Unfortunately, most people don’t even know surveying exists, so they don’t consider it as a career option or future direction, according to TJ Frazier, LS. The immediate past president of the Maryland Society of Surveyors (MSS) and office manager of Precision Measurements Inc. says an important part of combating this trend is reaching out to the general public, so he is addressing the challenge head on as chair of the MSS Workforce Development Committee. “If our numbers continue to shrink, I think our ability to stand as an independent profession could be in jeopardy,” Frazier explains.
The committee was inspired by an initiative launched by the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), appropriately named Workforce Development. It is one of many ways the national organization is hoping state associations across the country will work to ensure a bright future for surveying. According to NSPS, “workforce development is a broad issue, which will not be successful if only one organization or a few people are involved.” The group defines workforce development as identifying and preparing those who will perpetuate the surveying profession and other geospatial activities. Among those activities, identifying educational, training and mentoring opportunities is listed. This is exactly what MSS is doing; so far, so good.
On its workforce development Web page, NSPS encourages state associations to start by contacting their state career and technical education (CTE) offices, along with their local workforce boards. The page includes links to lists of the agencies in each state and sample letters that can be sent to the agencies. The sample letters express the vital role surveying plays in society, the challenge it faces in fostering a healthy future, and asks that the CTE office or workforce board reply with any ideas as to how they can help.
MSS embraced this suggestion and sent a letter to the Maryland State Department of Education in mid-2016. The department responded quickly, in just two days, and was willing to set up a meeting, so Frazier and John Palatiello, MAPPS executive director, made the trip to the department’s headquarters where they were advised to reach out directly to local departments across the state. Frazier explains that in Maryland the career and technical education offices are tied to the school systems, while the workforce development boards are a part of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Frazier shared the information with the rest of MSS, encouraging its chapters to launch outreach campaigns using the sample letter as he had on a more local level. Bryan Haynie, LS, the chair of the MSS Baltimore chapter and vice president of Century Engineering Inc., was the first to reach out to local contacts and his actions culminated into a pilot project with the city of Baltimore this year. “I emailed the letter down to the Baltimore Mayor’s office of Employment Development (MOED) and I got a response almost immediately from them. I think it was within a day or two they responded that they were very interested and wanted to set up a meeting,” Haynie says. “The following week we were meeting with them.”
Frazier says the office has been off and running with the idea ever since; in fact, they were more eager than he imagined. The workforce contacts within the MOED helped MSS coordinate a plan by reaching out to the school system. “I’m going over all of this in my head saying we’re going to get all this stuff together thinking we’re going to kick it off the following school year, so basically a year from that point,” Frazier says. “They said ‘No. We want to roll this out in the spring semester…’ They were ready to rock and roll with it and that’s what we did.”
The pilot project, named the Future Surveyors Program, was something MSS and MOED planned throughout the fall and into the winter of 2016. It officially started with the MOED creating a flyer and giving it to Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School (Mervo) teachers, who passed them on to students already participating in existing CTE programs like engineering, construction and CAD.
Next, the group of 50 to 60 interested students gathered in the gymnasium of Mervo in February for a presentation on what surveying is and what tools it utilizes. After listening to the oral presentation, students were given the opportunity to walk around to different stations where they were introduced to CAD, a robotic total station, a 3D laser scanner, and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone. MSS also recruited someone with Maryland’s Department of Information Technology to discuss geographic information systems (GIS).
After the presentation, students who wanted to learn more about the surveying profession were invited to apply to the Future Surveyors Program. Their application included a letter stating why they were interested; a math test; and a formal, in-person interview with a member of MOED and two professional surveyors.
By March, MSS and MOED were reviewing a narrowed-down candidates list. Once program participants were selected, they started with mentorships. Students were paired with interested private- and public-sector surveyors. The first job shadowing day exposed students, all high school seniors, to the office side of surveying, including CAD and deed research. The second job shadowing day in early June gave students a sense of the field side of surveying.
Then, in late June, after their high school graduation, a five-week internship kicked off. Immediately after the internship ends, on July 29, the students will particiapate in a certified survey technician (CST) exam prep course. Finally, a week later they will take their CST level 1 exam. After the pilot Future Surveyors Program has concluded, the students who successfully complete it will be invited to the fall MSS meeting. Not only will the students have the opportunity to complete a “technicians” track at the conference; they will be recognized in front of the attendees representing surveying firms across Maryland. If they are still interested in a career in surveying and have not been officially hired by their intern host, attendance at the conference will give them the chance to network and potentially connect with an employer.
“They’ve gone through a process just to get in and if they stick with it and do the internship through the summer and prove themselves, and pass the CST level 1, I think they become fairly marketable people at that point,” Frazier says. “They’re not experienced party chiefs, but at that point they will have shown a level of commitment and interest in surveying in having gone through an internship. … I think that shows a pretty good level of interest and commitment on their behalf to the potential employers out there rather than me as an employer just going to the street or putting an ad in the newspaper and pulling somebody in that may or may not have any interest in surveying.”
Only six students participated in the pilot workforce development project initiated by MSS, but keeping it small during the test phase was important, and coordinators wanted to make sure they only accepted as many students into the Future Surveyors Program as there were mentors. “We’re hoping to expand it next year to bring in more employer participation as well as student participation,” Haynie says.
When it comes to participation, Frazier says that surveyors are their own biggest problem in that they aren’t known for getting out, touting and publicizing their profession; but they have to get out of that in order support the future of surveying. The fact that what setbacks they faced in the Future Surveyors Program pilot came from lack of participation on the part of professional surveyors, not state and local partners, suggests that surveyors need to step outside of their comfort zones. Speaking in front of crowds can be intimidating and launching comprehensive programs like this one can seem daunting, Frazier admits. His advice is to just jump in and do it, and he has been working to help those who want to do more get past the anxiety like he and Haynie have.
“This is one of the first efforts like this that I’m aware of in the country and I think it’s been successful so far. I see no reason to think it won’t go through and be a success by the time we reach the end of the project,” Frazier says. “To see this or something similar across the country would be great for surveying.”
MSS is more than happy to help other state surveying associations that want to take on workforce development. They are willing to share the template of their pilot project so that it can be mirrored, tweaked or simply used as a reference. That said, something Frazier makes a point of telling everyone is to do it, but to be ready to hit the ground running.
“Send the letter and see what happens,” he says, “but be ready because you probably will get a response and you will get interest. And if you do, then it’s up to us to do what Bryan did, to put together that local group of support in whatever county or area you’re working in to help support this. Because without that, without those mentors and intern hosts in Bryan’s chapter and the Baltimore area, this wouldn’t work.”