Fundamentals of a CST Training Program

A 3.526Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

I start off every study group session by saying, "You get out what you put into the program and this education/ certification is something no one can take away from you".

Certified Survey Technician Program
The Certified Survey Technician (CST) program in Central Florida is making great strides in the continual professional development of surveyor technician training. My hands-on approach includes guest speakers, utilization of current technology, a CST mentorship program, and a CST Financial Assistance Program. Through our team effort and coordination by the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Surveying and Mapping Society this program is continually evolving.

The basics of the program are:
• Providing a suitable gathering area for a classroom learning environment 
• Limiting the lectures to a reasonable time frame
• Utilizing current technology such as a projector for presentations and audio/visual aids
• Recruiting dedicated professionals to donate their time and knowledge 
• Standardized calculators to simplify instruction and streamline learning

I became involved in the CST study group after hearing much help was needed with educating and training for technicians. This was exciting to me and I was happy to become a volunteer in this rewarding effort. I was fortunate to be provided with a distraction free learning environment provided by our host Southeastern Surveying and Mapping Corporation. Having experienced the old teaching format, I decided to take a different approach early on by asking the candidates what they wanted to learn, and what they were comfortable with. Their range of knowledge and ability was wide and varied. By handing the reins over to them, I created a candidate lead approach to Technical Certification. In addition, I cut the sessions from 2-3 hours down to 1 hour, with the understanding that I would remain with those who desired one-on-one assistance and the rest of the class could leave without feeling obligated to stay. Attending 2-3 hour sessions after a long work day is asking a lot. Despite this, candidates took on a mentorship role and often stayed long past the full session to assist others.

Making It Fun
You also have to make it fun, so on occasion, we are honored to host guest lecturers from the GIS professionals, engineers, environmentalists, geotechs, utility designators, and other related fields who come in to lecture on the professional relationships in surveying to help candidates understand not just what we do, but why. Recently, Mr. Walt Robillard, Esq., RLS, an avid supporter of the CST Program, donated his time and knowledge to help promote the value of higher technical training within the survey profession. Mr. Robillard’s lecture on "Boundaries, Land-marks and Miscellaneous Musings" was both educational and entertaining with 35 people in attendance.

Even with a candidate lead approach, being the only instructor presented challenges. I didn’t know all the answers. Knowing this, I sought and continue to seek out volunteers who are able to communicate knowledge in a way the candidates can grasp, not just someone who is a licensed surveyor. This means that the candidates themselves can become volunteer teachers, embracing our motto of "Let’s learn together." We embody this philosophy by inviting candidates that rise through the CST ranks to teach and mentor lower level candidates. It has been proven to help focus Technician level training for everyone who participates in their personal educational needs. One particular disheartened student who had attempted the level I test more than once, through determination and encouragement, gained confidence and leadership skills through mentoring in my approach to this program. He contributed to class by guiding other students through the field operations. Therefore allowing me to focus on other subjects and thus maximizing our time. The impact of cross training between field and office from both perspectives in our program contributes to conceptualizing concepts, and its impact on increasing candidate pass rates has proven significant. After successfully obtaining his Level I and II certification, this candidate continues to mentor others and demonstrates that everyone can contribute their expertise. We can all learn together better as a Team.

Mentorship is a valuable tool that helps build the confidence of both the mentor and the mentee. Let me reiterate again, it does not require a licensed surveyor, just a candidate one level higher who has already been through the same CST challenges. Even better is when a mentee has a mentor that is outside of the study groups, but within the same company that is interested in sharing a common goal. In general people enjoy teaching and having candidates interested in obtaining this valuable information is fulfilling both professionally and personally. Some mentors who are hesitant to take that role ask "what if I don’t know the answer?" I always advise them to admit that you don’t know, but you will find someone who does and get the answer. The bottom line for mentors is the same as for the students; you can and should be comfortable with not knowing everything because–We can all learn together better as a Team.

One of the highest tier hurdles that I struggled to overcome initially was not being able to use the HP-48 calculator, and the fact that students had multiple calculator types with functions unfamiliar to them. My solution was to uniform the calculators to be used within the study group. The two calculators that met our needs and are the most user-friendly are the HP-35s and Casio FX-115. Being able to walk through calculator functions and solving equations allowed for our time to remain focused on the survey problems themselves. It was sweet relief to no longer hear, "Where is that on my calculator?". Additionally, if the question was raised, it could be answered by another candidate and not require a pause in classroom instruction–We can all learn together better as a Team.

Starting the Program
In order to start a program for your surveying chapter, you do not need a complete training facility. When classes were smaller, sometimes training was held at someone’s dining room table and a laptop would suffice if a presentation or visual aid was needed. Many places such as local colleges, churches and libraries provide meeting rooms or classrooms at no charge. With this being said, don’t feel limited if you do not have a traditional classroom setting. For our CST program in Central Florida, I found that not only having our training, but our Certified Survey Technician Examination in the same place made candidates more comfortable. When taking an exam the environment directly impacts candidate pass rates. We all know the feeling of driving to an unfamiliar place for an examination, making sure you get there on time, and finding the right room. All this time the candidate is concerned over these issues when they should be focused and comfortable before the exam with minimal distractions. The National Society of Professional Surveyors and Mappers (NSPS) CST Program provides varying options and flexibility in proctoring the test and if you’re not sure all you have to do is call. They also provide the option of taking the test in a paper or computer based format. In my experience, I have found that not everyone is comfortable with the computer based format. Whether this is attributed to generational differences, familiarity with computers or ease of taking the test while looking up at a computer monitor then back down at your notes repeatedly; whichever way you look at it it’s about the candidate and contributing to their success. The one thing everyone is familiar with is taking a paper exam. It is also much easier to flip through pages reviewing the exam or go back to a previous question without having to hit a forward or backward button repeatedly to get there. I have seen candidates who were prepared for the test and confident, but that failed more than once because of having to take the test on a computer. The next time these candidates took the test on paper they had above average scores because the ability to pass had always been there, but the environment for examination was not conducive to their success. I always ask candidates which medium they would like to utilize for the examination at the first session of our CST Training Program and have found, for the past three years, we have not taken the computer based test.

Successful CST Program Breakdown
If you want to create your very own Technician Training Program the fundamentals are simple. Treat it seriously, provide a learning environment that is flexible, don’t be afraid of change or feedback and utilize different training aids (projectors, audio/visual equipment). Respect the time of the candidate and offer 1 hour sessions, with the option to stay longer for those needing individual instruction. Invite dedicated Professionals to lecture, but don’t forget to utilize the wide array of talents that the candidates already possess. Involving the students as teachers builds confidence, morale, and increases the pace of learning for everyone. Standardize calculators in the classroom to avoid an endless torrent of "My calculator doesn’t have that function", and never hesitate to ask for help.

When Surveyors set their mind to something they can move mountains. The study groups are unique to our chapter in Central Florida and we have a team who can proctor anywhere, anytime, and with or without local support. The chapter is a place where people come together for the betterment of the profession, volunteers in a volunteer organization. From every company, every municipality, and every agency–together, to learn as a Team. The NSPS CST Program is definitely pronounced in Florida as we boast the highest number of Certified Survey Technicians in the nation. Study Groups are held 3-4 months in advance and meet weekly ahead of the CST examination. The CST examination is set up 4 times yearly by the chapter and is always preceded by a study group, averaging 18 candidates weekly. Study groups are hosted at the Southeastern Surveying and Mapping Corp. Training Center in Orlando, Florida through the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Surveying and Mapping Society and coordinated by myself, Ronnie A. Figueroa, PSM. Having a CST Certification shows qualification, personal investment of time and carries the reputation of the National Society of Professional Surveyors.

Ronnie A. Figueroa is a PSM, GISP, and MBA. He is the NSPS CST State Coordinator and has shaped technician training throughout the state of Florida. His background in Surveying and Mapping, GIS, SUE and LiDAR have lent themselves to enrich the program and expand candidate engagement. He challenges each and every surveyor to promote the profession and to start a CST Training Program of their own, but always remember, "You get out of the program what you put into it."

A 3.526Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE