Reader Feedback: Response to 'Are Your Skills Scalable?'
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Letter to the Editor
Re: Are Your Skills Scalable?
When I spotted your column title “Are your skills scalable?” I thought the title contained the term salable. After I read the column I think both terms apply, although I believe the term “transferable” better expresses the points you are making.
I am almost at the age I could retire and, thanks to a successful business, I could probably do it. However, I still enjoy the work and want to remain active, albeit without the day-to-day challenges of operating a business. I simply want to do the things that attracted me to the profession decades ago: challenging problems to solve, the latest technology to use and clients to serve. No more cash flow to manage, no more insurance carriers to contend with and no more regulatory hoops to jump through. However, I find some of the same issues I wanted to get away from are now the employee’s job, only in a different form. I am still spending a lot of time completing tasks far removed from surveying.
I started surveying about 45 years ago. A short while later, I became involved in managing. Surveying and managing are practical arts that involve learning by doing. The obvious problems are often not the most important. The important problems are often obscured by the flurry of activity. As a manager, I had to learn how to watch and listen for the subtle phenomenon. For example, it is obvious that a lot of surveyors lost jobs during the 2007 recession and only a fraction have returned to work. From a wealth-producing perspective, we can say a lot of human capital was destroyed by the recession. However, when a person starts to observe subtle differences in behavior, it becomes apparent that a lot of social capital was also destroyed. It seems to me there is a symbiotic relationship between these two items and it will be challenging to restore.
The big demographic shift that is underway is another interesting phenomenon. It is influencing the rate of new business formation. It is also altering the composition of skill sets within the workforce. Each generation has slightly different skill sets and there are challenges in translating and transferring experiences. Surveying is a practical art and it involves a lot of tacit knowledge. This is why surveyors have historically favored apprenticeship. Much of this type of know-how looks a bit mundane alongside a shiny digital gadget. For example, learning how to dig in the dirt for a corner monument appears to be of less importance than understanding how to operate a GNSS receiver, yet the shovel produces the most relevant evidence we are seeking. Interpersonal skills may even be more challenging to explain. I discovered a long time ago that understanding people and getting their cooperation allows me to do what I want to do, which is to survey. Sales can be lost or human performance can suffer for want of a smile and a question.
About 18 years ago, I was part of an ownership/management transition in a small firm. One of the younger shareholders was not happy with an older shareholder. The younger surveyor did not think the older surveyor did much. I knew this was not the case. The older surveyor was simply very good at what he did. He made it look easy and effortless. The younger surveyor and the older surveyor were at different points on the continuum of mastery. The gap in their level of expertise contributed to the misunderstanding … a person does not know what they do not know and this causes them to think they know more than they actually do. This is called the Dunning–Kruger effect, which causes low-ability people to overestimate their ability and high-ability people to underestimate theirs. Ok, I guess there is some science involved in surveying and managing.
I have taken the long way around to say what I wanted to say: Sometimes old dogs and young dogs are scaling on different scales. It probably would not have made sense on its own, so I told some stories to go with it. The creative ramblings of an old dirt surveyor with a restless mind.