Career Notes: Incentivizing Employee Success in Surveying Firms
When Jennifer Marks, LS, became a licensed surveyor and joined BL Companies 25 years ago, she was only the eighth hire. Now, the Meriden, Conn.-based, architecture, engineering, environmental and land surveying firm employs 250 people. Marks, who serves as executive director of survey services for the company, has worked her way up and watched the business grow to include 13 locations across the Northeast and Texas. She is licensed in nine states and she calls BL Companies a one-stop shop for land development, public infrastructure and energy consulting needs. The surveying division is very active in energy, including substations, electric transmission lines and undeground distribution lines. Marks says the Connecticut Department of Transportation is one of the company’s largest clients and that her team mainly takes on largescale projects — not residential.
Marks worked for several other smaller and mid-sized companies after graduating from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in geology and a minor in cartography. One thing she admires about BL Companies is that it is employee owned. “So everybody has skin in the game to make our company successful. That’s why we take leadership development very seriously and we feel everybody at the company contributes in some way toward leadership in their daily interactions,” she says.
The business offers a leadership development program to employees, which Marks views as an effective way to foster healthy employee interaction, and respectful internal and external conduct. She also takes professional development very seriously. With respect to the surveying profession, she highlights two levels: the four-year degree requirement and apprenticeships. She recognizes that a shortage of individuals are becoming licensed surveyors and thinks opening up more pathways to the profession could be helpful.
Marks values higher education, pointing out that so much can be learned about critical thinking, problem solving and writing. At the same time, she views surveying as, historically, an apprenticeship profession. One idea she shares is making higher education a requirement for those who want to rise up to business management as a surveyor and opening up apprenticeship as a pathway for those who may want to focus on fieldwork and/or CAD work, for example, and may not be interesrted in entrepreneurship, and contract and proposal writing. “I’m a proponent of a four-year degree, but it can’t be exclusive. We need to have pathways for others,” Marks says.
Another topic she has spent a lot of time thinking about is professional development, which she is a proponent of. The problem she sees with professional development is that, in many cases, the topics are limited. She offers up an example of a technician wanting to take a Microsoft Excel course, suggesting that it count as profesional development. “I would just like a wider range of topics acceptable,” she says. “Many states say it has to be a boundary course or it has to be a survey technology course, versus contract writing, risk management, leadership development; a wider, broader range of topics that could fulfill your professional development credits.”
POB: What path did you take to end up where you are today?
MARKS: It was a little per chance. I was a geology major. I didn’t have a job when I got out of school. I went to Wisconsin because my husband-to-be was in grad school out there. I just went out looking for a job one day and ended up finding a surveying company that offered me a job that day. I took the job and when it started to get slow went out with the surveyors and really loved it. My love of the outdoors, map capabilities, combining history and then the mapmaking; fitting all these pieces together was something I really enjoyed and I just stuck with it ever since then.
POB: What did you want to accomplish when you were first getting started?
MARKS: After learning the profession and all the pieces that go with it, I did know very early on that I would want to get licensed. Also, when I started, CAD was just coming into the profession and I wanted to get involved in the electronic drawings and computer end of things. When I first started it was all hand drafting.
POB: Which of those accomplishments have you achieved at this point?
MARKS: Throughout my career I’ve been very hands on in staying up with the technology. Today I don’t sit here and produce CAD plans. I still have working knowledge and can get in and do things. So I do believe staying up with the technology has been important. I’m at a bigger company now so I have lots of people who are really knee deep in the technology and I’m more trying to run the business of it and hoping we’re making some money to fuel our employee ownership here at BL.
POB: What have you done that wasn’t on that list or may be a bit unexpected given where you thought you would go?
MARKS: I’ve become very involved in industry associations. I can’t say I actually contemplated that, but I was the president of the Connecticut Association of Land Surveyors and very involved in the whole board of directors of that organization for many years. Most recently, I’m very involved with CREW (commercial real estate women) and I was the president of that last year. So branching out into the industry and promoting women, not only surveyors, in a larger role within real estate, construction, infrastructure and all of that. I’m a member of Professional Women in Construction as well.
POB: What has been your most significant career lesson?
MARKS: You need to be honest. Conduct yourself with integrity. When something’s not right, you’ve got to make it right … being an advocate for the team and being upfront with clients.
POB: What advice would you offer someone who is still at the early stages of their career in surveying?
MARKS: I would say take every opportunity that’s put in front of you. Be proactive for yourself. Our technology is changing all of the time. Don’t be afraid of technology and the changes; embrace it. And work hard.
Jennifer Marks, LS, is executive director of survey services for BL Companies, a firm headquartered in Meridian, Conn. Marks is licensed in nine states and is celebrating 25 years as a professional surveyor. She is a past president of the Connecticut Association of Land Surveyors, and is a member of CREW (commercial real estate women) and Professional Women in Construction (PWC). Marks can be reached at JMarks@blcompanies.com.
Career Notes is a regular feature in POB magazine that aims to help surveyors learn from how others work. To share your story in a future issue, please email Managing Editor Valerie King at firstname.lastname@example.org.