Tomorrow's CST—Certifying Essential Skills

A 1.630Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Almost everyone I talk to about surveying education has heard of the National Society of Professional Surveyors Certified Survey Technician (CST) program. And why not! The nationally recognized CST program is a great success story. Inaugurated in 1988, the program has grown each year under the guidance of a committed CST board of directors. There are currently 1695 active CSTs nationally. Consisting of four levels with both an office and field track for level two, three, and four, the program is increasingly recognized by both industry and academia as a valuable contribution to the surveying educational landscape.

With each passing year more and more organizations are requiring CST certification as a condition of employment or advancement. Technical colleges are beginning to use the CST exam for exit competency requirements. Many Departments of transportation, construction companies, and professional service providers are looking for qualified people and are using CST certification as a specific demonstration of competency. More and more companies are strengthening their internal quality assurance–risk management programs by requiring field personnel to be CST certified. The trajectory of the program is on the rise.

Individual surveying technicians are realizing the importance of certification for career advancement. The U.S. Department of Labor is projecting surveying and mapping technician job growth from 2012 levels to 2022 at 14%. The median wage of a technician in May of 2012 was $39,670 with the top 10% earnings in excess of $65,000. While it is understood that the demand for survey and mapping technicians is cyclical in nature, subject to overall economic factors, the prospects for skilled, trained, experience individuals are steadily increasing as the economy improves.

In order to help increase this upward trend and help prospective CST candidates prepare for the CST examinations and rewarding careers within the surveying and mapping profession, a training website is being developed by Spatial Media, LLC, publishers of American Surveyor magazine. NSPS has endorsed Spatial Media as the provider of online training materials for CST. Currently Level one is available at with levels two and three under development. Because the nature Level four differs significantly in format and content from the other levels it will not be offered in this venue.

While there is no fee during the beta testing period and registration is open to all, eventually a modest fee will be instituted in order to facilitate further development and site maintenance. Any profits generated will be shared between NSPS and Spatial Media.

The training website is an important addition to the CST program for a number of reasons. First, this will help increase the pass rate for all three levels by preparing students for what they will encounter on the actual exam. This will be accomplished by presentation of materials on each of the work elements found for each level and by a practice quiz at the end of each topic. While the program is primarily asynchronous in nature, it will also offer synchronous opportunities as well. These opportunities will be through a moderator who will monitor and participate in online forums for each work element at each level by answering questions, providing specific feedback, and holding online office hours at regular intervals. The online office hours will enable a "chat" environment and facilitate a more interactive approach found in a traditional classroom setting. This will also encourage interaction between students in the course and help create an active learning environment found in traditional classrooms. It’s important to let students know that they are not alone in their effort but are part of a dynamic, involved community of learners committed to success in their chosen area of study.

A second important factor concerning the site is that some surveying companies cannot afford the time to properly mentor and prepare their personnel. They may recognize the importance of furthering the education and skills of their personnel but are unable to devote the resources required to achieve that worthwhile goal. The site will help alleviate this shortfall and level the playing field opportunity wise. Any technician willing to invest the time and effort required will be able to prepare for the exam and advance their career potential in the profession. There will be less likelihood of a surprise come exam time and a more favorable outcome assured.

Additionally, as levels two and three are developed, it is anticipated that the site will help the CST exam candidate decide the appropriate exam level based on their level of knowledge and experience. Often, an individual is unsure exactly where they stand on the educational continuum and may take a test beyond their current knowledge and experience base. The Learn CST site will help to alleviate this problem by allowing the technician to experiment at different levels. When they have mastered a particular level on the CST training site they can be more confident that the actual CST exam will be successfully completed.

The website can be utilized by study groups either within an organization or geographical area as a basis for topic discussion based on the work elements for each level. Areas that require further study on the part of group members can be identified and insights shared. These same groups can take the actual exam together either by traditional paper-based or computer based once a disinterested third party proctor is recruited.

The CST program can also be used as a building block toward higher educational goals such as enrollment in a surveying degree program and serve as preparation for the NCEES Fundamentals of Surveying Exam. Since the FS exam in now computer based, the online CST site can help acclimate the individual to this environment.

Going forward, it is anticipated that the CST website offerings will be continuously updated and refined to meet the changing nature of the surveying profession. Eventually, this online framework could serve as a foundation for more surveying educational offerings beyond CST. These updates would include core topics of Geographic Information Systems, land Information Systems, photogrammetry, and geodesy, as well as consideration of technological impacts on the profession such as laser scanning, unmanned aerial vehicles, remote sensing, and advancements in Global Navigational Satellite Systems.

Online training courses hold great promise and can represent a new paradigm for surveying education at a technical level. With emphasis on practical applications of skill based surveying education they can be designed to be learner-centered with specific objectives and outcomes. The Learn CST website is a humble beginning in this worthwhile endeavor.
Glen Thurow is a licensed surveyor and educator New Mexico. He is also a Certified Federal Surveyor, past president of the NM Professional Surveyors, and former NSPS Governor for the state. He currently serves on the NM State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Professional Surveyors.

A 1.630Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE