I remember touring an air cargo facility where part of the story was their computer system. We walked around, looked at the line operation, then went into the offices. After the tour had gone on for a few minutes, I finally asked, “Where are the computers?” My guide walked over to a desk where a number of people were busily logging shipments on white boards. He lifted one of the white boards to reveal a dark computer terminal and then lowered it back into its position so the manual operation could continue.

That wasn’t the first time or the only time I’ve visited operations where the technology wasn’t working. The lesson that was repeated each time was that it was a good thing there were still people around who knew the manual systems. There’s nothing like a solid grounding in the basics.

I’m a fan of TV chef Alton Brown, and his latest book uses metric because, as he admits, “I don’t like fractions.” While I agree, I was standing in the kitchen calculating half of 1¾ cups and I thought, “I’m glad I know how to calculate the fractions because that would also help me calculate the conversion to metric.” Again, it’s good to know some of the basics.

As I look at my notes from the last conference I attended, I can’t help but think about the movement that is gaining momentum in education circles to stop teaching cursive writing. I don’t expect my notes will be meaningful a generation from now, but who will be able to decipher them to know that? (Between the cursive script and my shabby handwriting, they may as well be encrypted.)

When we look at the emphasis on STEM in education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the professionals in the various disciplines need to remain active with universities, community colleges and high schools to ensure the right skills are being taught. If you are seeing novice surveyors coming into the field with inadequate knowledge or skills, it may be too late. Before that individual can backfill on those gaps, they are likely to become discouraged and move to a different profession.

Technology may be part of the allure of modern land surveying and geospatial professions, but that is only the surface. The licensing process is rigorous and requires a lot of the individual. It is also demanding for the licensed professionals who must serve as trainers and mentors to those who want to enter the field.

If you look at a public education like an assembly line — not for the way we should treat students but just for purposes of illustration — we are talking about a 12-year process with massive numbers of inputs. If we want a good end product, we need to do some quality control of our own and even provide some of the “parts” along the way. Don’t be afraid to tell educators what is needed to succeed in tomorrow’s geospatial professions.

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