Guest Essay: Change is Hard, But It’s Not the End

Chances are that students currently enrolled in surveying and geomatics programs are familiar with the writings of Dr. Charles Ghilani, author of such reference/textbooks as Adjustment Computations: Spatial Data Analysis and Elementary Surveying (An Introduction in Geomatics). Dr. Ghilani is a professor of engineering in the Surveying Engineering Program at Pennsylvania State University. He received his PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been involved as an instructor in education for more than 40 years and has presented workshops related to statistics and least squares to surveyors across the country while publishing more than 100 papers. This essay’s focus is the critical role of education in the future of surveying, but he also warns about building artificial walls around our profession.

Remember when you were growing up and going on your first date: nervous, sweating, afraid of rejection, afraid of change? Well, we all survived. It’s part of growing up. Today’s geospatial industry is going through similar growing pains. For 100 years the profession remained stable, doing the same thing the same way, but this is no longer the case. I hear about the gloom and doom for the profession. I believe this comes from looking at the world with a 40-power scope.

The growth of the geospatial industries and their importance to society is making a real change for prominence of the profession. In fact, these changes have been happening since I was a graduate student in the early 1980s, and they have accelerated since. We are now being asked to provide information in three-dimensions and do it in near real-time in order to provide both military and civilian decision makers with the tools they need to make correct decisions in times of crisis. We have the tools to collect and manage large sets of data. We can share data in almost real-time fashion.

So why do so many in the profession see only gloom and doom? Is it because technology is now automating what was a staple of the profession in the past? Probably! Is it because these new-fangled methods and opportunities are foreign to those who spent their entire life in the profession? Probably! Is it because there is a lack of work? Definitely not!

Graduates from baccalaureate surveying programs are finding a wealth of job opportunities. Graduates from the Penn State Surveying Engineering Program are working in all corners of the country and a few as far away as Australia. So what is the problem?

It may lie in the fact that traditional work, which only required an apprenticeship of knowledge, is now being automated. It may be that the “profession” is no longer being considered a profession by other professionals, the public, and even worse itself. However, the main problem lies in the lack of education in the “profession.” Without education the world seems to be passing the profession by when in fact it is bringing us more opportunities to display our unique skills. So, the bottom line is that for some it is gloom and doom, but others are riding the wave into the future.

As Greg Howard had one of his characters state in his comic strip Sally Forth, “If you don’t keep up with the world, it will simply pass you by.” It is unfortunate that only 25 states recognize the need of a baccalaureate degree as a requirement for entrance into the surveying profession. It is even sadder that many of these states still allow an apprenticeship track into the profession. The opportunities are there for our profession. Building walls to protect something that will be automated in the future is counterproductive. It will take courage and leadership to change the direction of the profession but it is not too late.

As I tell my students, the future is bright if you use the skills you have learned. This is also true for the profession. Don’t confuse lack of opportunity with personal limitations. Don’t ignore other geospatial professions but instead welcome and work together for a brighter future. Yes, change is a hard thing but the future is very bright! 

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