Wesley G. Crawford is a professor of building construction management at Purdue University.
Historically, surveyors have been highly respected individuals in their communities, known to have a deep understanding of the technical aspects of the profession. They were the ones who often had the greatest understanding of the mathematical and even physical sciences in their communities. One only needs to look back at some of the great American leaders who were surveyors to realize the significance and respect that their surveying skills and knowledge commanded in their lives.

For the past five years, I have had the opportunity to write articles for POB in a “Back to Basics” column on surveying. I also present seminars around the country on surveying basics where I have met hundreds of fine surveyors who, indeed, are highly respected individuals in our profession and in their communities—and in the mold of our predecessors. I am heartened by the professionalism I see in these men and women—young and old, experienced and inexperienced—who are today’s leaders, or future leaders, of our surveying society.

There is, however, one issue that concerns me, and probably reflects on why I write and speak on the basics. I have observed that some individuals who have entered our profession since the advent of electronic measurement and electronic calculation in the past 10 to 15 years have become principally button pushers on the total stations, calculators and computers that have become an integral part of our profession. These people have developed a dependency on the programming in these machines without having developed a thorough understanding of all that encompasses the world of surveying, and most specifically, the basics.

These people have not yet developed fundamental surveying knowledge of why measurements are performed at least twice, why it is necessary to keep complete field notes, how to maintain equipment and keep it clean, or even how to communicate information properly on stakes. They do not know where the layout numbers originate, as they are too often simply handed a printout and told to go lay it out, or have been told to follow the program without knowing what is being entered.

So, what do we do about the lack of basics we encounter? First, training at the most fundamental level—on the job—must be re-instated. Registered surveyors need to know what is going on in the field and need to closely supervise the field operations with a commitment to teaching good, solid measurement methods to those entering the profession. I realize everyone isn’t a professional teacher, but everyone can share knowledge. Second, state surveying societies should commit to offering training, not just for the registered professionals as required by continuing education, but training for the technicians and the others interested in becoming future professional surveyors. Third, community colleges and universities need to commit to offering entry-level courses that teach in-depth basics of surveying measurement—not simply presenting overviews of all aspects of the vast body of surveying information.

This can be done and must be done to continue the fine heritage of our predecessors. We must properly prepare those who will replace us in the world of surveying. Without a basic understanding, how will they walk in our footsteps?