Editor's Note"Professionalism" starts with integrity. Personal integrity is the foundation for education and experience. When a person with integrity achieves higher education and then learns from experiencing the job firsthand, that person is well-equipped to be the [type of] professional that [he or she has] worked so hard to become. The financier Warren Buffet once said, "In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you." To maintain professional status, one must consider ethics. Without ethics, our profession is doomed. Land surveyors should be reminded that the mighty oak was once a little nut that stood its ground.
Gregory C. Sebourn, LSIT
Future PerspectivesPerhaps I lack the political wisdom of carrying on the great lie of the surveying trade, and I expect to be chastised by some surveyors for what I am about to share in this letter. I have been a licensed surveyor in the state of Michigan for almost 20 years. I have never considered surveying to be a profession, but an unregulated trade of wannabe professionals. The mentality seems to be in the trade of surveying: "I can legally call myself a professional surveyor, therefore the public must perceive me to be one."
I use my surveying license and business as an ancillary service to my other companies, which include municipal engineering, construction and land development. I became painfully aware that I could not make a decent living by practicing land surveying in my area of the state unless I was willing to ignore all the rules. I have copies of more than 12 major complaints filed on licensed surveyors from my geographic area. These well-documented complaints were for gross negligence, fraud, deceit, dishonesty, incompetence and operating without a valid license. As for the outcome of these complaints"¦ let me quote what a licensing board member said at a complaint hearing: "I can't see punishing the accused for just having a bad day." I have yet to observe a surveyor be disciplined, fined or have his license revoked. Yet in the other licensed trades that I am involved with, those respective licensing boards are constantly weeding out the inept, incompetent and crooked. Perhaps the licensure requirements to become a surveyor in our state are so stringent that the undesirable individuals never make it through the licensing process in the first place?
In his article, the author talks about supply and demand and possibly eliminating uneducated surveyors from practice. My mentor in surveying and past business partner does not have a college education, yet I learned more from him than any professor with a PhD could ever teach me in a lifetime regarding proper boundary survey and retracement. In rebuttal to the author's comment about un-educated surveyors remaining licensed, all of the complaints that I have knowledge of were filed on surveyors with a college education.
In a free economy state, supply and demand does dictate prices and a return on investment. But not so in the surveying trade when some firms base their business plan on high volume and totally unsupervised work. How many professionals (such as doctors, dentists, attorneys, architects, engineers and accountants) would have had their doors locked by their respective licensing boards for practicing in absentia and allowing their un-licensed employees to do the work unsupervised? The "Standard of the Trade" and the price compensation is set by your competition. I suggest that you come to my geographic area and try to explain to our local realtors what a just professional fee is for quality work. Remember, he with the reputation of the lowest fee will have the most volume of work.
Until such time as licensing boards hold surveyors accountable and enforce the current occupational codes, the trade will continue to degrade no matter what we choose to call ourselves. Have you ever met a professional plumber or a professional electrician? How can they make higher wages than professional surveyors? If surveyors want to become professionals and obtain professionals fees we must hold our licensing boards accountable. Incompetent and crooked surveyors must be removed from practice. Also, more stringent rules and enforcement regarding direct supervision would result in higher fees based on supply and demand economics.
Journeyman electricians, plumbers, HVAC [and] automotive technicians [can] make an annual wage in excess of $60,000 before they reach age 30. What is the mean income for a proprietor of a surveying firm located in Michigan? That is an eye-opener as to how pitiful the surveying trade has become. The journeyman was paid a very good wage while he was an apprentice learning his trade. He did not accumulate a debt of $50,000 or more to become educated and lose four to five years of wages while doing so. To the surveying student: by the time you obtain the education and experience required to become licensed, the journeyman will have earned $250,000 more than you will have made and he will probably be making about $20,000 more a year than you will be-and he will not have an educational debt to amortize. I recommend to the students in the surveying schools to quit listening to the platitudes of their educators and take a real close look at what their talents could provide them if they chose another trade.
Surveying will always be in my blood; my seventh great-grandfather came to this continent to survey the land for King James. His grandson, who was also a surveyor, helped start and lead our revolution. Perhaps by speaking out against our inept licensing board I can help start the revolution that is needed in the surveying field to make it a true profession. I, as a sovereign citizen of this great country that my ancestors helped create, cannot make a living by practicing land surveying because the licensing board in our state has not held surveyors accountable. I welcome letters in this publication from other surveyors regarding the enforcement issues or the lack of, and how it has affected their livelihood.
Thomas H. Sage, PE, PS
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