It has been said that the average age of a licensed land surveyor in the United States is 57. This is a cause of concern for the profession and the public. Our seal is required for various types of plans, but what if the scarcity of licensed professionals pushes states to allow others to seal plans?

On several occasions I have come across licensed professional engineers who borrow survey equipment and try their hand at land surveying. Unless they have had experience working under the watchful eye of land surveyors, they intelligently make poor decisions. Some of them might assume that their one course in land surveying, which they were required to take to get their undergraduate degree in engineering will be enough, and they can start reading deeds and hammering pins.

Just this afternoon, I was teaching an apprentice how to enter a deed description into the CAD drawing. She is a quick learner but there is so much to understand. The deed called for a point of beginning on the title line in the bed of the road. This began a lesson on what those words can mean. Here in a colonial state, using the words “title line” would indicate it was not the middle or center of the road, but rather a line of title ownership. In Pennsylvania, generally surveyors act as if there is no title overlap when in the middle of a public road or right of way. Does that matter? Since everyone has a right to travel in the right of way, often it is a moot point.

“In the bed of the road” tells us at the time of the original survey from which the deed was written there was a roadway. The line was in the gravel, dirt, stone or whatever material existed at the time of that original survey. If the deed is from 1907 there is a high probability a pin in the bed is very deep and may not give you any signal.

If the deed calls for a point to lie in the centerline of the road in 1907, that may not be the physical centerline today, and we would be interested in the physical centerline at the time of original survey. It is pretty routine here that if you prepare a subdivision plan, the municipality demands more width to your side of the right of way. This could produce 16.5 feet on one side of the old centerline and 25 feet on the other side of the centerline, plus 10 more feet of paved surface. You can do the math; if you split the road there would be a new physical centerline but it would not be that centerline called for in the deed with which you are working.

There is also the use of words like “within the right of way,” which tells us that it was between the right of way lines at the time the original deeds were written. That could mean many things, but my first impression would be it was between the edge of pavement and the right of way line on either side of the road.

Another facet of the particular deed I was having this apprentice enter was the tie distance. It was a long tie that was on “various courses and distances from a point of intersection.” I explained this was a lazy way of not really defining the tie.

Since I was about to leave to fly south, I left her to entering the remainder of the deeds around the site we would be surveying and to make comparisons on the closures. Analyzing deeds is a complicated process and also requires that the individual know the standard practices and language used in a given area and at the time of the writing of the original document. How nice it would be if all those old plans called for in the deed descriptions were available today. Fortunately, we have GOTOMYPC and our project manager would be able to connect to her desktop and answer her questions in my absence.

Over this past summer, I had a brilliant intern who had just graduated with a degree in environmental engineering. He had been pressing me to take him on for the summer and, being the nephew of a great friend, I relented. Although he always had summer jobs and was a go-getter and advanced student, he simply had no practical experience in any form of engineering. Apparently none of his fellow classmates had any idea how they too would connect their education to a job. When fall came he went on to study hydroponic growing methods. But hiring him was well worth the effort because I was energized to teach. The summer surveying school prepped me for this fall session.

As professionals, us old dogs came up through the system learning at the feet of Joe Socrates, PLS, and his contemporaries. Technology has made life easier no doubt, but it has also cut down on the employee pool so that when lean times came, we ended up with some of the chiefs but no Indians. Those who were laid off drifted away and few came back. Add to this the requirement for a college degree in order to sit for the licensure test in many states and we arrive at few licensed land surveyors and a disappearing transfer of knowledge from the old guild members to devoted apprentices.

The uncle of my summer intern is an extremely talented physical art restorer. He spent many hard years working under craftsmen for low pay in foundries learning techniques which may die with him because he has never trained a successor. Those masters he learned through are now gone. The vast knowledge of materials, techniques, tools and methods will vanish. What will replace him and his few contemporaries are science classes in metallurgy, YouTube videos and fast talkers insisting they understand how to preserve $26 million statues. Those who understand art know it must be preserved, like those of us who understand the legacy of land surveying know how to preserve boundaries. I would like to be sure to tell you that Doug has a degree from the University of Indiana in silversmithing, and training at famed art schools which only the gifted can enter. So it takes a mix of experience, education and shared wisdom handed down through the ages.

I have heard licensed land surveyors ask, “What can we do to encourage young people toward an interest in land surveying?” Then I heard that if more formal education was required that might help. When I commented that making it more expensive to become a land surveyor did not sound enticing, my comment was perceived as implying it was a bad idea to have a degree in land surveying. I certainly was not saying any such thing. Somehow, we need to solve our heritage problem and find heirs to our treasure of knowledge. Paying more for entry level college graduates with no experience in land surveying might fill the gap. Just because they could not find a job teaching history with their degree in history, does not indicate they are not good potential employees. I actually had a rodman on my crew who was a few credits short of a degree in history when he realized there were few jobs available. As a new crew member with no knowledge of land surveying he was paid slightly more than minimum wage. He was smart and easy to work with and train, but unfortunately the times of feast were turning to famine and he was let go.

When I recently posted an ad for a surveyor’s assistant, I had many responses with a wide variety of education and experience. It was surprising when people with no experience in land surveying or construction applied. Many had two- and four-year degrees. I hired one with an undergraduate degree in psychology. My bride has a master’s degree in social work. After receiving her undergraduate in special education and psychology, it became apparent that to earn more she must have a master’s degree. Now many job positions require a masters degree just to be considered for an interview.

We hear about how expensive education is and how many graduates are saddled with burdensome loans. Some of these graduates are forced to take jobs that will never pay well, just to be employed. Some of the degrees would pay well if you can land a job – such as a public school teacher. Unfortunately, those who work at private schools in this area are paid far less and will not have the same perks in benefits and retirement. There are also those who take basic courses for several years and then lose their funding or zest for education. It is my suggestion that land surveyors consider hiring apprentices with a college education and teach them the art of land surveying. If they enjoy the work, they already have the college a third of the way finished toward their degree in land surveying. When they decide a path to licensure is in their future, they will invest in that master’s level cost and finish the education in land surveying which you helped them start.

I would also like to mention that I know of many smart, talented people with little college education working in civil engineering and land surveying who are working under the direction of a professional land surveyor or licensed engineer. Even though they may not move on to a formal degree, they can earn a very good salary. The person you hire with an undergraduate degree may become one of these talented employees.

When I think that so much knowledge of art restoration will be lost I am sorry for my friend Doug. If you had a few beers with Doug, it’s obvious how much he enjoys his work and is passionate about the volumes of knowledge stored in his head. I feel that some person missed out on a golden opportunity to learn from him as a guild master. When he is gone, the magic and art he knows disappears with him. Sure, a hack can try to maintain the statues and monuments he took care of, but not as well as he did. Artists and sculptors must have talented craftsmen like Doug to showcase their creations. Similarly architects and engineers must have talented land surveyors today and tomorrow to give them the plans which are the foundations on which they will design.