Point of Beginning

Professional Perspectives 2010

May 1, 2010
2009 was a challenging year for surveying and mapping professionals. Many firms reduced spending and implemented furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs to stay afloat. Some didn't survive.  ...



2009 was a challenging year for surveying and mapping professionals. Many firms reduced spending and implemented furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs to stay afloat. Some didn't survive. Others learned how to adapt and use technology to pursue new markets and find new business opportunities. Our 2010 Salary & Benefits Study captured a number of key trends. Here are a few of the highlights.


  • Public vs. Private Sector. As in previous years, the majority of respondents (75 percent) were employed in the private sector; however, the number of respondents employed in the public sector rose nine percent compared to 2008 while the number employed in the private sector fell by seven percent.



  • Type of Work Performed. There were predictable drop-offs in mortgage, title and ALTA surveys (-7 percent), building/construction work (-2 percent) and boundary/cadastral/topographic surveys (-3 percent) with increases in engineering design surveys (+6 percent) and road/infrastructure/transportation surveys (+6 percent).

  • Employment. Fifty-nine percent of respondents indicated that the number of full-time employees at their firm decreased slightly (1 to 10 percent) or significantly (11 percent or more) in 2009. The biggest changes occurred in firms with 10 to 24 employees, which reported a net decrease of 67 percent in the number of full-time employees; and in firms with 25 to 49 employees, which reported a net decrease of 59 percent. Large firms with 500 or more employees also continued the layoff trend with a net decrease of 57 percent. Thirty-one percent of respondents reported that employment was unchanged. Bucking the trend, eight percent of respondents slightly increased the number of full-time employees in 2009, with larger midsized firms (250 to 499 employees) showing the biggest gain (+24 percent).


  • Education. The number of respondents reporting a bachelor’s degree increased to 39 percent (+5 percent from 2008), while respondents indicating an associate degree or high school diploma as their highest level of education fell (-5 percent and -1 percent, respectively).

  • Licensure. The number of individuals reporting licensure increased 4 percent to 74 percent with most (86 percent) indicating RPLS, PLS, RLS, LS and the like. A slight increase (+4 percent) was seen in the number of LSIT and SIT licensures. The “other” category also increased incrementally, with GISP and certified photogrammetrist among the licensures noted.

  • Salaries. Thirty-six percent reported that their salaries remained about the same in 2009; 16 percent said that their salaries were slightly lower; and 21 percent said they were much lower. Slow or no work was the most-often cited reason for declines. Only 26 percent of respondents noted that salaries were slightly higher in 2009, compared to 41 percent reporting slightly higher salaries in 2008. The average gross salary fell seven percent to $66,009 with broad differences reported based on title, licensure, experience and region.


  • Benefits. The move to reduce or eliminate benefits in response to the recession appeared to slow in 2009. The top benefits marked as “no longer provided” were bonuses (19 percent eliminated) and profit sharing (13 percent eliminated). Other benefits including vision and dental insurance, retirement plans, company vehicles and continuing education also saw drop-offs in employer coverage. Despite these changes, most firms continue to provide fully paid vacation time (84 percent) and sick leave (72 percent) as well as fully or partially paid continuing education opportunities (78 percent), life insurance (67 percent) and health insurance (83 percent).
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      Selected Responses From Open-Ended Questions

      What changes has your firm made within the last 6-12 months specifically to address business conditions?

      - Increased/improved marketing (8)
      - Expand business to other areas/explore new avenues to produce revenue (6)
      - Layoffs (6)
      - Reduced staff/downsized (6)
      - Reduced salaries/wages (5)
      - Reduced staff (5)
      - Fewer hours (4)
      - Lowered prices (4)
      - Cut costs (3)
      - Eliminate unnecessary expenses/buys “as needed” (3)
      - Increased efficiency (3)
      - Reduced staff, reduced hours (3)
      - Better client care (2)
      - Budget cuts (2)
      - Consolidation (2)
      - Add additional disciplines; expanded disciplines that are hot (environmental, floodplain and gas)
      - Aggressive business development campaigns
      - Automation to increase productivity

      What is the single biggest challenge your firm faces?

      - Getting/keeping work/projects (27)
      - Competition/other companies with lower bids on projects (10)
      - Finding and keeping qualified/skilled employees (8)
      - Getting paid for work done (8)
      - Staying in business/surviving (6)
      - Finding new clients/new jobs (5)
      - Lack or reduction of state and federal spending/funding (5)
      - Cash flow (4)
      - Poor economy (4)
      - Reduction of work/profit due to the economy (4)
      - Delivering to our clients the most accurate data they asked for in a time-sensitive environment
      - Keeping competitive in a growing digital and technologically competitive environment
      - Keeping up with technology

      What technologies are having the biggest impact on the surveying profession, and how are they changing the surveyor’s role?

      - GPS
      - Laser scanning
      - LiDAR
      - GIS
      - Robotic instruments/total stations
      - RTK GPS
      - 3D scanning; opening doors that never would have been viable before to us as a survey/civil firm
      - Advances in GPS are still the biggest; the surveyor has to be up with its use or depend on those who can do it for him
      - I do not think that technology will ever replace the boots-on-the-ground needed to properly perform a survey; these tools will only speed up the way we gather the information; GPS will change the way this is done once challenges of terrain and vegetation are overcome
      - GIS and GPS are having big impacts; we use GPS to lock into state plane coordinates and GIS systems are a helpful tool when doing a project in the city where sanitary sewer and storm systems can be checked against what the field crew shot in the field
      - GPS and advancement in computer systems expand the possibilities for surveyors to accomplish more complex surveys
      - The ever-increasing need for information and visual sophistication to the general public is requiring our profession to provide more graphic representation of project sites and structures, spurring the growth of 3D laser scanning and BIM modeling

      In your opinion, what steps can/should today’s surveyors take to position themselves for continued success in the coming years?

      - Keep up with technology (17)
      - Diversification, trying new things (5)
      - Education, training, get degrees and licensing (5)
      - Be ethical and professional (2)
      - Diversity, change, keep up with technology (2)
      - Adapt to ever-changing technologies with open ARC
      - Be adaptable; don’t just do development or government contract work; keep pace with current technology; be active in your business societies
      - Be available for travel
      - Be open-minded; take on new challenges and solve the new problems that go with the challenges; don’t be content with yesterday; surveying is changing in and you must change with it
      - Concentrate on using the available and developing cost-effective technologies to perform the functions high-tech can’t perform
      - Continue to identify satellite technologies that have sprung up in recent years and embrace them as part of land surveying
      - Continuing education and stay abreast of technological trends
      - Demand and expect more respect and more pay
      - Gain as many close working relationships with engineers, architects and developers as possible

      Editor’s note: This is not a complete list. Additional responses were provided. A complete copy of the study will be posted soon.

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      About This Study
      The 2010 Salary & Benefits Study was conducted by BNP Media’s Market Research department. It reflects figures compiled from 2009 and is an estimated representation of the working surveying and mapping population. It does not represent exact figures. Surveys were sent to 5,448 active, qualified Point of Beginning subscribers, which provided a usable base of 5,388 individuals. The results are based on a total of 553 returns.