Cause and effect: perception and pay

Our profession has come a long way………………I think.

During my first year in the surveying profession, the legal drinking age was 19, so I went to a bar with the crew on my birthday. There it was—printed on a matchbook cover: Learn to Be a Surveyor; Earn BIG PAY. A technical school was advertising their surveying program on matchbooks.

I can’t imagine many of us came into this profession because we read such an advertisement at a bar. At my naïve age of 19, this even caused me to assume the taverns of America were the primary recruitment sites for surveyors. It turned out that this was not true. But, an ad on a matchbook cover? They still do this for truck drivers and plumbers, you know.

So, it seems to me that we have come a long way as to how people come into our profession. Many states have a four-year degree requirement. Others have a positive education requirement that does not include a degree. More than half the states have enacted mandatory continuing education requirements. And many of the state boards have taken on much more aggressive investigation and discipline of the profession. These things excite me. I know that in most cases these changes are not perfect, but they are in the right direction.

But perhaps even more important is the perception we have of ourselves. I know a few surveyors who believe the profession should have stuck with the matchbook approach. One surveyor testified last year to his state legislature that surveying did not really need to be tested or licensed since it was all done by computers now. Scary. There are still those with a very non-professional perception of this profession. And it hurts us.

When I consider the gamut of knowledge we are supposed to have to be a successful member of the surveying profession, I am amazed and humbled. Think of it: we must understand history, legal principles, statutory law, case law, administrative law, science, nature, mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, business, personnel management, marketing and client relations. When you expand on each of these subjects, you end up with a set of skills and knowledge that go far beyond what a school, mentoring or practical experience could teach individually. It requires a heavy dose of all three.

The wording on the matchbook still intrigues me: earn BIG PAY? Seems to me that part never really happened. And perhaps the reason for this is tied to the previous argument. Is it possible that our own perception of our profession has the power to make or break our income levels?

How might our self-perception influence the society around us to not recognize what we really do? Consider the impact of some of us who never learn how to effectively communicate in a written or oral forum. What message do we send if our only marketing strategy is to bad mouth our competition and offer a low-ball price? How does our failure to identify and explain boundary conflicts sway the public perception of surveying? And how much weight does the profession carry when five monuments lie in a 1-foot circle, all claiming to be the same corner? Just like the image portrayed by the matchbook ad, the actions by some in the industry can portray a perception we may not like. For that, we all pay the price.

I did not come into this profession because of a matchbook in a bar. But, I learned very quickly that this great profession is very misunderstood by the public. And I have often wondered if many of the public’s misperceptions are the results of our own actions or inactions. I encourage you to consider your own perception of this profession and make some positive changes if needed.

If we really work together, the BIG PAY just might follow.