In February, two bills altering the licensing requirements for surveying in rural areas were introduced in the Alabama Legislature. In a news story on the bills, the following rationale was given: “PVC pipe made everyone a plumber. The wire welder made everybody a welder. GPS made everyone a surveyor.”1 This perception of the profession should be of great concern to the surveying community.
As positioning technologies evolve and mapping capabilities become more prevalent due to GIS, the notion of “everyone can be a surveyor” could surface again and again. Some reasons for this perception is the lack of understanding of what a surveyor does and the knowledge base and skills upon which the profession is founded. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we closely examine what makes an occupation a profession, what the characteristics of the surveying profession are and what we need to do to reverse the public’s inaccurate perception.
Protecting the Profession
Several definitions state that a profession is founded on knowledge, skill and education. Respect for professionals arises from expertise, education and the impact their work makes on society. Specialized knowledge, skills and expertise justifies the special privilege bestowed on licensed professionals to practice their chosen profession and, in turn, bars others from practicing. At the same time, the knowledge and skills required to become a professional land surveyor (PLS) have yet to be concretely determined. If such a body of knowledge is developed and implemented, the profession will be better protected.
Defining a Knowledge Base
In this discussion, we will apply this general approach, which is less technology-specific, to the surveying profession and attempt to define what should be learned and how it should be learned to enable PLSs to function as professional experts regardless of the tools they use. This knowledge base is intended to equip the professional surveyor with the necessary background to master new technologies as they evolve.
What Should Be Learned?
The questions surveying societies should ask themselves are: How can all of this knowledge be learned? Can this knowledge be acquired by working under any PLS for any length of time? Is continuing education, which is now mandated in most states, effective if the foundation of this knowledge base is not mandated first?
Proposed Body of KnowledgeMathematics, science and technology
• Mathematics must be beyond algebra and trigonometry. Calculus and linear algebra must be included in order to understand error theory and least squares adjustment. As surveying technology evolves, redundant observations are easier to obtain but require the use of least squares adjustment. Redundant observations are the most important vehicle to supervise, monitor and assess the quality of work performed by technicians.
• Statistics, including statistical testing and blunder detection theory, which is an indispensable means for QC/QA.
• Computer science.
• Physics, which is important to understand how modern surveying tools work. This understanding will make it easier to comprehend how to work with the equipment and how to minimize and evaluate possible error, which will distinguish the PLS from the “GPS made everyone a surveyor” person.
• Information science and information technology, especially as it relates to geospatial information, since almost every task a surveyor performs is related to spatial information systems.
• Basic knowledge of the science behind geodesy (ellipsoids, geoids, map projections, geometric representation of the Earth, height systems, gravity), image and sensor-based mapping systems (terrestrial-, air- or space-borne).
Law, ethics and professionalism
• Includes a broad knowledge of the law beyond boundary law. The knowledge should include elements of the legislative process, courts and the court system, statutory law, administrative law, real estate law, business law, legal forms of ownership, etc. This will familiarize PLSs with the framework in which they function.
• The PLS is to hold paramount the welfare of the public. A PLS needs to demonstrate an understanding of and a commitment to practice according to the fundamental principles of ethics and the codes of professional conduct.
Communication, history, social science and contemporary issues
• A PLS needs to be versatile with communication and presentation tools, such as word processing, spreadsheets, slide presentations, graphics, visualization, the Internet, and demonstrate professional etiquette.
• To be effective, a PLS should appreciate the relationship of surveying to critical contemporary issues such as the technical, environmental, societal, political, legal, economic and financial implications of surveying and spatial information projects.
Business, economics and management
• This knowledge is needed because PLSs commonly run their own businesses or surveying departments in larger consulting firms, public companies or local government agencies. It is also needed because a contemporary PLS should be able to manage projects, contracts, people, budgets, schedules, finance, marketing and sales, billable time, overhead, profits, etc.
• At least one in-depth specialty in surveying law, geodesy, GIS, image-based mapping or other discipline.
2 AAG, 2006, Geographic Information Science & Technology – Body of Knowledge, Association of American Geographers, Washington, DC.
4 “Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st century: Preparing the Civil Engineer for the Future, Second Edition,” American Society of Civil Engineers, copyright 2008, located at www.asce.org/files/pdf/professional/BOK2E_(ASCE_2008)_ebook.pdf.