step is an assessment visit.
‘’The visit is an opportunity to have a conversation and establish a relationship. I like to ask where the business owner could do with some help because I can guarantee a TSA membership benefit will address it. When you are focussed on running your own business you can lose sight of the temperature in the wider industry. Attending TSA conference events and networking with others across the survey community can be very beneficial and supportive.’’
‘’If recruiting staff is an ongoing issue we offer members a place to post free job ads on the TSA website. The page gets upwards of 3,000 hits a month.’’
‘’The survey industry has been hit very hard by the impact of theft. TSA is the only organisation that could bring survey companies, manufacturers, insurers and the police together to tackle this and establishing a partnership with SmartWater has very swiftly brought the issue to the attention of the Home Office.’’
Free business support services, supplied by Croner and MD Safety gives TSA members access to experts in employment law, PAYE and the health and safety legislation affecting surveyors – a boon for small companies.
Ensuring a TSA member is the first choice for clients remains a key challenge. The annual GEOBusiness exhibition, Rachel says, is a huge leap forward for the profession and conversations are ongoing with the organisers to make it more client-focussed. As one of the supportive organisations, TSA is at the heart of those conversations.
‘’TSA was founded by Bill Johnston in 1979 to give a voice to private land and hydrographic surveying companies. The idea was that collectively they would have the clout to raise standards and educate clients. In 2018 our core values remain the same and I would like to think Bill would approve of that and be pleased with how TSA has developed from his vision.’’
‘’How we operate TSA has changed drastically and will continually improve. It is never about the status quo for me. In the next twenty years I would like to see every eligible survey company join TSA and then clients would only use TSA members! My wish is for a diverse and energetic council and more survey companies growing, developing and evolving as businesses.’’