Putting Geospatial Training on Track
For land surveyors and geospatial professionals, training is not a luxury. There are elements of training needed to maintain licensure, and there are the tools that will help with mastery of some of the new and prevailing technologies. No matter how you slice it, training is important, and the professions are reporting there are significant gaps in meeting their needs.
In a number of studies POB conducts on specific technologies, we have asked users and non-users of the technologies how well their training and education needs are being met by various categories of education sources. The questions are phrased to allow respondents to mark choices ranging from completely agree to completely disagree. Neutral responses were filtered out of the results.
The strongest response on training and education needs came from the GIS Integration Trends Study, where 40 percent of GIS users said there are adequate education courses and training opportunities for surveying professionals. An equal number disagreed, however.
Most categories and responses showed greater spreads in responses. Among users of laser scanning technologies, 54 percent disagreed with the statement that there are adequate education courses and training opportunities. They also indicated professional societies and organizations were not meeting the challenges (46 percent) and colleges and universities were not adequately training the next generation of surveyors (48 percent).
If GIS users were equally divided on education opportunities, they had strong negative responses on how professional societies and organizations were addressing the challenges (55 percent). And, in 3D technologies, users were consistently dissatisfied, giving colleges a 53 percent negative response, professional societies a 51 percent negative mark, and noting there were not adequate opportunities for training and education (50 percent). Approval in 3D surveying trends was 17 percent for colleges, 19 percent for professional societies, and 12 percent for education opportunities, so there is clearly a perceived problem.
Perhaps more alarming is the comparison of answers from the year-earlier studies. In each study, every category showed a rising number of negative responses from users from 2015 to 2016. Despite this strong sense there is a gap on training and education, the problem does not appear to be getting fixed.
Looking across the three studies (2016 results), 34 percent to 41 percent of users said they had taken training in the particular category of technology within the past year. A larger percentage planned to take training in 2017: 50 percent in Laser Scanning, 56 percent in 3D Surveying and 74 percent in GIS. As might be expected, the number of non-users taking training in the past year in any of the three study areas was low. But next to those numbers, the number of non-users planning to take training in laser scanning was double the number who had taken training in the past year, and triple in 3D and GIS.
From the POB Capital Investment study, we were able to see that investment in training and support was on the rise. The percentages of the total training/support budget shifted up or down a little among the choices, but the important fact was the dollar amounts were rising. Third-party training was the most popular at 30 percent of the training/support budget, and spending more than doubled between 2015 and 2016. (The years represent the study year; the budget is projected for the following year.) Web-based training was the second highest budget category at 20 percent, and it saw a 1.5 time increase year on year. Since manufacturer training and support were a separate category, another way to look at the third-party and Web-based training is that neither comes from the manufacturer. Digging down into the desired formats within the three technology-specific studies, it is clear colleges and universities are the least-used resources.
It is difficult to conclude from these limited data whether the professions have reached a crisis mode. With the rapid advances in technology, and changes in process and procedure that comes with those advances, and with the maturity of the land surveying and geospatial professions, it won’t take long to reach that critical state. With many of the responses indicating colleges and universities aren’t adequately preparing the next generation of professionals, at least in the categories examined in these studies, that skill gap may be quietly widening at an alarming rate.