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Future Perspectives

March 1, 2005
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Professionalism (or the lack thereof) in surveying.



Editor's Note: As stated in my January 2005 Editor's Points, POB will be bringing you outlooks and views from the younger generation of surveyors in this and the coming months. This viewpoint by Ferris State University [Michigan] junior, Matthew Mitchell, is the first piece representing tomorrow's surveyors. I encourage other college and university students to submit editorial pieces on their thoughts, concerns and proposed solutions on issues related to the profession. I also encourage feedback to Mitchell's column. Submittals and feedback can be sent to: brownl@bnpmedia.com. Continued communication can only strengthen the profession.

I've heard a lot about professionalism in surveying-or rather, the lack thereof. As a student in the Ferris State University Surveying Engineering curriculum, I find it troubling to see that the profession I have chosen has a hard time convincing the public that it is exactly that: a profession. I realize this isn't the first time this issue has been addressed, and I'm sure it won't be the last. There are many possible solutions to the issue of defining the surveying profession, each with its own debate (take educational requirements as an example), and I don't expect to have the problem solved by the end of this article. However, I do believe there is a solution.

A profession is defined as an occupation, such as law, medicine or engineering, that requires considerable training and specialized study. These fields provide necessary, valuable services to society, and as a result are held in higher esteem than other jobs or career options. The reality is that our work as surveyors falls into this category. As a society, we need competent, professionally trained surveyors. Engineering, construction and real estate all depend on surveying. They could not exist without it. So why do we allow our work to be done for half its value? Why don't we require all surveyors to have the same formal education? Why don't we hold ourselves to the same standards that doctors, lawyers and engineers hold their professions? These are not rhetorical questions; I'm really quite stumped and would love to hear a few solid explanations.

To me, it seems we've brought this problem upon ourselves. For whatever reasons, we have done our work for less than what it's worth. We've allowed licensure without a formal education, and as a result we've cheapened our profession to the point where our average salaries are closer to those of drafters and technicians than engineers and architects. So how do we reverse this? How do we convince the public that our work is valuable and necessary? In theory, it's really quite simple.

The laws of economics state that supply and demand are inversely related. Associated with that demand is cost. So quite simply, the easiest way to increase the value of surveyors is to get rid of them. Or at least get rid of the less-qualified ones. Perhaps I'm biased because of my education, but I think a good starting point would be to rid the profession of every surveyor who doesn't feel that a formal education is necessary for surveyors. Granted, there are some exceptions based on experience; that is why we have licensing boards. But in general, these surveyors are part of the problem and would be the first to go.

Now, with fewer surveyors, the demand for and the value of our work should begin to increase. It is inevitable that there will still be those who get business by undercutting everyone else, but the more or less simple solution is to charge an appropriate amount, one that is not a third less than others, or even a third more. Suppose you know nothing about surveying and you want your property located. The first three surveyors you call quote your job at $750 and the fourth offers to do it for $500. In that case, you're probably going to go with the fourth surveyor and save a little bit of money. However, if you call those same four surveyors and the first three estimate $2,500 to the fourth's $500, you're probably going to think twice about taking the cheaper way out because you'll question its quality.

Surveying is no different than any other service in that you get what you pay for. I'm not talking about price-fixing here, but if you're doing professional-quality work, you should charge professional rates. Your good clients aren't going to mind and honestly, do you really want to deal with a client whose only concern is cost? People don't choose surgeons based on the lowest rates or quickest surgeries; surveyors shouldn't be chosen any differently. It's no big deal for an attorney to bill a client for a couple of days' worth of research, but surveyors can't do that because there always seems to be someone else who will do the job in half a day and charge $500 less. We need to eliminate this, and the easiest way to do that is to simply charge what our work is worth.

I realize that things aren't always as simple as I've proposed, and things aren't going to change overnight. But I believe that if everyone keeps these ideas in mind, our profession will be much better off. Just like doctors, lawyers and engineers, society needs competent, professional surveyors. There's always going to be work. It's up to us as a profession to decide whether that work gets done at the highest quality or at the lowest price.

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