Reflecting on how the changing profession is increasing the surveyor's worth.



Figure 1. Texas RPLS age distribution as of Dec. 31, 2002.
The surveying profession has seen a rise and fall in its worth to society throughout history. The first surveyors are believed to be those who set out the great pyramids and those who chartered new lands. The value of these surveyors' efforts were substantial. Acting as deputies of kings and priests, they helped to carve the new world into patents for sale or loan to increase the wealth of their sovereign. In that period, payment for surveying services was required to obtain land, so surveyors of that day were well-compensated with land, gold and other riches. Some later became leaders in the new world and some even became presidents of the United States of America.

Over time the task and worth of surveying depleted as the supply of surveyors increased but demand for services decreased. In more recent years, however, surveying and mapping technology has advanced greatly, requiring more knowledgeable surveyors to understand advanced technologies. Complex knowledge used in the past in such areas as cartography, astronomy, calculus and geography is not necessary to operate the advanced instruments. However, the value of surveyors in efficiently and effectively utilizing the equipment and carrying out the tasks of completing a survey was-and still is-ever-present. Further, the need for legal knowledge of land specifics and land transfer by surveyors has increased, thereby boosting the value of the surveyor.

Changes continue to be seen in the surveying profession. Currently, the supply of surveyors is decreasing while population growth has increased the demand for surveying services. The knowledge base of surveyors is increasing as well, due in large part to the requirements put upon them. For example, four-year degrees and continuing education requirements are common in many states. Much of this demand is due to the advancement of technology and the increased sophistication of society's demands.

To keep up with these evolutionary shifts, the role of the surveyor has changed-and continues to change. Surveyors are not just needed for land transfer, topographic and as-built surveys anymore. The value of the surveyor's work is gradually increasing, and a concentrated shift in the industry is returning the surveyor to an elite professional status once again.

Figure 2. Number of RPLSs in Texas as of Dec. 31, 2002.

Aging Increases Value

The surveying population has seen numerous changes and improvements, and it continues to age. From studies on the age of the surveyor in the state of Texas over the last few years, it is evident that a large percentage is exiting the profession. The graph in Figure 1 on page 28 illustrates the average surveyor's age in the state of Texas in 2002. The graph in Figure 2 shows surveyors' ages grouped in 2002; the mean age for a registered professional land surveyor (RPLS) in Texas is 54.09 years and the median age is 53 years. The graph in Figure 3 shows the age distribution of surveyors in Texas in 2003. The graph in Figure 4 on page 30 illustrates the surveyor's age in Texas in 2003, and the graph in Figure 5 on page 30 shows surveyors' ages grouped in 2003. The mean age for an RPLS in Texas is 54.21 years and the median age is still 53 years. From 2002 to 2003, a total of 35 surveyors under 40 years old entered the profession, as seen in the graph in Figure 5. Overall, the total number of surveyors from 2002 to 2003 has increased by 140, but of that number 109 are over the age of 50.

Figure 3. Texas RPLS age distribution as of Dec. 31, 2003.
So what does all this mean to those of us currently in the profession? It means that with our aging professionals looking to retirement, the industry will be left with fewer surveyors. Luckily, at least at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, a few more students are choosing surveying as their choice of study. In the recent year, 60 percent of the students entering the Geographic Information Science (GIS) program, a profession with more public exposure due to the rise of digital maps, smart GPS-guided bombs and spy satellites, have switched their majors from GIS to geomatics (surveying). This happens only after the opportunities and details of the profession are described and defined to them. They see the benefits of being able to work both in the office and the field, of owning a business, of opportunities in the government sector, and of working with high-tech, computer-driven products. These opportunities originally attracted the future GIS practitioner, but a surveying career is often seen to offer more professional prospects, such as the possibility to have one's own practice.

Young degreed surveyors realize surveying is a great profession and constantly work to improve their exposure and professionalism. Some of the promotional tools used in surveying help to expose the public to the professional way that surveyors improve the quality of life and preserve the value society has stored in land and real estate. Overall, the trend of fewer surveyors available in the industry and the economic concept of supply and demand in our free market society is increasing the value of the surveyor's work. This gives surveyors the opportunity to increase their fees. By following some smart business guidelines, surveyors can improve the value and deserved worth of their efforts. This can be achieved by proving the value of the surveyor's work in relation to the increased value placed on real estate. The surveyor must prove that he is the professional responsible for maintaining the increased wealth in the client's real estate. By doing so, surveyors can charge appropriate fees for their services and subtly change the public's view of the surveyor.

Figure 4. Number of RPLSs in Texas as of Dec. 31, 2003.

Business Models and Makeups

Surveying businesses come in many sizes and follow multiple business models. Many large surveying practices offer services in all areas related to the profession. One-person operations often specialize in particular services. A large surveying practice of about 50 or more employees is often part of an engineering or mapping company. Ownership of these companies can range from a single controlling owner to a limited partner ownership to multiple shareholders. Some business managers offer ownership to their employees as a means of growth, and employee retention and incentive.

Partnerships are more prevalent within large surveying practices. These business structures consist of two or more individuals who have entered into a joint ownership. Partnership types in large surveying practices range from limited liability to general partnerships, all of which have different tax, liability, control, profit and management requirements.

Figure 5. Increase between 2002-2003 of 140 RPLSs in Texas.
Many surveying companies start as or maintain a sole proprietorship in which the owner is the RPLS. In a small business with a sole proprietor, the owner is ultimately liable for his or her own actions. Assets such as personal savings, home, car and surveying equipment are at risk.

Sole proprietors have the same goal as most companies: to make a profit. Total revenue generated from performing surveying services is based on the fair market value; competition and the economy drive this number upward. The operating cost of a surveying business is made up of multiple factors, including insurance coverage, marketing programs, salaries and wages, overhead and taxes. This cost is difficult to change or reduce. Some owners change this number by reducing their own salaries. The amount left over after operating costs are deducted from total revenue is pure profit. It is the surveyor's goal to increase this amount. There are several ways in which surveying business owners and managers can decrease the overhead costs of the business. Here are some methods:

  • Consult with clients. Some clients never again hear from their surveyors after projects are completed. Many often only get a plat and a bill. Spend time with clients and tell them about their property or property history. Surveyors know the land better than any other professional and proving so could lead to repeat customers or positive word-of-mouth business.
  • Retain employees by making them partners and sharing more of the profits. This will decrease the amount of overhead for both parties and increase business as both employer and employee work together toward a common goal: quality surveys for increased profit. This can prevent employees from leaving to start their own businesses, which can compete with the sole proprietor.
  • Improve technology inventory versus hiring more employees. Employees cost more than a new truck, robotic total station and RTK GPS equipment. Considering taxes, insurance and salary over a short period, the recovery cost on new technology often has larger benefits. Train existing employees to use new technology efficiently.
  • Market your company and your services to the community. People need surveyors and communities needs surveyors' advice. Many surveyors work in their local communities on city committees or for local charity efforts. Good marketing includes sending out press releases to local papers and building (and continuously updating) websites that highlight surveyors' services. Surveying equipment suppliers can help spread the word by announcing contracts awarded to local firms.
  • Make a GIS of projects completed. Since each project has a spatial location, creating a GIS can make record management easier and more cost-effective. It is also a great way to gain experience in GIS work. Some surveyors have scanned in their maps, plats or designs and have them accessible in a GIS.


Continuing the Value of Surveying

Although the surveying profession has experienced great change since its beginning, it remains a profession of great value and unmatched worth. As professionals, surveyors possess and use a great wealth of knowledge, which directly relates to the wealth stored in real estate. While some fear or show concern about the trend toward fewer professionals, the reality is that surveying is necessary and its products necessary for the function of a free market in real estate. Today, the value of surveying services matches the economic demand for high quality spatial information products. With smart business practices, surveying professionals, whether business owners or employees, can charge appropriate fees for their services and maintain a professional standing within the industry and to the public.