Point of Beginning

Professional Perspectives

April 30, 2009
How are surveying and mapping professionals faring in today’s challenging economy, and what does the future hold for these professions? POB’s annual research study on salary levels and benefits, developed in partnership with Clear Seas Research, provides some key insights. ...



Staff Report


How are surveying and mapping professionals faring in today’s challenging economy, and what does the future hold for these professions? POB’s annual research study on salary levels and benefits, developed in partnership with Clear Seas Research, provides some key insights.

More than 700 individuals responded to our survey, which is on par with the number of responses we’ve received in past years. Of those queried, the majority identified themselves as president/owner/partner (26 percent), chief surveyor (23 percent) or project manager/team leader (20 percent). Most respondents (82 percent) are employed in the private sector, with 48 percent working for firms that handle both surveying and civil engineering and 27 percent focused primarily on surveying. These percentages are in line with those found in previous POB salary and benefit studies.

JOB TITLE- The majority of respondents hold senior decision-making roles.

Also similar to previous years, the majority of respondents (86 percent) reported that their companies primarily perform boundary/cadastral/topographic survey work. However, there was an increase in the number of companies performing mortgage/title/ALTA surveys (up seven percent from 2008) and consulting work (up four percent from 2008). Other types of work performed remained about the same as in prior years.

As in previous years, three out of four respondents continued their education after high school with 36 percent (up three percent from 2008) reporting an associate degree, 34 percent (unchanged) reporting a bachelor’s degree and six percent (unchanged) reporting a master’s or doctorate degree. Three-fourths of all surveyed respondents have been working in the profession for 15 years or more. Twenty percent reported five to 14 years of experience, while the remaining five percent had less than five years of experience. The average age of the survey respondents was 48, which was in line with previous studies.

Also similar to previous years, seven out of 10 respondents hold a professional registration or licensure with most (90 percent) reporting an RPLS/PLS/RLS/LS or the like. More than half of all respondents (54 percent) received their license more than 15 years ago, which was higher than the 47 percent reporting 15 or more years of licensure in 2008. Among licensed respondents, the majority (48 percent) reported registration in one state, while 28 percent said that they were registered in two or more states. More than three-quarters of respondents reported an increase in their income as a result of achieving their registration or licensure, with an average increase of 28.7 percent reported.

2009 Type of Work Performed by Company- The majority of respondents report their company is involved with boundary/cadastral/topographic surveying. Civil engineering, building/construction, engineering design surveys, and mortgage/title/ALTA are also frequently performed.

The Economic Impact

There was a significant increase in the number of individuals reporting that they work for small organizations. Thirty-five percent of respondents reported working for organizations with less than 10 full-time employees, compared to 26 percent in 2008 and 22 percent in 2007. However, this number is still lower than the high of 43 percent in 2001. Not surprisingly, one of every two respondents reported a slight to significant decrease in their organization’s number of employees during 2008. While this decrease occurred across organizations of all sizes, individuals working for larger firms (those with 250 or more employees) were less likely to report a decrease. One-third of the respondents reported no change in employment, while 15 percent reported a slight to significant increase in their company’s full-time employee base.

The average gross salaries reported by respondents have remained fairly consistent over the past several years, with the largest variation occurring based on the years of experience, public versus private sector work (the private sector generally pays more) and the population of the communities served. Interestingly, while 25 percent of all respondents reported that their salaries dropped in 2008 compared to the previous year, 45 percent said that their salaries remained the same or increased compared to 2007. These results might indicate that employers actively sought other ways of reducing expenses before cutting their employees’ pay.

The reduction in benefits in 2008 seems to confirm this theory. While most respondents reported receiving paid vacation time, health insurance and paid sick leave, a decline was seen in all three categories. There was a substantial drop in the number of individuals receiving bonuses--only 35 percent of respondents reported receiving bonuses in 2008 compared with 50 percent in 2007. Other benefits--including use of company vehicles, retirement plans, continuing education, dental and vision insurance and life insurance--were also reduced as firms struggled to rein in expenses.

2009 provided benefit summary- Paid vacation time, health isurance, and paid sick leave are the benefits provided to the majority of respondents. The No. 1 benefit received in the past that is no longer provided is a bonus.

Behind the Numbers

Respondents who provided additional comments cited layoffs, hiring freezes, pay cuts and benefits reductions as the most common changes implemented by firms within the last six to 12 months specifically to address the difficult economic conditions. However, some individuals indicated that their firms have made no cutbacks and have even hired additional employees to handle an increased workload. Based on other trend information, it is likely that this latter group serves a diverse client base with high-tech capabilities. Other individuals noted that their firms have focused on technology upgrades as a way to increase efficiency and productivity.

When asked about the single biggest challenge their firm faces other than the economy, many respondents emphasized that the economic recession is and would continue to be their biggest challenge. However, another frequently mentioned challenge was finding qualified help--or, as one person put it, “finding experienced employees or even inexperienced employees that want to learn the business and are willing to give an honest day’s work.”

Salary median by Community Population

Other challenges mentioned included keeping up with technology and competing with lower-priced firms. As one respondent noted, “Competition from smaller, more flexible firms that can easily cut prices because of lower overhead is [an issue] that’s always there, but in this economy, it becomes even more problematic. It diminishes the strides we have taken in the past few years to impress upon the public at large the role of the professional surveyor and mapper in society and brings us back down to the level of just another trade. In the past six months, I have seen survey prices drop back down to levels from 15 years ago. When the economy returns, it will be a hard fight to get them back up to anywhere near the [previous] levels.” Other individuals commented that competing against larger firms with more diverse in-house resources was a significant challenge.

While firms that are positioned to take on infrastructure, energy and other projects through federal stimulus spending appear to be faring better than other companies in terms of the amount of work available, several respondents noted that bidding for these projects creates other challenges, such as the requirement to meet rushed deadlines while dealing with budget restrictions.

Salary median by years of experience

Future Opportunities

Looking ahead, several respondents noted that GPS and GIS integration will provide new opportunities for surveying and mapping professionals. Advanced technology is expected to continue to change the role of surveyors by enabling more work to be completed in less time with fewer people. As Joseph Dietrick, PE, PLS, director of engineering for The Markosky Engineering Group Inc., noted, “The advances made in recent years … will continue to improve the surveyor’s information-gathering abilities. Likewise, more will be expected from the surveyor in terms of time to complete the job, cost of the job and accuracy of the job.”

A number of respondents pointed out that surveyors will need to focus more on education and become more creative in how they use advanced technology. “Even though [some] surveyors have grasped and used the technology from electronic total stations, GPS, robotics and, recently, laser scanners, we have not immersed ourselves in it or really looked for ways to exploit it to its fullest,” said Richard D. Pryce, vice president of surveying and GIS for Craven Thompson & Associates Inc. “We’ve only scratched the surface and should be looking outside of the box we’ve built up around us. The push nationally on education and four-year and higher degrees in [geomatics] is where the real changes will come from, but we are still a long way from that goal.” Pryce also noted that GIS, airborne and terrestrial LiDAR and laser scanning, side-scan sonar, ground penetrating radar, equipment/machine control and 3D modeling “are the future of surveying if we want it, and education−either formal or on the job−is the key.”

Jennifer N., a photogrammetrist, said that she sees “a growing gulf between the well-educated and well-trained geospatial professionals and a sea of low-wage, poorly trained technical staff.” As James Jeffreys, PE, PLS, commented, “Generally, surveyors will need to expand their idea of what they do or someone else will leave us in their dust.”

Ultimately, the future for surveying and mapping professionals lies in the hands of those who care about the profession. “If we do not attract, improve and retain high-quality labor, how can we hope to maintain the quality of our industry? The field as a whole is growing, and we have a labor shortage even during a recession. If we want a good labor pool to pick from, we need to concentrate on finding, enticing and developing high-quality workers,” Jennifer N. said.

“We should be marketing and recruiting new talent and looking at technology for ways to use it to our advantage, not as crutch,” Pryce added.


Editor's note: For more in-depth information from this report, including additional charts, quotes from respondents and a link to obtain a full copy of the study, go to http://www.pobonline.com/POB/Home/Files/PDF/pob0509_salary.pdf

Sidebar: About This Study

The 2009 Salary & Benefits Study reflects figures compiled from 2008 and is an estimated representation of the working surveying and mapping population. It does not represent exact figures. Surveys were sent to 5,951 active, qualified Point of Beginning subscribers, which provided a usable base of 5,771 individuals. The results are based on a total of 755 usable returns. Clear Seas Research, a division of BNP Media, conducted the study and compiled its findings.

For more information, contact Kelly Clinton at clintonk@clearseasresearch. Results from this study are copyright © 2009 by Clear Seas Research (www.clearseasresearch.com). All rights reserved.