Christopher Papesh followed his father Jerry Papesh’s footsteps as a land surveying professional. Today, he is the president and director of land surveying for Geotech Incorporated, in addition to being president of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association. His father was also president of the association, which makes the duo the first father and son to hold the same position.
As the son of a land surveyor, Papesh grew up exposed to the profession, but so many children don’t have that same familiarity with the field. Many may wonder exactly what a land surveyor does, how lucrative the field is and more, which is why early exposure to land surveying is key — especially as the need for surveyors continues to increase. That’s why the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association works hard to promote the profession through a number of youth outreach and recruitment.
“I think getting our foot in with the Illinois School Counselor Association has been very important,” Papesh says. “We now get requests from schools that are doing career fairs or that are doing events where they want somebody to represent us. We’re more or less getting the word out at ground zero with the counselors for the grade schools and high schools.”
As more land surveying professionals are nearing retirement age in the state of Illinois, the demand for new land surveyors is high and the opportunities are ample.
“I think there’s a huge variety of opportunity, whether you want to do traditional land surveying, whether you want to do construction work, whether you want to do some of the newer technologies with laser scanning, drone and LiDAR and those activities such that there just seems like there’s so much demand for all different technologies,” he says.
To provide more information on the state of land surveying in Illinois, Papesh, along with President-Elect Michael Olson, Secretary/Treasurer Caleb Johnson, Directors Ben Christiansen, Bill Fleming, Kevin Krohe and Luke Miller, Past President Norman Ellerbrock, Executive Director Kim Robinson and a few of the past presidents (Derek Twente, Travis Niederhofer, and Tim Murphy) offer insight.
What would you say is the majority type of work available to land surveyors in Illinois?
I would say survey projects of all types are in available in Illinois. Private boundary surveys, engineering surveys, site development surveys and surveys for public utilities and infrastructure seem to be in ample supply. For most, I think the glaring answer is boundary surveying and/or construction layout. However, I think it really depends on the Professional Land Surveyor and their appetite to broaden the services they offer. With the advancement in LiDAR technology and the ability to capture data with UAVs, there is a lot of opportunity for our profession to reap the benefits of the work associated with this technology. While this technology can be used to capture data on more traditional type projects, it also opens up opportunities to work with architects, mechanical contractors, piping designers, etc. Professional Land Surveyors have a better understanding of error analysis and error propagation, giving them a better understanding of how to utilize this technology to get accurate data.
About how large is Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association? How many members? Compared to previous years, is membership growing or staying steady?
Our membership number has remained fairly consistent over the last several years. Our membership hovers around 750-800 and remains steady. At one time, our Association had an approximate 75-85 percent participation rate among licensed land surveyors in Illinois. We are very proud of this within our Association.
Do you measure the ethnic diversity of your membership? Do you have an idea of the percentage makeup?
We do not currently inquire as to the ethnic background in our membership application materials. As such, I would not have an accurate estimate as to our ethnic makeup.
How would you say Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association has grown the most over the years?
In the last 5 years, I would say our biggest growth is in youth outreach and public education. The association has made a concentrated effort to find the next generation of surveyors through career fairs, classroom presentations, guidance counselor/teacher conferences and our internship program. The state’s continuing education requirement made a big difference in IPLSA membership. Some of the local chapters struggle to get members involved and attend meetings, but our annual conference always has a great turnout. I believe leadership plays a huge role in the success of the State Association. The leadership of the IPLSA over the last number of years has been well balanced with members coming from different parts of the state. This allows for a better inclusion of all of the licensed professionals throughout the state because it is not concentrated to one particular area of the state. Having a major metropolitan city within this state creates a situation where the licensed professionals working within the nine counties and collar counties of the City of Chicago, exceed the total number of licensed professionals in the remaining 93 counties of the State of Illinois.
How has that growth benefitted IPLSA members?
I believe that licensed surveyors have come to be more widely viewed as professionals. Our growth has allowed us to offer more member services in terms of technology, educational opportunities and lobbying for advancement of our profession through the legislative process. Successful annual conferences allow IPLSA to continue having them and it keeps the membership active and involved. It has provided a solid financial base, which allows IPLSA to support local programs, universities and the newly developed apprenticeship program. I think moderate returns have been realized in recruiting, but hopefully it is an effort that keeps building on previous years’ work and the returns multiply at an exponential rate. The IPLSA members benefit from the diversity of the leadership because our approach to defending the profession is of the whole of the profession and not just one or two single groups of professionals within the state. Because the State is large in geographical size and in population, certain issues for surveyors in the major cities may not concern the surveyors that are located in the wide-open areas and vice versa. Our executive director has very strong relationships with other licensed professional organizations. This allows for our “footprint” to be much larger than just our profession, when it comes to defending our profession at the state legislative level.
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?
The biggest hurdle to the growth of our profession in Illinois is very similar to that experienced in other states. It is primarily due to the lack of public awareness as to what constitutes the profession of land surveying. Education and training of our support staffs can contribute to the lack of career advancement for those currently in the profession, but lack of public awareness sometimes prevents us from attracting new, high-quality people into land surveying.
What would you say is the marquee survey project that has been completed in Illinois? What would you say is one popular survey project underway in the state at the moment?
The most significant survey project ever completed in Illinois would have to be the Public Land Surveys. It’s the foundation for all property in Illinois. Every land description in the state will reference PLSS somehow. If not directly, the description refers to another form of platted or subdivided land which is tied to it. The highest profile project in our area right now, is the new I74 bridge crossing the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities. It’s a joint project between Iowa & Illinois, constructing two new bridges and re-aligning interstate 74. Accurate surveying is extremely important for the success of these types of projects. It takes a large team of people with lots of knowledge and experience to coordinate a project of this size and to complete it successfully. The planning, surveying and design begins years before construction starts. Surveyors are involved at earliest stages of the project and their roll continues through construction.
Do survey professionals need their license to be involved with the IPLSA?
Absolutely not. There are many opportunities for membership in IPLSA. The State Association is made up of 10 sub-chapters and each chapter has leadership positions where the individuals need to be licensed, however, each of those chapters have activities that are open to any individual with an interest in the profession. We offer Student memberships, field staff memberships as well as affiliated professions memberships all within our Association.
What rules or laws are on the books or up for review would you say threaten the survey profession in Illinois?
There are continuous efforts by the state legislature, driven by other professionals and construction trades throughout the State that try to introduce and pass legislation that limits the requirements of the licensed land surveyor. Whether its attempts to allow other licensed professionals to do similar work that we do or its labor organizations that are trying to divide our profession types of work we provide under the professional license. The IPLSA has a strong leadership with ties to many other professionals which allows us to assist and receive assistance when it comes to defending our profession.
What is the best way for someone to get involved with IPLSA?
Visiting our website at www.iplsa.org is the easiest way to gather information and become involved with IPLSA. Prospective members can also contact the IPLSA staff with any questions. The staff is extremely courteous and knowledgeable. Once a member, the best way to become involved is to attend local chapter meetings and volunteer for committees and participate in discussions.
If you are a surveyor in the state of Illinois, what kind of quality of life (salary, projects, work-life balance) would you say someone can expect?
That will depend on the company you work for and the type of projects you’re on. The construction industry seems to be more lucrative, but it is also more demanding. Construction projects usually have strict schedules, which means you’ll be working longer hours to meet the deadlines. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of work for surveyors in Illinois, so you can work as many hours as you would like, but you should be able to expect a fairly predictable and scheduled lifestyle and make a comfortable living.
What do you think makes Illinois a great state to practice the land surveying profession?
For the moment, Illinois is a well-regulated state in terms of the land surveying and other design professions. Illinois also has a great sense of history associated with land surveying. For the most part, Illinois has a large number of licensed land surveyors who are genuinely dedicated to the profession and who take a great deal of pride in their work. The volume of work is good and we have a very strong association that protects the profession.