In response to Thomas Sage, I have to say: Michigan is a great place to be from.
I grew up and began my career in Michigan. It’s a beautiful state but I had a hard time making a decent living there, so I moved. Having seen some of what Mr. Sage describes there and elsewhere, I can relate to some extent. But the problem must be much worse in his area than most. I occasionally see that a surveyor has had his license revoked or suspended here in California, but it’s a rare occurrence. The Board probably could be a little less lenient in some cases, but overall I think they do a pretty decent job of enforcement.
It seems to me that the bigger challenge to surveyors being perceived as professionals is that there are too many “professional” surveyors who do not value their service appropriately and end up pulling down earning power for others by being the person who undercuts the competition.
Fortunately, the trend of being vastly underpaid and undervalued is becoming less common in the area [where] I now live and work. I don’t think that increasing wages is a phenomenon unique to the West Coast. At the ACSM conference this past March, I heard quite a bit of excited talk about the positive trend in surveyors’ earnings.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its comprehensive Compensation Survey of 2000, surveyors ranked significantly ahead of civil engineers in wages (#46 and #69, respectively). In its less comprehensive 2003 study, these professions were essentially equal in wages.
I’m sorry things are so tough for you, Tom, but my advice to you is that if you want to survey and make a comfortable living, move... anywhere but Michigan.
Evan A. Page, PLS
In his letter in the August 2005 edition, Mr. Sage expects to be “chastised” for his comments regarding the state of the profession of surveying in Michigan. I, too, am a licensed surveyor in Michigan. I would rather not chastise Mr. Sage because I appreciate his passion for our profession and I encourage any member of our profession, regardless of licensure or educational status, to speak his or her mind—especially when the objective is the enhancement of the profession. Mr. Sage’s [letter] is certainly provocative and disconcerting. I’m sure it will be the basis for much discussion.
I understand and share part of Mr. Sage’s frustration. The Michigan State Board of Professional Surveying is composed of highly respected professionals, nominated for their position by the Michigan Society of Profes-sional Surveyors. From my discussions with various board members over the years, I know they share our frustration with their restricted ability to protect the profession and the public. It’s an ongoing conundrum, but suffice it to say, government bureaucracy and budgetary constraints have been a difficult foe. Yet, our board has not sat idle. Mr. Sage may not be aware of the board’s actions against surveyors, but a quick review of the board’s activities over the past few years will show cases in which surveyors have suffered censure. Granted, there are far fewer cases than found in other related professions, but perhaps that is a good thing.
I, too, was mentored by a man who did not have a degree in surveying. His name was William “Sod” Soderberg. I will forever be grateful to him for the education he gave me about applying theoretical surveying to real world applications. However, Sod did not just teach me about the “trade” aspects of surveying. He also taught me how to be a professional. Every project was performed with the same objective in mind, which was to do the job completely and correctly, ensuring that the client’s objective was achieved. Sod taught me that a seal and a surname suffix do not make a person a professional. It is how the person applies his or her expertise for the benefit of the public and the profession that will define his or her level of professionalism.
Professionalism also involves protection of the profession for the benefit of the public. One way to protect the profession is education. Education must include, but not be limited to, a statutory requirement. Education for the benefit of the profession must also be a career-long endeavor to maintain the quality of service expected from our profession. Sod may not have had a four-year degree in surveying, but he continued to search for knowledge in all aspects of this business throughout his life. He encouraged all [who] worked for him to continue to challenge ourselves and seek to improve the known and incorporate the new. When Sod was not busy being the teacher, he was busy being the student. To Sod, professionalism had very little to do with the size of a paycheck—it was the quality of the service that was provided to a client, and that quality of service required education.
Regarding wages, there certainly are more lucrative careers. Should we be making more? Absolutely! As soon as we can get everybody in the profession to conduct their business as a profession, we stand an excellent chance of realizing the earnings that I believe we deserve. That is a difficult task, but a task that has shown incremental levels of success. It is possible to make a decent living within this profession. I used to fear the question “How much does a surveyor make?” that inevitably surfaces at every high school presentation. Now, I anticipate it, and if it is not asked, I tell them anyway. I simply explain to them that this is a profession in which they can make as much as they want to make. Recent wage comparisons show surveyors comparing quite favorably with related professions.
Mr. Sage stated that “he with the… lowest fee will have the most volume of work.” I share his frustration when I compete against proposals that are ridiculously out of the value range of the proposed product. The companies that continue to ignore the value of their product in the quest to cover their costs will limit the earning potential for all surveyors. Surveyors, time and time again, ignore the value of their product and present proposals that are embarrassing to the profession. With public agencies that must accept a lowest bid, hopefully a qualified bid, this continued action of presenting proposals that are significantly below the product value will be a problem for our profession. It is a firm’s reputation of quality and conduct that will keep a client, not a low bid.
“Profession” and “professionalism” are terms for a vocation in which expertise is gained not by experience alone, but by experience and extensive study. Success in surveying requires continuous education. Although many aspects are similar to the methods employed before the time when a rod was segmented into a chain, the laws, technology and methodology evolve at such a pace that education is mandatory for success. I believe that is what separates our profession from trades. Yet, there are those who rebuke education and thereby restrict their ability to evolve with the profession.
For them, the profession may be closer to a trade as defined by their actions. That is unfortunate because I believe that those who understand and embrace the professional aspect of surveying will achieve the success they deserve. Those who do not embrace professionalism will also achieve the success they deserve.
Craig Amey, PS
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