Business Strategies for Surveyors

Words Matter: How Geospatial Education Suffers Because of Government Classification

Demand for jobs in the next decade is predicted to be high, emphasizing the importance of education for the next generation of spatial scientists

Recently, MSNBC aired a story ( featuring Alex Trebek, host of the television game show “Jeopardy,” pointing to the neglect geography education is afforded in the United States. Geography is one of the nine core subjects listed in the No Child Left Behind Act, but it is the only one that has been unfunded.

The news story discussed why geography is important to an informed and engaged society.  To those of us in the geospatial profession, basic geography education is an essential foundation to encouraging young people to enter the workforce in surveying, photogrammetry, GIS and other disciplines in our field.

As the incoming president of MAPPS, the association of private sector geospatial firms, I am deeply concerned about future workforce development. This is an issue on which I hope to focus a considerable amount of my attention as president.

 According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the anticipated demand for surveyors over the current decade is 24,200 new jobs, representing a growth rate of 28 percent. That is more than double the BLS average projected growth rate for all occupations. Through 2020, another 30,000 new jobs for geodesists and photogrammetrists will need to be filled. 

The Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying, the state entity that licenses surveyors, reports the average age of a licensed professional surveyor is 55.  Similar demographics are evident in most other states. There are just 65 postsecondary schools offering four-year degree programs in surveying or geomatics and only 16 are accredited. Another 14 schools are accredited for two-year degrees in the field.


Geography and geospatial technologies, which include surveying, are often missing from identified science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. The Obama administration proposal “A Blueprint for Reform,” to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replace the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act, does not include the words “geography,” “geospatial” or “surveying”.

The U.S. Department of Education publishes the “Classification of Instructional Programs.” It includes “surveying engineering” in group 14, engineering, but classifies geography and cartography (including geographic information science and cartography) as a social science, in group 45. While Congress and many states are implementing programs to encourage students to enter disciplines to obtain a STEM education, those studying geography, GIS and cartography are ineligible for grants, scholarships and tax credits targeted toward STEM majors.

On the other hand, the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) includes code 541370 surveying and mapping (except geophysical) services under NAICS 5413, architecture, engineering and related services.

The federal government’s classification of its own employees adds to the ambiguity in defining the geospatial profession. A land surveyor in federal service is in the 1300 series, physical science group, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s general schedule qualification standards. Also in the 1300 series is cartographer, cartographic technician, geodesist and geodetic technician. However, a survey technician is in the 800 series, engineering and architecture.

A GIS specialist in the U.S. Forest Service responsible for GIS database management, document management and map-, chart- and report-generation in support primarily of forest resource specialists appealed his job classification to information technology management series, GS-2210. OPM denied the appeal. Similarly, the Bureau of Land Management concluded geospatial employees should not be classified as information technology.


The U.S. Labor Department considers architecture, engineering and surveying one occupational group, which falls under a broader category of professional, technical and managerial occupations.

Standard Form (SF) 330, used by the federal government for procurement of architecture, engineering and related services under the qualification-based selection (QBS) process codified by the Brooks Act includes these A-E qualifications discipline/function codes: Aerial Photographer, Cartographer, Geodetic Surveyor, GIS Specialist, Hydrographic Surveyor, Land Surveyor, Photo Interpreter, Photogrammetrist and Remote Sensing Specialist.

The National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC), a group of nonfederal professionals who advise the national government on issues affecting our community, recently convened a Geospatial Workforce Development Subcommittee to recommend strategies to facilitate the development, training and retention of a highly skilled workforce. Key findings by the NGAC subcommittee demonstrate the lack of a unified definition or classification in the geospatial community, including:

•          No single definition exists delineating which subject areas are included in STEM education programs.

•          Geography and geospatial technologies are often missing from identified STEM degree education and programs.

•          Many college/university programs offer GIS coursework and some offer certificate, undergraduate and graduate programs. Most of these originate from within geography departments, although some reside in other disciplines such as information technology or engineering.


There has been little effort and collaboration toward professional development beyond the classroom. Unlike professional organizations that offer certifications (engineering, surveying), the geospatial community does little to formally link education with real-world experience.


In his landmark book “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins discusses the importance of leadership succession-planning. He measures a great leader not by what they accomplish in a leadership job, but by the success of the leader chosen as a replacement – the next generation.

Without a consensus definition of the geospatial profession, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to assure we develop the next generation of leaders. Indeed, it will be difficult to recruit the future geospatial workforce. We must educate young people of the importance of geography and location.  We need to invigorate today’s K-12 students and excite them about careers in the geospatial field. We need to classify, accredit and grow education programs that will prepare the next generation of geospatial practitioners. And we need to assure an adequate supply of advance degree professors and instructors to teach tomorrow’s professionals.

My alma mater, the University of Florida, had an initiative in its geomatics program known as ROAR.  That stood for “reach out and recruit.” It was good advice. Every practitioner can help elevate our profession by reaching out and recruiting a young person into a career in a geospatial, geomatics or GIS discipline.  


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