Generation S(urveyor)?

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series August 2021

A surveyor’s children are introduced to the ancient craft with real, hands-on experience

The thought of the next generation of professional land surveyors and geospatial professionals has a lot of people asking themselves some serious—and scary—questions these days. We’ve all seen the shrinking numbers of new PLS licenses and heard about the rising age of the “average” surveyor.

There are many variables that contribute to this fact, but it is definitely up to us to curve the trend. Why not start them young and train them with a different style? That’s what we are trying to accomplish with our family-run business.

No more holding the flashlight for Dad. This little girl wants to do everything herself.

The biggest challenge for a small company is to attract and retain well-trained, talented individuals. Smaller companies don’t have HR departments to scout and recruit the best available workforce.

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of small surveying companies have employed family members and friends as a viable option for trusted employees. I noticed it when I started working in the profession, and it always seemed that the people who had worked for their dad, uncle, or other close relative had a leg up on the others who were trained in school or “on the job.”

Maybe it was just my senses, but it seemed like it was easy for them to un­der­stand things that I struggled with. I always wished I had learned these skills at an earlier age, or at least had the seeds planted.

Now fast-forward 20 years and my wife and I have three kids (girl, boy, girl) and a cow (girl). The cow is a whole different story. When the kids were younger, I would take them in the field with me on Saturdays to catch up on as-builts.

We did a lot of construction staking back then, so the weekends were the only time to catch up. They would mostly carry the bucket and spray paint dots on the grade breaks. They had no idea what they were doing but it was fun and at the end of the day they would always get a Happy Meal.

We did this with all of them as a way to introduce them to surveying and keep it fun. It’s not all fun though, especially waking up at 4:30 a.m. They come up with every excuse in the book for not getting up in the morning and are a bit grumpy, but they do it.

I am trying to teach them that there’s just something so pure about those early mornings when you’re driving through the desert and the sun is just starting to come up.

Now that they are older (15, 13, and 10) they are actually coming out and working with me on real jobs, as well as helping me with research and calculations. They keep track of their hours on a spreadsheet and are paid accordingly.

Last summer I trained my oldest daughter to perform county record research and how to set up our job sheets and job folders. She has her own laptop now so when a new job comes in I just email her the APN or address and she builds the job folders and loads them with the appropriate recorded documents and maps.

The GLO brass cap that we used as our GPS base point, was set in 1917. The kids couldn’t wrap their minds around this. I explained the conditions in which the GLO surveyors had to work in to make them appreciate our fancy equipment and air conditioned truck.

This makes my life so much easier when the job folders are already set up and loaded with the research docs. My son really likes doing the fieldwork and hiking. He can set up the Robitc TS and is able to fully set up a GNSS base and rover RTK system by himself. He understands the fundamentals of GPS surveying and what high residuals are.

My youngest daughter is our comic relief and camera operator/videographer. She is just happy that she gets to come out in the field with us and always brings a steady supply of snacks. She writes up lath, ties ribbon, and is never afraid to run back to the truck to get something that someone—usually dad—forgot. As they get older we will start introducing them to other aspects of our profession (AutoCADD drafting, GIS, proposals, invoices, etc.) with the intent of showing them the full spectrum of what our profession is capable of.

One thing all three of them like the most is payday. I always pay them in cash and let them put that money in their hands after a hard-day’s work. They really like that part, but when we come home my wife always takes it from them and explains how taxes and savings accounts work. They don’t like that quite as much.

I think the important thing is to keep it fun while they’re young. Sure you’re going to have some horrible jobs in horrible conditions, but having the right attitude can change the moral of a bored and tired crew. Usually that’s a reminder that I’m buying the tacos after work.

We all want our kids to succeed at whatever they choose to do as a profession. I hope my kids will follow in my footsteps, but as long as they know how to get up early, go to work, and be respectful, I think they will have a successful career.

It’s hard to imagine what the surveying profession will look like in the next decade or two. Our profession has traditionally grown our licensee’s from in-house training, crew chief mentorship, and education. This is still a great way to produce licensed pro­fessionals, but there is a void developing that is becoming visible to everybody. Why is that? Why can’t we keep the younger generation involved in surveying? One reason I see quite often is that they can make more money doing something with a smaller learning curve that is less stressful and less dangerous. How do you convince a 20-year-old to come out in the field and sweat in 110 degrees weather all summer for $18 an hour when their friends are making $25 an hour at Costco? We need to start valuing our work and raising the wages of our technicians and field crew members. By doing this you can also raise the standards of these same individuals because they know they are compensated fairly. This creates great moral and keeps a “fun” atmosphere for the most part. Again, you’re going to have some horrible jobs in horrible conditions, but if the attitude is positive then the results are as well.

And just remember, no matter how hot, cold, windy, stinky, wet, or dangerous a job site is, dad is always buying tacos at the end of the day.

A true sign of a good days work! Luckily she is family, I’ve worked on crews where you wouldn’t dare sleep in the truck. You might wake up with a sharpie mustache, sharpie tatoo, or your boots tied together.

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