Whether you’re interested in beach nourishment or widening a roadway in the mountains, North Carolina’s landscape presents plenty of opportunities for licensed land surveyors.
“There’s an enormous variety of projects you might be doing based on where you are in the state,” says Peter Brennan Jr., president of the North Carolina Society of Surveyors and city surveyor for the city of Wilmington.
If you ask Brennan, the industry has changed significantly in the last few decades — with advances in technology such as drones and laser scanning, in addition to opportunities for varied physical abilities and interests.
The demand for land surveyors is high, Brennan notes, and the North Carolina Society of Surveyors is working hard to recruit the next generation of land surveying professionals.
“One of the most important things is our executive director (Christy Davis) spearheaded an effort to get a score grant and that was done through cooperation with several of the surrounding regional partners with other societies,” Brennan says.
While the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (NCEES) did not award the grant, this effort led to the NCEES administering the plan to recruit surveying candidates in-house. They are working on a marketing plan to recruit talent from under-represented communities.
The four-year degree geomatics program, which prepares students for life as a hydrographic surveyor, boundary surveyor, surveying and mapping manager and more, is housed at the historically black North Carolina A&T, Brennan says. In order to further target minority areas and raise awareness of the profession, the organization is also talking to a nonprofit organization for a workforce training program.
The NCSS offers student and associate memberships. Student memberships are free and associate memberships are deeply discounted. By joining the North Carolina Society of Surveyors, students can network, learn about the profession and develop their careers.
And it’s a fulfilling career to have, Brennan says.
“Surveying is not necessarily what we do. It’s really who we are,” he says. “If somebody wants a profession where they can be passionate about their work, and they can grow in a career — there’s a lot of jobs that you can get, but this can really, really be a career for people who want to grow professionally because there is, particularly now, so much opportunity.”
To offer more insight on the state of surveying in North Carolina, Brennan, along with past NCSS president Chad Howard, survey division manager at Taylor Wiseman & Taylor, weigh in.
What would you say is the majority type of work available to land surveyors in North Carolina?
Currently, North Carolina has a great balance of public and private sector work. The state is experiencing continued population growth. People are moving in from all over the country to take advantage of the numerous career opportunities, a comparably low cost of living, and great quality of life. This has led to a housing boom, which keeps many of our surveyors busy.
Recently, there has been a cutback in transportation expenditures by the North Carolina State Department of Transportation. While this has impacted many firms, the increase in construction of hospitals, railroads and large pharmaceutical and technology firms is filling in the void.
About how large is North Carolina Society of Surveyors? How many members? Compared to previous years, is membership growing or staying steady?
The North Carolina Society currently has 1,085 members. Despite large numbers of retiring surveyors, we have been growing year after year. The pandemic has had a negative impact on student and associate memberships, but we expect these to rebound as colleges begin meeting in person and NCSS educational opportunities expand.
Professional membership continues to increase, with many new members citing the Society’s legislative successes as the reason they are supporting the Society.
Do you measure the ethnic diversity of your membership? Do you have an idea of the percentage makeup?
North Carolina Agricultural & Technology State University (A&T) is home to North Carolina’s only Geomatics Bachelors program. It's a Historically Black College (HBCU), which provides faculty an opportunity to recruit a diverse group of students.
The Society is currently establishing relationships with non-profits to support their efforts to develop workplace skills that survey firms are looking for.
How would you say NCSS has grown the most over the years?
As mentioned before, our legislative successes can be directly tied to an increase in professional membership. Over the past few years, we have played a role in:
a. During pandemic restrictions, surveyors were named as an essential business.
b. Qualified immunity for surveyors matching engineers acting in emergency response.
c. Fair Contracting Act, which projects Surveyors from having to defend the negligence of other parties.
d. Rewrite of GS 47-30 the mapping law. The rewrite clarified several issues and modernized language to reflect the current state of the surveying industry.
e. Statute of Repose limiting a surveyor’s maximum liability
f. Specialty License Plates. A portion of the fees for the “Following in Their Footsteps” plates go to support the NCSS Education Foundation.
The Society strives to be a service-oriented association. Staff makes a point to take every phone call possible and respond to every email promptly.
The Society consistently looks for ways to expand services and value to membership. Examples include:
g. Access to a database of over 12,000 unrecorded maps from retired and deceased surveyors.
h. Quality education programs that focus on skills and knowledge surveyors need today. Many of these are available online. The most notable of these is the Certified Floodplain Surveyor Certification. Upon successful completion of this course, a North Carolina Professional Surveyor can have a LOMR application fast-tracked.
How has that growth benefitted NCSS members?
In addition to being able to afford to provide many of the benefits previously discussed, increased membership has given us a stronger voice with our legislators. We are viewed as a serious and active professional association. This has given us a stronger voice and has helped achieve legislative success.
What do you think is affecting the growth of the land surveying profession in general the most? Lack of awareness? Training? Lack of Education? Technology? Or do you think the profession is growing in other ways?
Land surveying is an aging profession and we are losing surveyors to retirement every year. Although there are a lot of opportunities for anyone interested in spatial sciences such as GIS, BIM scanning, and drones, some people engaged in these services don’t identify as surveyors. Our challenge will be to incorporate these services and expand the identity of a “surveyor.”
What would you say is the marquee survey project that has been completed in North Carolina? What would you say is one popular survey project underway in the state at the moment?
I would have to say that the marquee survey project that has been completed is the moving of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. At 200 feet tall, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the world. In the summer of 1999, it was moved 2,900 feet to a location safe from the erosive forces of the ocean.
The move may not have been possible without the know-how and ingenuity of surveyor Bill Owen and his staff at Seaboard Surveying and Planning. It’s an amazing engineering feat and I would encourage anyone interested in learning more to read “Moving a Piece of History” by Vicki Speed in the December 1999 issue of POB!
One of the most exciting projects that is currently underway in North Carolina is The Dorothea Dix Park. Dix Park is a 308-acre site with a complex history. It has historically been indigenous hunting land, an antebellum era plantation and most recently a mental hospital.
Now through a public private partnership, this land will be transformed into an amazing park with spaces with trails for running, hiking, and biking. There will also be splash pads for the young and dog parks. The park will feature fountains, public art, grand plazas, and gardens. Visitors will see this site be transformed into an amazing space for relaxation and play.
Of course surveyors will be there the whole way, providing boundary and topographic surveys, construction layout, as-builts and just about any data acquisition services needed to build such a wonderful facility.
Do survey professionals need their license to be involved with the NCSS?
Survey professionals do not need a license to be involved with NCSS. In fact, we are always looking for ways to increase involvement from non-licensed individuals. We have various levels of memberships including associate memberships with a significantly reduced membership fee. We also have free memberships for students to encourage involvement early in one’s career. NCSS also provides training programs throughout the year specifically geared towards skill building and exam preparation. Additionally, the Society promotes the Certified Survey Technician program created by NSPS and proctors exams throughout the year.
What rules or laws are on the books or up for review would you say threaten the survey profession in North Carolina?
One of the biggest concerns at present is pending bills that will weaken experience requirements for applicants who do not have a surveying-related college degree. Currently, there is a greater need for surveying services than we can meet. One of the proposed remedies is to lower experience requirements. Based on the exam success statistics, it is unlikely that this will be effective. Most candidates without formal education fail the exam. Passage of this bill may lead to technicians foregoing an education if they perceive that the education will not reduce the amount of time until licensure.
Another proposed bill eliminates the requirement for licensed surveyors moving in from other states to take the North Carolina specific exam. One major concern with this bill, is that local candidates still must pass the North Carolina exam. The North Carolina state specific exam has topics that other states may not test for, such as hydrology. This is believed to put North Carolina candidates at a disadvantage in their own state.
What is the best way for someone to get involved with NCSS?
The best way to get involved is to start with the NCSS website. There is a great deal of information that is available to nonmembers. Most importantly is the “contact us” section. If you are considering attending a local or state meeting, need training opportunities, or desire to become a member, we would love to hear from you. At the State level, there are committees that would welcome new members. Committee involvement is a great way to learn how the Society functions and what role might suit you best.
If you are a surveyor in the state of North Carolina, what kind of quality of life (salary, projects, work-life balance) would you say someone can expect?
Surveyors are in high demand in North Carolina. This demand is reflected in the salaries being paid. A surveyor employed in North Carolina can expect to be involved in exciting projects using modern technology. On your days off you can spend the day at the beach, hike to a waterfall, see a NASCAR race or attend a college basketball game and witness some of the most intense rivalries in sports. Access to world class health care and clean, modern cities are just a few of the things that make North Carolina special.
What do you think makes North Carolina a great state to practice the land surveying profession?
First and foremost is the weather. North Carolina has extremely mild winters allowing survey work all year long. It can be hot and humid in the summers, but we get lots of sunny days. The economy has been very good. There is substantial growth occurring with no signs of slowing. For those who love to work outside, the terrain varies from farms to forest and from wooded mountains to beautiful beaches. No matter where you chose to practice in the state, you can find a lifestyle that suits you. We have small quaint towns, bustling cities, and everything in-between. There’s so much opportunity, whether you are involved in scanning, hydrographic, boundary or construction staking, there’s varied and interesting projects where you can apply your skills or develop new ones. There are reasons North Carolina is the ninth most populated state and has the third highest number of surveyors. It’s a great place to be a surveyor, and surveyors want to be here.
One of the most exciting projects that is currently underway in North Carolina is the Dorothea Dix Park, situated in downtown Raleigh. Dix Park is a 308-acre site with a complex history. It has historically been indigenous hunting land, an antebellum era plantation and most recently a mental hospital. Now through a public private partnership, this land will be transformed into an amazing park with spaces with trails for running, hiking and biking. There will also be splash pads for the young and dog parks. The park will feature fountains, public art, grand plazas, and gardens. Visitors will see this site be transformed into an amazing space for relaxation and play.Of course surveyors will be there the whole way, providing boundary and topographic surveys, construction layout, as-builts and just about any data acquisition services needed to build such a wonderful facility.