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How Can We Engage Future Surveyors?

February 6, 2013
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At a Midwest survey conference last month, the keynote speaker told the attendees to look around the room. “How many gray haired professionals do you see?” he asked. The observation was humbling, not only because I was one of them, but also because it provided a good indication of the direction our human resources are headed. It is not technology that is detrimental to the longevity of the survey profession but our inability to attract the next generation. Where are the mentors of our youth? The technology these “PlayStation kids” grew up with doesn’t seem relevant beyond gaming and socializing.

It begs the question, What will attract future surveyors to the profession? Structural issues deplete human capital. We live in a nation where education is falling behind. What excited me 35 years ago was the technology that moved the profession forward. The ability to better evaluate and automate a property line or more accurately set a corner was intriguing to me. Today, this same technology mindset is restraining human interaction.

At lunch in the buffet line, I noticed that all those gray haired professionals were chatting among themselves. The few younger attendees were on their electronic gadgets pushing buttons and being absorbed by whatever it was they were doing. As I tried to engage them in conversation, the ear buds they were wearing prevented me from doing so. When did live interaction take a back seat to technology? Is it possible these “kids” were in the wrong room?

When it comes to attracting the youth proficient in technology into the survey profession, is it the mentors that are failing because of our stagnant environment and lack of involvement?

The next generation of surveyors needs to know that technology can provide more than just high game scores. For example, an agency that is implementing mobile mapping for the first time faces an experience much like choosing a cell phone-there is a seemingly unlimited array of confusing options available. Imagine a profession that actually helps the AEC world through collaboration rather than leaving the decisions to individuals who have absolutely no understanding of the technology.

I have attended conferences that were successful at engaging young survey students. Seeing the future through their eyes is encouraging. They are hungry for their professional life to begin and ask great questions about the profession and the technology.

Technology is not a threat to our livelihood as surveyors. On the contrary, it can be used to expand our service offerings to existing clients or, even more exciting, new clients that we hadn’t previously considered as a market segment.

In my 35-year career as a surveyor, I have seen many technologies embraced as a way of advancing the profession, but the idea of using LiDAR as a catalyst to build the profession seems to be taboo. Twelve years ago, static laser scanning suffered a setback because it was seen as a threat by the keepers of the profession. Seemingly little has changed since then.

  As I attend state surveyor conferences around the United States, some important trends are visible. Unemployment is high, but companies still have trouble finding talented skilled workers. If we as surveyors don’t embrace LiDAR technology as a way to expand our businesses, we will not only lose human capital but also certain areas of civil/survey services.
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