Reconnaissance: The State of the Surveying Profession, Part 2 —Deregulation/De-licensure

Those in the surveying profession who pay attention to legislative and regulatory matters on a state level are, or should be, aware of a distinct trend towards the deregulation and de-licensure of most professions (generally excepting the medical professions) including surveying.

Those who push the agenda typically claim the movement is about helping people get into jobs and careers more easily. Perhaps that is true for some. But indications are that it has nothing to do with jobs. It has to do with the singular focus of eliminating regulation regardless of its value and without regard to why professions are licensed in the first place—to protect the public’s health, safety, welfare and property in matters that require technical expertise.

Licensure is merely an effort by those already in professions to keep others out and to propagate monopolies, they say. It is unnecessary, they say. Let the market sort out who is competent and who is not, they say.

Unfortunately, the protagonists conflate the licensure of, for example, those who braid hair with the licensure of learned professions like surveyors and engineers. But the argument—as those of us in those professions know—is a false construct.

If your hair falls out, it will hopefully grow back, and you won’t patronize that provider again. On the other hand, we all know the potential consequences a bridge or building designed by an unqualified engineer. More problematic is the boundary survey performed by an unqualified surveyor which lies in silent wait for years until it rears its ugly head and costs a subsequent owner tens of thousands of dollars to remedy through litigation.

Yet, those who support de-licensure will have none of that. Their view is simplistic, arrogant, and uncompromising: regulation is bad. Period. I would add ‘uninformed’ to that list, but that is an oversimplification, because those who back the effort do not want to be informed, it is a distraction—and irrelevant to their argument. It brings to mind what Representative Earl Landgrebe said in the 1970s when faced with the truth about what President Nixon had done to cover-up the Watergate burglary: “Don’t confuse me with facts: I’ve got a closed mind.

If the issue is truly about jobs, that’s all good and fine. But let’s make sure there are demonstrably qualified people in those positions. Licensure is indispensable in providing that assurance.

The Aging of the Surveying Profession

We have heard for years how the age of the average surveyor is increasing. I have actually only heard of one study that seemingly supported that contention (my state does not even keep the statistic), but even that is beside the point. Trade and professional publications for virtually every traditional/legacy profession, increasingly bemoan the increasing age of their average practitioner: nurses, farmers, insurance agents, you name it.

The good news is that we are not the only ones witnessing this trend, so it is not due to the popular impression within surveying that the ‘image’ of our profession suffers. I personally doubt that our image is any worse than it has ever been. Arguably, it is probably better.

The bad news is that we are not the only ones witnessing this trend. Many professions and occupations are conducting outreach to women and minorities and focusing on mentoring young entrants into their respective occupations/professions. So, there is a lot of competition for those bodies.

I have said for years that the problem with surveying is not one of an aging profession, it is one of demographics, which is why continued vigorous outreach to historically underrepresented members of the profession is so critical.

It is ironic that virtually every person who has run for a state or national office in a surveying society over the last 40 years has campaigned on the idea of improving the ‘image’ of the profession. Yet, here we are today, still talking about it. The implication is that our image is not good.

Perhaps it’s semantics, but is it really our ‘image’ or is it the need for more public outreach to educate people as to what surveyors do, why it’s important, and why it’s a great profession? Or perhaps it’s a matter of respect. (There may be something to the thought that surveyors do not garner the same respect as other professions, but that is a topic for another column.)

Either way, if improving one’s image is, in fact, the goal, it’s not a matter of hiring someone to make you look better. That’s smoke and mirrors. It’s a matter of doing the hard work to actually be better and communicate a coherent message.

If better public outreach and education is the goal, many states and NSPS are doing a credible job in that regard, but surveyors in general need to shake off their propensity for being the strong, silent type, and get some training in public speaking. Visit and join your local Toastmasters International club. Volunteer to speak to your town’s Rotary or Kiwanis Club about surveying. Run for a county or state office.

If people understood what surveyors really do, not only would they better respect licensure and the need for qualified surveyors, but our outreach efforts would be supported by societal knowledge of what a great profession this is.

About the Author

Gary Kent, PS

Gary Kent has been a professional surveyor with Schneider Geomatics since 1983 and is also owner of Meridian Land Consulting, LLC. He has chaired the joint ALTA/NSPS Committee on the Land Title Survey standards since 1995. He also sits on the Indiana State Board of Registration and lectures nationally.