Education and training for surveyors.

In recent years, the education and training for field- and office-based surveyors have become increasingly important issues for the profession and for the business of surveying. As the industry transforms, the profession as a whole strives to be proactive in developing the principles that will guide its members into the future. Due to the rapid influx of technologies, and the requirement of surveyors to master the application of these technologies to provide accurate information and secure data management, education and training have become subjects of strong focus. The expanding nature of the profession, now often called "geomatics," further compounds the importance of surveyor education and training. The field of geomatics today includes a variety of disciplines, each involving significantly advanced technologies and requiring significantly advanced skills. These areas include surveying and mapping, remote sensing, GIS and GPS.

Every state has mandated a certain level of initial education and skill to become licensed as a surveyor. As many as 38 out of the 50 states now require continuing education following licensure. This requirement also pertains to those practitioners who are not licensed but are employed within the profession. Project surveyors require their party chiefs to be highly competent in the knowledge of equipment, computations, management and communication. Party chiefs require their instrument and rod staff to be competent in equipment usage, coding procedures, vegetation identification, and more. Thus, it is widely recognized that there are several levels of education that those in the surveying profession and the surveying business need to succeed.

But how do surveyors initially learn the mathematics, science and art of surveying? And how do surveyors maintain this knowledge and keep it up-to-date? Further, how do surveyors obtain and maintain technological expertise and skills in the highly sophisticated instrumentation they are expected to use on a regular basis?

I have learned from my experiences teaching at George Mason University that education is defined as something inherently different from training. Any one person may need multiple sources in order to attain both properly. I think we would all agree that a surveyor who can compute a vertical curve using a computer but cannot compute one using the tangent/offset or parabolic curve equation makes us uneasy. Education allows one to understand the formulas behind vertical curve computations, while skill is used to obtain the solution on the computer. In most cases, surveyors need both to succeed. If we extend this example to parallel the knowledge surveyors need of advanced field equipment, software offerings and other demands, we understand further the need for both efficient education and effective training.

Several sources are available that serve different levels of the educational and training demands placed upon surveying professionals. Universities and colleges are in the primary business of providing education. Technical training centers and manufacturer resellers generally provide training for skills acquisition. And partnerships exist that strive to do both.


Seeking an example of a solid partnership that provides for training and education, I learned about the Virginia Association of Surveyors (VAS) Surveyor Apprenticeship Program and spoke with an instructor there named Richard (Dick) O. Spencer, a land surveyor since 1956. Spencer has been an instructor for the VAS Surveyor Apprenticeship Program for 32 years and says the program offers an excellent opportunity for education.

The VAS program combines education and training in a unique way. It is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, and consists of 90 percent training and 10 percent education for the future surveyor. The program represents a partnership between employers and employees: employers sign a contract that presents an educational opportunity to employees for on-the-job training. It is a statewide program that costs about $450 per year per student. The cost of the program is to the employee/student, but if he or she completes the program successfully, the employer reimburses the employee. In the program, the employee dedicates himself or herself to working as a surveyor party chief, or assistant or instrument operator, and invests 10,000 hours over a period of five years to learn the skills required to be a surveyor, either in the office, in the field or (preferably) both. Simultaneously, he or she invests three hours one night per week for 32 weeks per year for four to five years, depending on the need for fundamental courses. Students can test out of the first two years of courses if they are sufficiently qualified.

The VAS Surveyor Apprenticeship Program began in the 1960s as a survey party chief apprenticeship program. An educational aspect dedicated to the office staff was added to the program, which allowed participants to earn an Engineering Aid Certificate. These two aspects were eventually combined into the current Surveyor Apprenticeship Program. Since 90 percent of the curriculum is job-based, Spencer feels that this program is more strongly suited for a person working in the field that has a goal toward becoming licensed than for a full-time student. On average, 25 students enroll each year with 10 or more graduating annually. These graduates typically report receiving promotions on the job due to their advanced training and education.

Upon completion of the apprenticeship program (or one of the local university programs), surveyors may be qualified to take the land surveyor in training (LSIT) exam if they have earned enough experience on the job. After passing the LSIT exam, they can then progress to an advanced work level (like party chief) until they attain licensure.

A graduate of the VAS Surveyor Apprenticeship program, Vickie McEntire is currently working as the county surveyor for Fairfax County. She came into the program with some prior education from the Wake Technical Community College (Raleigh, N.C.) Survey-ing Technology program. After completion of the VAS Apprenticeship Program, she achieved her LSIT and professional license as a land surveyor. "The VAS Apprenticeship program is the only place in the Northern Virginia region where up-and-coming surveyors can obtain a well-rounded survey education," she says. "The program is important to the continuing health of the profession in Virginia."

As an instructor, Spencer has noticed that over the past 10 to 20 years there has been an increased emphasis on solving "professional problems" as opposed to solving computational problems. His observation reveals that the business of surveying has been an increasing priority for surveyors. Several university courses for surveying curriculums now include business law, management, economics and finance, along with written and verbal communication skills.

Continuing Education

Once a surveyor is out of the initial training and education mode and is licensed and practicing, continuing education becomes a relevant matter. Although continuing education courses are offered through a variety of providers including manufacturer-certified training centers, professional surveying societies and others, there are not an overwhelming number of avenues in which one can take for continuing education. It may require some seeking to find continuing education courses of interest and applicability.

State Requirements

Numerous states require surveyors to obtain continuing education; arguably, this idea has significant merit in a time of constantly changing technologies. Harry Jenkins, a land surveyor licensed in four states and a director of surveys for VIKA, a multi-office company in the Mid-Atlantic, says he must show proof of continuing education in half of the states he maintains certification with in order to renew his license. "Continuing education is about keeping up with what is going on and it pertains more to knowledge than it does to skill." Maryland, his home state, maintains high credentials for the education applicable toward license renewal and includes such things as Outcome Based Education requirements where surveyors must prove they have achieved the level of knowledge objectives of a taken class through testing or some other outcome based method. A basic class on learning how to use a piece of surveying equipment would likely not fulfill these educational qualifications.

Training Centers and Reseller Seminars

Manufacturer-certified training centers exist in most states and offer manufacturer-certified skill attainment. These providers include educational institutions that have achieved manufacturer certification as well as proprietary organizations that employ industry experts. They also include manufacturers' dealers who have a vested interest in servicing the products they sell. These organizations hire highly qualified individuals who go through rigorous testing procedures and qualification reviews.

Some of these outfits strictly offer training, which can include classes in equipment use and calibration, or the application of instruments and software. These classes may or may not satisfy continuing education requirements for license renewals depending on the course content. For instance, when providing training on software that performs traverse balancing, road design or data preparation, well-prepared courses also include the manual computational methods behind these automated algorithms. Such a course would likely pass the scrutiny of the regulating bodies for fulfillment of continuing education requirements.

Dave Reitmeyer, owner of equipment reseller PPS Inc. in Saxonburg, Pa., shared information on what seminars and training his company offers. The staff at this company includes people who are both professionally licensed as well as survey and construction experts from the field. PPS Inc. has invested heavily in both its indoor and outdoor training facilities. Its course offerings support pre-sale, initial after-sale and refresher courses. The classroom seats 12 to 18 people depending on the equipment or workstations needed for the event. There is a raised stage for the instructor, high-speed Internet access and a surround sound stereo system with overhead projector. The class content ranges from seminars with nationally known speakers to live instructors and WebEx (live interactive training sessions).

Education and Training for Transition

The profession and the business of surveying are perhaps in more flux now than ever before. Surveyors are transitioning into new and different roles. To develop the profession's health and productivity, surveyors must invest in fundamental and continuing education and training. I recommend that surveyors develop a methodical approach toward achieving a regular update on the training and educational aspects of the industry as it evolves and expands.

Sidebar: Surveying Education Sources

  • Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (
  • American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (
  • National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (
  • National Society of Professional Surveyors (