Guest Column: Less Education Is Not Surveying's Solution
It has been four months since my last missive. I since had some good comments sent directly to me, but don’t know about any issues and comments that may have also appeared on the various discussion boards and social media outlets. I have been having discussions with surveyors in my area regarding the state of leadership in the survey world. The August POB had another interesting commentary, specifically addressing our decline.
As I understand the commentary, it is the opinion of the writer that reducing the licensure requirements is a solution. I beg to differ. Dilution of the licensure requirement in the interest of increasing our number is self-defeating in my view. We all understand that surveying is not one-dimensional. In an earlier summary, I had suggested that it is time to change the model and accept reality. NOT every surveyor wants to do boundary work. Some of you are comfortable and in fact are prospering without ever retracing an old corner. Those of you who have embraced GIS are probably the more successful in our community. GIS work is not so concerned with heredity (history) as it is with spatial relationship.
Looking Ahead, Follow the Lead
Engineering is a perfect model: Civil engineers, electrical engineers, structural engineers, etc. etc. …
Fifty years ago, a land surveyor needed to be multi-dimensional and used all the factors of the profession to accomplish his task. Today, that capacity is not needed. However, it must be stressed that any change to the qualifications necessary must be aligned with the full aspect of the survey world of the 21st Century. If my license stated “Construction Surveyor,” I would hire you the “Boundary Surveyor” to locate the corners for the project and have you give me the basis of line for the work. If my specialty was GIS, I would not need to concern myself with “stones,” “posts” or similar points of reference, since that information was processed from work of a surveyor, probably one that got his license by experience. A side note: As a surveyor, you cannot escape your liability for work that has your stamp. I am just finishing a response to a question on work from 2008. Such is our fate or duty, responsibility and/or professionalism.
There are projects that I undertake that do not require any substantive research, such as setting the finish floor elevation so the contractor can set his forms. There are others that need some level of research effort, such as establishment of setback lines. Then there is occasional ALTA work that requires a lot of effort beyond the Title Report. How any surveyor can do one of these at the rates I hear about is baffling. Then there is the Flood Elevation Certificate. I had a realtor tell me that she provides these for her customers for free! No, I did not go there.
I state these experiences to indicate that in my small work world there are these differing levels of professional effort and, if I so choose, I can specialize. In the last 10 years, I have had only one occasion to get into geodesy and that rarefied world of no straight lines.
One Size Does Not Fit All
So, the one-size surveyor that fits all is a thing of the past, especially given the technology available.
Instead of a two-year education requirement, we need to separate the various levels of surveying and then structure the licensing and education requirements accordingly. If you are doing geodesy, you need more than high school math, especially given the sorry state of elementary schools. If you want to do construction staking, you probably need at least college-level math, particularly if you are doing transportation work. This would then allow the mappers an entry into the survey world without the need to get bitten by bugs or chased by snakes or property owners while searching for that elusive corner. The GIS surveyor would then need to be conversant in datum, shifts, convergence and map scales, along with the 85 different surface models and the associated software. There could even be a level for those who do topographic surveys, but even there some level of math is essential, particularly if you venture into LiDAR and other levels of technology.
In my view, surveying should dramatically change, and the level of interest by the younger generation would be increased similarly. We oldtimers could then charge substantially more for our “expertise,” since we would of course grandfather in as Boundary Surveyors.
Why Education? Think About It
Finally, “button pushing” is the bane of our profession, so a two-year minimum would only further diminish the standing of our world. Education is essential, not to survey, but to get the capability to use your head so that you don’t run to the office to get on the computer to solve a geometry problem or to diagnose a GPS glitch. Surveying is NOT any one thing; it is composed of many levels of expertise, and it is time to realign the profession to acknowledge this.
I spent many hours at Arizona State, but that did not “teach” me surveying. What I learned, thanks to all those teachers and assignments, is to think things through. So, when I am 50 miles off the pavement in way north Arizona and my system tells me that my line is 5,000 feet over that way, I don’t panic. Education also gave me the tools to represent my work in the office, public hearing or even the court without being intimidated or embarrassed. The main thing education gave me is the hunger to keep learning. I get to eat at the old person prices, but I am still checking the latest offering at the local community college and I still enjoy sitting in a classroom. Another thing that education taught me is that you will never make the kind of money that was in the chart in the aforementioned article if you work by yourself for yourself. My most successful years in terms of monetary reward were when we had a staff of 15 people.
See, I was paying attention in Econ 101.