Over 10 years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) identified “geospatial technologies” as a high-growth industry. Since then, many have predicted the shortage of qualified geospatial workers.

The DOL Employment & Training Administration (ETA) has provided millions of dollars through its High Growth Job Training Initiative, which works with businesses to identify their specific needs, and in July 2010, released the DOL Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM). The GTCM outlines the demand for geospatial engineers and the need for more concentrated education and interdisciplinary training in the geospatial profession. It is the first federally endorsed national model for a geospatial curriculum.

Although the number of programs offering geospatial disciplines has increased, there remains a lack of higher education opportunities at the graduate and doctoral levels for the more complex subjects—particularly geodesy, LiDAR and High Definition Surveying (HDS), and photogrammetry. In addition, few comprehensive geomatic programs in the U.S. produce high-level researchers and scientists. As daily reliance on geospatial information continues to increase for everything from navigation to national security, the lack of experts could become a crisis on a global scale.

Although the traditional university structure of subject matter “silos” has been an obstacle to the development of comprehensive geomatic engineering programs in the U.S., a team of professors is trying to address the need for expertise in the future by proposing that the University of Colorado Denver expand its Masters of Engineering-GIS program to a Masters of Geomatic Engineering program within the College of Engineering and Applied Science. They believe a different educational approach is necessary to address the increasing shortage of geomatic engineers, researchers and scientists.

In the U.S., the term “geospatial” commonly refers to a broad range of geography-related technologies used in everything from homeland security to flood plain mapping. The lesser-known phrase “geomatic engineering” is an all-inclusive description of the science that comprises photogrammetry, GIS, surveying, remote sensing, satellite navigation, geodesy, GPS/GNSS, LiDAR, and mapping and cartography. The study of geomatics also incorporates mathematics, computer science and engineering.

Dr. Apostol Panayotov, a professor at University of Colorado Denver, said there is a lack of understanding about geomatics and the necessity of teaching all of the interrelated geospatial topics rather than just GIS or surveying. Panayotov sees the growing need for more educated workers and researchers in the field of geomatics as a unique opportunity for the University of Colorado Denver to become the flagship geomatic engineering program in the United States, providing leadership in the development of innovative geomatic technology around the world.

The study of geomatics prepares students for job opportunities in an expanding number of traditional industries that use geospatial data, such as oil and gas, space exploration, environment, engineering, architecture and facilities management, as well as non-traditional fields like health and finance. Although geospatial subjects are not consistently included in high school and college science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula, the other types of courses form a solid foundation of understanding and would therefore benefit students interested in pursuing careers in these areas.

Dr. Jan Van Sickle, principal at Van Sickle LLC and professor at Penn State Online, said offering a complete well-rounded program at the graduate and doctoral levels is necessary for the future safety of the nation and the continued development of geomatic technology. Van Sickle said the availability of online courses for either individual courses or complete degrees will increase the number of specialists in geomatics.

Over the past two decades, the Rocky Mountain Front Range has attracted a high concentration of large private companies, technical and academic institutions, and government agencies involved in researching, marketing, selling and applying geospatial technologies to help solve real-world problems. The specialized talent pool that already resides in Colorado will be tapped to provide teachers, and the local businesses can participate in valuable research opportunities and make use of interns. Dr. Delmar Anderson, independent consultant at Del Consulting, pointed out numerous organizations already influential in the geospatial profession that have offices or headquarters in Colorado, including Esri, DigitalGlobe, Google, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Department of the Interior, Ball Aerospace, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, URS and Telvent.

Several companies, such as Esri, Leica Geosystems, Merrick and Safe Software, have already committed to providing software for the University of Colorado Denver computer lab at little or no cost, but the university is seeking additional grants and donations to cover other expenses such as hardware, salaries and advertising. The program is required to be self-funded with no budget from the university. “We really need more support from the geospatial research and business communities to make this new educational program sustainable,” said Panayotov. “This will be a win-win situation for everyone when we get the program up and running.”