A Millennial’s View of Land Surveying

This entry is part 46 of 67 in the series Field Notes

Introduction by Field Notes editor, Scott Martin.

Thank you, Anthony, for stating what we all need to hear. From mentoring, to degree requirements, to continuing education, to understanding the fundamental principles of technology, you hit all the major elements of what is needed—or not needed—to “save” our noble profession.

We, being licensed professionals, NCEES, NSPS, state associations, state boards, and members of academia, all need to heed the thoughts and opinions of our young surveyors if we are to see our profession sustained. Better yet, enhanced. If we are to invest our time and experience, as Anthony so correctly asks us to do, we need to use the road map they provide us to do so. Where do they want our profession to go? What do they see as negatives preventing or deterring them from getting there?

If we don’t listen to the future members of our profession to help us with the present and near future, they may not have a future as surveyors, or not one worth pursuing. I don’t know about all of you, but I plan to do whatever I can to keep that from happening. Will it impact my career if surveying goes away in a decade or two? Not at all, but that is not an acceptable reason to not invest in it.

Our mentors, leaders, and business owners invested in us. There has never been a bigger need for us to “pay it forward” than there is right now.

“Dying Profession”: This term is mentioned quite a bit when discussing the land surveying profession these days. Many believe that, with the continuing advancement of technologies related to data collection, construction staking, and GIS mapping, there will soon be almost no need for the professional surveyor.

If that isn’t a major deterrent for someone who may just be getting involved in the profession, then I don’t know what is. Do I think that drones and scanners are going to wipe surveyors off the map (pun intended)? Absolutely not.

However, if we don’t stop sabotaging ourselves the way that we have been in recent years, I honestly believe it could happen somewhere down the road. It is up to us, the land surveying community, to do whatever we can to keep this great profession alive and thriving.

Mentors Are Needed

We are allowing time, money, technology, and workload to dictate how we train the newer generations of surveyors.

The author surveying in the field.

It used to be that a novice surveyor worked alongside the same party chief for about four years or so before he or she possessed the knowledge and skills to become a party chief themselves. That is at least four years of daily field calculations, boundary evidence gathering, stakeouts, topo surveys, and, most importantly, questions. These days, many surveying and engineering firms are teaching their field surveyors just enough so that they can take their data collector to the field and throw stakes in the ground.

This generation of surveyors is missing a gigantic piece of what was once the professional standard, the one-on-one mentorship and guidance with someone who knows much more than they do. It is your responsibility as a professional land surveyor to make time to teach your subordinates in a similar manner in which you were taught as a junior surveyor.

Every PLS should make it a personal goal to help develop truly skilled professionals and not just someone who knows how to operate a data collector. Sit down with them, review plats, discuss what should be done when they are unable to find monumentation in particular situations, explain how mistakes can be prevented by taking check shots or making sure a tie in point elevation matches the plan set, etc.

Depending upon what type of company you work for, you may have to do some of this on your own time, and I fully understand that sometimes it just isn’t ideal for you, or for the junior surveyor, but it is our responsibility to make the profession as good as it can be. To me, that means that we are responsible for training our people appropriately.

Educational Requirements

These are a major deterrent for many young surveyors. Simply put, someone who does not enjoy school and who really has no intentions of achieving an associate or bachelor’s degree is almost guaranteed to not get involved in, or stick with, the surveying profession if a degree is required for licensure.

There is now a limit placed on how high that individual can climb within the industry because he or she will never be able to achieve their professional licensure within most of the United States. I know some of you are probably thinking, “Well, we don’t really want someone involved in our profession who isn’t willing to work for a degree,” and I suppose that is certainly a fair train of thought. However, I firmly believe that a person does not need educational credentials to become a great land surveyor. What they will need is a passion for the profession, a thirst for knowledge, and about a decade of real-world experience.

The above-described individuals are not the only ones whom we as a community have now steered away from the profession. Even men and women who plan to attend college now have a serious decision to make about their education and futures. It is no secret that on average civil engineers make more money than surveyors, and when these people are deciding what they want to go to school for, what professional track do you think they are going to choose when the cost of a four-year degree is the same and the field of study is within the same industry?

I understand wanting to make the profession as good as it can be and filling it with educated minds. However, the truth is that we have created a burden for potentially great surveyors, and I don’t doubt that we have lost the interest of many who would have turned out just fine.

Staying up to Date

Continuing Education Units requirements (CEUs) are one of the best ways that we can ensure that fellow professionals are staying up to date with technology advancements, changes to state laws or national standards, and generally important information related to the profession. This requirement is enforced by state law and typically regulated by the state’s governing surveying board (board titles vary state to state) and is put in place so that licensed professionals are required to attend a certain amount of continuing education courses in order to renew their professional license.

This means that every single licensed land surveyor is required to learn or refresh their knowledge within a multitude of different topics related to the profession, within a particular timeline set forth by said board. While most states that do currently require CEUs have instituted an annual or biannual licensure renewal timeline, I would like to see some states adopting a three- to five-year timeline instead.

I feel that requiring CEU submittals for licensure renewals on a biannual (or less) basis creates more problems for the professionals than it resolves. (Aside from possible counterproductive timeline requirements, I do feel that CEU requirements will provide a professional surveyor an excuse to take a course on a subject that he or she doesn’t fully grasp or that they otherwise may not ever familiarize themselves with.)

I think there are quite a few surveyors out there operating in this highly complex equipment without having nearly a firm enough understanding of how it truly works. If you believe that you have a firm understanding of GNSS equipment, quiz your field crews and see that they share your understanding.

It is just as, if not more, important that they comprehend what they are doing in the field with this equipment as it is that you do. With CEUs as a requirement, the professional is almost guaranteed to improve their comprehensive knowledge and understanding without the heavy burden of affording a college degree.

You may know a lot. You may even know everything, but if your field crews are not taken care of and are not being groomed as if to—maybe one day—have your position in the company, then their work will either inevitably be flawed, or you will never see them grow to their full potential. In today’s surveying world, having a knowledgeable and skilled party chief is just as important as having an excellent professional surveyor.

It is your license on the line. Your party chief may know how to locate the rebar with the shiny new cap in the ground but may have had no idea that the 80-year-old fence line 10 feet away could have mattered as well. The next generation of licensed surveyor’s skills, competencies, and professionalisms are heavily dependent upon the values, work ethic, and follow-through that you instill into them as being the standards for our profession.

It is imperative that we do not let deadlines and money pull us astray from the overall greater good of our work.

Field NotesThis article appeared in xyHt‘s e-newsletter, Field Notes. We email it once a month, and it covers a variety of land surveying topics in a conversational tone. You’re welcome to subscribe to the e-newsletter here. (You’ll also receive the twice-monthly Pangaea newsletter with your subscription.)

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