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Professional Topography

July 1, 2004
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Those in the surveying profession regularly argue about education. Most agree that education is probably a good thing, but then one surveyor remembers another surveyor who had a four-year or a two-year degree in surveying who just didn't "get it." At other times, those who haven't arrived at their licenses through the education route feel obligated to stand up for the efficacy of the experience course. In my opinion, most of these views miss the point. Yes, it may be great conversation for those times of fellowship, but is it really a debatable issue?

The truth of the matter is that such things as changes in technology, client demands for high productivity and fast turnaround times, increasing governmental oversight and reporting requirements, and the skyrocketing value of land all conspire against newcomers without formal training. The pressures to operate a business effectively in such areas as finance, human resources management and operations also demand much more than instinct, even when the enormous changes faced today are overlooked.

Unfortunately, this debate often turns to education or experience. The real answer to this dispute should be "both" in my opinion. A good grounding in mathematics, the sciences, language and communications, business and the humanities prepares newcomers to face many unknown challenges. There exist further opportunities to accrue knowledge in surveying theory, fieldwork, boundary location principles, and even geodesy, control surveys, GIS, photogrammetry and remote sensing if desired. Coupled with this education must be experience. It would be unwise to send a new graduate of a surveying curriculum into professional practice-and even more unwise into a solo practice. A number of years of guided, gradual increase in professional responsibilities as well as providing the opportunity to perform tasks done by aides, technicians and paraprofessionals is often needed to produce a well-rounded candidate for licensure.

When the education/experience issue is debated, the guided aspect of the experience or apprenticeship phase is often overlooked. Currently, the period of apprenticeship for a surveying candidate is the most unreliable phase of the professional process. Why? Because no syllabus or training guide is followed. And because of this, there is no assurance that a wide range of experiences in various aspects for the practice of surveying is acquired. There is no guarantee that any sort of mentoring is provided. In other words, the support provided by the profession is not provided to the surveyor-in-training in any organized manner once he or she has graduated from a surveying program.

A Proposed Solution

The solution I propose is to implement a syllabus for apprenticeship just as we do for any standard education program, whether that is elementary school, university or vocational school. Apprenticeship helps form a partnership between the trainee and the mentor. If the number of years required for apprenticeship is n, require, for example, that n/3 of that time must be spent in work that applies property boundary location principles. Sub-areas to be learned could include (but not be limited to):

  • research using plats and notes of the original survey: 10 percent of the total time;
  • research using deeds, easements, etc., of the owner and adjoiners and others, abstracts, chains of title developed by others: 10 percent; and
  • analysis of the previous research to determine the plan for the field work, including the process of making measurements that relate to points that could be traced back to the original surveys: 10 percent.

A logbook of the work performed could be required. A record of continuing education must also be kept during the period of apprenticeship with a minimum number of PDHs (professional development hours) or CEUs (continuing education units) to be accumulated every year of the training period. Graduation with a college degree while in the process of training should not decrease the desirability of continuing education in a formal setting. The trainee should also be required to develop a portfolio of maps, reports and other work products that represent the projects he or she has executed. Every three months the mentor would be required to file a report indicating what projects and sub-areas were covered, what areas the surveyor-in-training needs to work on and certifying that a certain minimum amount of contact time for discussion of the projects had been reached in that quarter.

Would this plan make it harder for everybody involved in the apprenticeship phase? Yes. If the trainee works in a place that does not offer the variety of projects demanded by the syllabus, he or she would be required to seek apprenticeship from one or more other places. More documentation for the registration boards would be required for review to ensure compliance. This syllabus would then provide a greater likelihood that a surveyor who passes the licensing exam is actually in a position to deliver professional service.

A Plan For Serious Consideration

Change is always hard to imagine, conceptualize, plan and make real. My thoughts on how the experience versus education debate can be made moot are a suggestion for professionals to consider for the good of the profession. Serious consideration of ideas such as this ought not to be just in the realm of board members; it is a duty of every member of the profession to at least give such ideas serious thought. If they then see merit in them, or develop supporting or contrasting ideas of their own, they should bring them to the attention of others in the profession and eventually to the authorities who influence the legislation of the pertinent rules and statutes.

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