With the average age of a licensed surveyor currently at 58, and individuals retiring much faster than young professionals are being licensed, the surveying community and the nation will soon face a crisis.
The issue is not just demographics, but a longer-term, self-inflicted wound by surveyors themselves. By contrast, most state licensing boards for Professional Engineers have created a relatively easy path for reciprocity from state to state. A PE can easily apply for licensure in another state through a very simple written request. Thus, the barrier to entry in interstate commerce for engineers is relatively low, and there has been no adverse effect on public health, welfare and safety. In surveying, the “Metes and Bounds State versus Public Land Survey System (PLSS) State” and other arguments are used against providing reciprocity state to state, thereby significantly increasing barriers to entry and interstate commerce while reducing growth and competition in the profession.
Moreover, the rise in geospatial technologies, such as GPS, digital aerial sensing, laser scanning, LiDAR, etc., has opened new opportunities for those who were interested in capitalizing on knowledge of spatial relationships and technology, but are not licensed. Very few surveying programs in our universities even have coursework in these subject areas, leaving many graduate surveyors ill-prepared for these new and emerging technologies and applications.
I am one of those people, and I’ve done just fine without being licensed.
I have a degree in geography from a university that gave the option to pursue that degree as a science, resulting in a B.S. degree. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education classifies most geography, GIS and related programs as a “soft” or social science in liberal arts. Such programs are not considered science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).
I’ve been told that in order to qualify to sit for a licensing exam for surveying, I need to take 12-18 semester hours of surveying-specific classes. At 46 years old with 20-plus years of practical and professional experience at the technological, project management and profit and loss level, measuring the earth’s surface and subsurface in nearly every possible way, to go back to school for two years is impractical and illogical — tepid at best. In some states, it takes as nearly as long or longer to go from high school to becoming a licensed surveyor than a medical doctor. Enough said there.
Anyone objectively evaluating my career would certainly conclude that from a practical standpoint, a license is not required. However, I would like to become a licensed geospatial professional — whether the title is “surveyor” or not is immaterial at this point.
I believe the surveying profession should be advocating for computational, geodetic and spatial data workflows and methods to be merged into geography programs in universities across the nation, and classify such programs as STEM.
I also strongly believe there should be a push for reciprocity for survey licensure state to state. This was marginally attempted with the Certified Federal Surveyors’ federal licensure Initiative. Reciprocity could be offered in three steps:
- First, anyone licensed in a Metes and Bounds state should be allowed to apply for reciprocity in any other such state in a manner similar to the existing engineering practice. The same should be true among the PLSS states. Artificial barriers to entry and interstate commerce would be kept at bay.
- Second, the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES) should develop a simple “bridge” exam to allow for surveyors to cross state lines between PLSS and the Metes and Bounds states by proving their understanding of the differences. Any other subtle state-to-state differences could be easily handled through continuing education and professional development initiatives after reciprocal licensing.
- Third, and most importantly, that same “bridge” exam could be offered to anyone, regardless of licensure status, and be used with some combination of degree (such as a B.S. in geography) and/or professional experience, thereby providing a much easier path for photogrammetrists, geographers and other professionals in “non-boundary” disciplines to become licensed.
I don’t believe at this stage in my career that two-plus years of part-time, additional schooling will be beneficial to me or my family. Nor will it serve my business partners, clients or the general public.
A federal judge ruled “the provision of ‘mapping’ services in the modern marketplace includes a much broader scope of work than the traditional mapping work of land surveyors.” It is time to recognize that surveying is more than boundaries, ALTA, construction staking or deed room work. Rather than using licensing laws to restrict trade, stifle competition, and claim for surveyors what has proven impossible to accomplish in the marketplace, professionals in all disciplines should work together to affect significant change in order to move a proud profession forward.
Let me repeat, I would like to be licensed, and I am willing to take and pass an exam to do so.
Chris Ogier is a Certified Photogrammetrist and Southeast Region Manager for Spicer Group (www.spicergroup.com) in Atlanta, Ga. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS), serving as Association Secretary. He obtained his Bachelor of Science Degree from Appalachian State University in 1993, and is a U.S. Army veteran.