Reconnaissance: The State of the Surveying Profession, Part III

Featuring Jessica Hess, PS

Program Coordinator of the Surveying Technology Program at Vincennes University Jessica Hess, PS shares the same concerns I expressed in Parts I and II of my latest theme of columns, and more. In order that others can gain from her insight, I respectfully cede my authorship of Part III on the State of the Surveying to Jessica…

Education and Career Development

In Parts I and II of this column, the topics of continued personal growth, the presentation of the image of the profession, and de-regulation/delicensure were discussed. The role of education and continued development should be considered in answer to some of these challenges. The question is, “How can we harness these tools to advance the profession?”

Education—Building the Foundation

In the rising panic of the dwindling labor market (both in surveying and otherwise), a willingness to eliminate barriers to entering or advancing within the profession are emerging—one such example being the push, from some quarters outside the profession, for delicensure. Some discussions have been bubbling in the profession about dropping college degree requirements to become licensed (in some cases, keeping technical education requirements to help ensure surveying proficiency, but eliminating the additional general education that leads to a degree). Such considerations are short-sighted.

As an educator in surveying myself for the past 6 years, I obviously fall on the side of favoring degrees for licensed professionals— but not by reason of default or that I’m one of those stuffy people with elitist arbitrary standards.

On the contrary, upon entering the field of higher education and seeing how it functions and plays out behind the scenes, I’ve personally grappled with the necessity of college degrees and our country’s ever-growing insistence that most all young people be directed toward earning one. Degrees are not necessary to meet a lot of the employment opportunities available today (though they’re often listed in the job posting). Instead, formal training in specific skills would suffice. I would even partially side with those claiming that degree requirements really do stand in the way of someone who would otherwise make a great and productive worker.

I think this minimal formal skill training can greatly serve the surveying profession in keeping the machine running and bringing in new people. However, if we want to get the machine firing on all cylinders, we need people who have a well-rounded education; people who can merge our role as surveyors with the needs of the greater society.

That takes knowledge and understanding of how our communities function (i.e., social science) so that we can propose, guide, and protect land interests while creating development in beneficial and community-conscience ways. It also takes the ability to effectively interpret and communicate (i.e., English composition and speech) laws, ordinances, and the work of other surveyors as well as our own. A degree requirement helps ensure that those on the front lines representing our profession in public meetings and public repositories of record are doing so in a positive and productive light.

You can find this sentiment in Brown’s Boundary Control and Legal Principles, where Curtis Brown stated, “The person most qualified to write a description is that person who has the greatest knowledge, who possesses the best vocabulary, and who has the greatest use of the English language.”

We can all recall times when we’ve tried to follow in the footsteps of another surveyor only to become frustrated that they were so shoddily left. Devoting an equal effort to mastering language arts and social considerations will help us not perpetuate frustration onwards. Often, the leap from meeting some technical requirements of licensure to earning a degree is only a few extra courses in English, speech, and social sciences.

Career Development—Growing and Expanding

But what of continued development? Simply earning a degree and becoming licensed is not enough for contributing to the success of the profession as a whole. As professionals, we should expect to continue to expand upon the foundation built through education and early work experience. We should also encourage and support this of the rising technicians in our profession. As mentioned in a prior installment, we should expect to evolve.

To do that, a solid understanding of the basic concepts and laws of surveying is necessary. Through teaching, I’ve experienced first-hand, and witnessed of others, the need to return to topics multiple times to obtain a firm grasp. Yeah—we’ve all been through similar surveying classes and used the same books while in school. I think a good majority of us could admit that we weren’t as diligent as students as we could have been.

To teach these concepts, it often entails multiple readings and studying of selected texts to break it down as part of the process of simply introducing it to students. I can confidently assume that when they’re reading at their level, the content is flying right over their heads (as it once did ours when we were in school). As we get into higher levels of boundary, descriptions, and technical practices, I find myself prefacing many topics with, “This is just to provide awareness—once you are out in the workplace and have gained some experience you should return to this and re-study.” Because that’s what it takes to develop a working knowledge. That’s what it takes to grow.

How many of us have returned to review the basics beyond the hours we’ve spent in required professional development? How many of us have developed a strong working knowledge so when the profession or society shifts, we can confidently pivot—knowing we’re basing our decisions and actions on a solid foundation of understanding? How many of us are reminding and encouraging the technicians we supervise to return to the content they learned in school or training, and try to grow with it?

As a profession, we should value and cultivate these tools of presentation and study that inevitably run parallel with our technical toolbox. They’re the bridge that connects what we do as surveying experts with the greater community. We need that connection to be strong.

About the Authors

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.

Jessica Hess, PS

Program Coordinator of the Surveying Technology Program at Vincennes University.