Many years ago, the local high school contacted my employer, one of the large suburban engineering firms, and asked if we could help their internship program. My employer, a good man, agreed, and four senior students arrived and were given a tour of the office and introduced to the staff. At the time, I was the assistant to the head of surveys.

Everyone at the company worked diligently at drumming up work for high school students who worked for free but had no real training; this was not really efficient. Our employer was truly making a sacrifice for the good of the community by allowing these students to slow the workflow. Although I was not responsible to manage these students, I did observe engineers and architects trying to train the young men.

Over time, I saw one of these young men rise above the others. He was not the coolest of the bunch, and possibly not the best looking, but when schooling was complete his value would come to light. Those who are prepared to work will show the rest what they are worth, how they can contribute, and what they can and have learned. I took note that Dan would do whatever job or task was assigned, and complete it. When he needed help, he asked. When he finished a task, he came back for more work. I noticed and so did the rest of the staff.

My only memory of the other three interns was of them sitting around waiting in the afternoon looking lazy and talking. They were running out the clock and just wanting to go home, to meet friends, or whatever. In my opinion, they demonstrated the kind of fellows you would not want to hire.

Because Dan was energetic, and came back for more work and gave it his best effort, he earned the respect of the entire office. His interactions with co-workers made him friends in the company. Everyone liked Dan. Our employer probably gave some token pay to these students, and I hope he gave a nice bonus to the hardest working student. That summer, Dan graduated from high school, and landed a job, and we were all glad to see him come on board. It was our loss when fall came and Dan moved on to college in Washington, D.C. 

I share this story in hopes that all the newer people who work for surveying and engineering companies will think of themselves as being part of a team. Even if they are entry-level people, they can contribute; their attitude, energy and hard work are the way to become noticed. Efforts made today will be an investment in tomorrow.

Make Yourself Indispensable

Winter can be a time of weeding out the staff. When times are good and work is plentiful, some employees can get a bit lazy and assume they will always have a job. In areas with snowfalls that stop work for the season, some employers are forced to lay off employees. Those can be opportunities for employers to let deadwood drift away on the outgoing tide. To avoid this, workers must store up their good work and efforts during the good months, just like a farmer who must have fruits in store to last a winter.

If you have found yourself laid off and not called back in the spring, it would be a good time to re-examine your past performance. Ask yourself hard questions: Were you the diligent worker? Did you go the extra mile? Are you still learning?

At all private places of employment, there are two prime directives. The first is to make money for your employer. Although simple, I wonder how many employees consider that if they make their boss money, he will probably notice. To make this personal, consider if someone routinely saw you and each weekday gave you a dollar. Would you notice and remember? An employer would. When your work is more profitable than other workers, your employer has a direct interest in keeping you. Inversely, if you are barely making money for your employer, it will not be long before he considers replacing you. What you need to meditate on is how to put more money in the pocket of your boss, so when he takes note of higher profits, he will know you need a raise.

The second prime directive which also applies to employees in the public sector is the question: “How are you making your boss’s life easier?” Mistakes, messiness, interruptions, foolishness, absenteeism, waste of materials, morale-lowering attitudes, poor client relations, lateness, long breaks with too much talking and long stories, slow work ethic, and failure to take the initiative to train yourself or accept company-provided training are a few ways you can degrade your chances of long-term employment.

Did your boss ask you to do something? If you had to be asked a second time, you failed. If you repeat this behavior, your boss may eventually start asking someone else to do what he asks. Few managers like to have subordinates that ignore directives. When opportunity comes along, they get rid of unhelpful people. Remember, when a boss “asks” you to do something, they are “ordering” you to do something. If you choose not to do it, then you are making their life more difficult. How would you expect that to affect your long-term goals of promotion or raises?

Making your manager’s life easier might be more financially important than producing more widgets. Those who please employers are more likely to be closer in proximity and desirable for promotion. If you are promoted, then you will have people who work to make your life easier.

Your Winter's Work

For all those employees who are kept working over the slow winter months, please consider that your employer has decided you are worth keeping. Unless you have taken a pay cut, your boss is willing to take some of the money he/she saved and give it to you.

In return, you ought to be creative and look for ways to agree that you are indeed useful. Some of these could be using free time to clean up the files, both paper and digital. Work on standard details. Make time for training other employees. Find ways to educate yourself, and don’t be afraid to let your employer know that you are doing so. If your manager’s office is messy, help organize it, put away unneeded files and plans, and you might even offer to deliver plans or attend meetings.

If you are a field person, then consider learning office computer drafting and calculations, how to do deed and plan research, and reading deeds and such to make sketches preparing for field work. To accomplish this, you cannot appear to be going after anyone’s job. I suggest you read the books that came with office software or purchase your own books like “Inside AutoCAD” and read at home on your own time, so you appear smarter when the company attempts to teach you. When it rains or snows, you will be able to work inside.

If the opportunity is not there for office calculations and drafting, it might be appropriate to consider maintenance of the facility. That might include painting, electrical repair and replacements, furniture repairs, handyman work, and equipment maintenance and cleaning.

One of my former employers created a retirement plan that included houses he purchased using the company’s line of credit that were in turn rented out and maintained using the profits. An additional perk of the plan was taking some of the profits and employing the field crews over parts of the winter to remodel and repair those buildings. Some of the party chiefs were very skilled in the trades and taught the younger people how to paint, maintain and repair the rental properties. This would be the most extreme level of an employer offering substitute employment for the benefit of the employees. As the profits added up from the rentals, the retirement fund grew.

Do not offer to clean the bathrooms, wash the floors or take out the trash unless those are already part of your normal tasks. Professionals do certain kinds of work, and you want to be perceived as a person who should be moved up the ladder of success.

I have not worked in states that routinely close shop for the winter. Often though, I have seen partial work forces and reduced hours. There are many employers who hope to make wages and keep people busy. For those who are able to continue working through the cold months, please consider thanking your employer by stepping up the efforts you make. Some people are like Dan and will naturally do the right thing. In the end, you will be serving not just your boss, but your own long-term goals. 

Jeffrey P. Turner, PLS, began his career in surveying in 1971 and became licensed in Pennsylvania in 1987. He was co-owner of a surveying firm for six years before launching his own firm in the Philadelphia region in 1995. He is passionate about leaving footsteps for future generations of surveying professionals. He can be reached at