For some, surveying license portability is a hot issue. I think they want something similar to PE portability. It’s not completely routine to become licensed in another state as a PE, but the state boards of licensure, now that the NCEES exams are a way of life, do facilitate that portability while collecting the registration fees.

Of course, PE licensure isn’t all that simple; many states have separate exams for certain engineers who are mandated to be knowledgeable about state-specific engineering issues, including storm-proofing. There is also the matter of a PE in civil engineering permitted to do certain structural designs in one state that are within the purview of a different type of engineer in another. But still many, including those licensed as PEs, think that PE licensure is portable.

Superficially, there’s a solution that’s a national license for any discipline, but that won’t happen because of each state’s desire to license separately. So, we won’t even go down that path.

A Two-Fisted Solution

For surveying, my solution is to create a new set of licenses: one a Professional Surveyor (PS) and the other a Judicial, or if you prefer another “J” word, Jurisdictional Surveyor (JS). Why? Very few states have identical legal and administrative requirements for land surveys as another. So, when a professional who is licensed by the state is hired to perform a property boundary surveyor, the risk that it will not be done properly if the surveyor is not local is large. Licensure’s stated purpose is to protect the welfare of the people; thus, my recommendation for the concept of a JS.

However, all the other aspects and sub-disciplines of surveying — engineering, construction, geodetic, control, mining, hydrographic, quantity, topographic, etc. — do not have local strictures on the practice of these as a requirement. We use principles of rigorous error analysis, take great pains to make systematic error corrections, follow extraordinary procedures in the field to collect the data, analyze them and produce results. State statutes, and case law and administrative codes, seldom affect how these more or less universal principles are to be applied. Thus, these aspects of surveying are incredibly portable. In fact, we can even use this type of license to include other sub-disciplines such as mapping, photogrammetry and remote sensing. We can even include GIS when it involves the use of this tool and the science for professional applications.

Yes, property boundary surveyors make measurements, too, but their measurements are always subservient to the evidence the surveyors must gather. The surveyors may make measurements to correlate the evidence, but the truth is that high-accuracy measurements are the least important aspect of the fieldwork in getting a boundary survey done. Knowing how to measure is far less important than knowing what to measure.

Only with property boundary surveys can we still say “…it is far more important to have a somewhat faulty measurement at the spot where the line truly exists than to have an extremely accurate measurement of the place where the line does not exist at all.” This was said by A.C Mulford in his 1912 book, “Boundaries and Landmarks, a Practical Manual.” However, those not trained properly in the principles of property boundary surveying don’t understand this; they think this statement is erroneous.

Now, there are many aspects of what a PS might do that must be included in the body of knowledge that a JS should possess. For example, when doing an ALTA/NSPS survey, the ability to make good quality measurements to locate accurately the improvements and other details on a piece of property are important. Even being able to measure topography accurately and to accurately represent it can be important in delivering services related to property.

So, this two-stage licensure for surveying will take much more thought and discussion. But before we get there, we as a group must first solve a host of other issues facing us. Following are just a few.

Surveying Education, whether the PS or JS type, is found in smatterings in vocational environments. But at the baccalaureate level, or even as an accredited two-year program, many of those which existed even 10 years ago have dropped like flies, and those surviving for the most part are not in the best of health. Can anyone involved in the profession who understands the role of surveying in our economy say the surviving accredited programs in the country are adequate? Many say that, with technology, the need for surveyors of either stripe will decrease. This is a fallacy built on two shaky pillars that we must contest with clarity. The first clarification is that technology doesn’t do what surveyors do; it only makes it easier for them to do when they do it with knowledge and understanding. Data collection, i.e. measurements, must still be done with forethought, design and alternatives that consider people’s skills, the type and level of technology, the environment in which the measurements will be done, and the use that the collected data will be put to. The second is that, as our environment changes, the challenges the world faces with geospatial issues will challenge and tax the few who are able to understand the issues and help solve them. It goes without saying that these new challenges will require the ability to work in multi-disciplinary environments and to have exemplary communication skills. The common wisdom is that everyone will be doing geospatial analysis on geospatial data. Good analysis will only be able to be done with people who know where the data came from, i.e. how it was generated and what it means. Otherwise, we risk getting into a “garbage in, garbage out” situation.

Surveying Educators are in short supply. There is an incorrect assumption among some institutions that anyone with a surveying license, regardless of their educational background, is competent enough to deliver all the content that is required in a program of study at the college level. Such people may work out, but they also may not. The systematic and thorough formation of good educators, based on thoughtful consideration of the future of geospatial data collection, analysis and knowledge extraction, is not getting the attention it needs. In fact, many of our educators are “imports.” They are really good, but why aren’t we able to develop homegrown educators?

Public relations is something surveyors shy away from in a knee-jerk fashion. Even when it is attempted, it is not done with an understanding of how to communicate with people who are not within our group. So many times what we do communicate is inadequately expressed and thus never reaches its target. The great majority of the general public has NO idea of what surveyors are and what they do. How many times have you been asked, “Oh, is there still a need for surveyors? I thought that work was done.” Or, “Aren’t surveyors the people with clipboards who ask questions in shopping malls?” This isn’t funny; it is crying sad. If the public doesn’t know what surveyors are and the importance of their work, what earthly reason would there be for them to think a surveyor can help them solve a problem or avoid one in the future? Why is it that title companies, lenders, realtors and the entire real estate segment are moving more and more away from asking for or recommending a survey? From my interaction with surveyors, we need a better self-awareness of what we do (whether boundary or construction or whatever) and why it is incredibly important. The other professions do it; let’s examine how they do it, examine our own worth, and build a plan to quickly overcome the public’s knowledge deficit.

Mentoring by surveyors is not a widely understood concept. When I entered the profession, there was a definite suppression of new entrants. I’d often hear about how people studying to take the licensing exam, when their bosses heard about it, got fired. There was no encouragement then. It’s better now, but it’s not better enough. How else to explain that high school students, school counselors and vocational advisors do not seek out surveying education? And that most of our students in post-high school programs are often in their mid-30s, mid-40s and even mid-50s?

Professionalism is a word we throw around much. But how much of that word do we understand? How much do we mean when we say we are professionals. If we were truly professional: we’d be mentoring more and better; we’d be actively doing public relations so that potential customers and potential new entrants to the profession would be taking notice; we’d be supporting and advocating for broader, deeper and more college-level programs; we’d not be advocating for reducing the requirements for licensure; we’d be promoting the licensure of highly qualified people; and we’d be thinking about what great things we were doing for the profession and how we were making more reliable surveying available to the public. We’d not be talking in low tones about sub-standard surveying; rather, we’d be rabid activists to get sub-par surveyors booted out. We’d be doing this, because we realize that the “bad apples” are not only giving us a bad reputation as a group and affecting our ability to earn a living; their behavior, and their acceptance by the rest of us, makes them possible models for new entrants into the profession to emulate.

More to Think About

Other topics we much recognize, understand and do something about include:

  • revamping our professional societies into dynamos of energy that do not allow anything or anyone that strives for less than excellence to be rooted out or reformed
  • understanding that science, writing and publishing are important aspects of being a learned profession
  • using ideas of cross-fertilization by integrating an understanding of surveying and what it means to our society into fellow disciplines, other disciplines, government, education and society in general
  • being, as a profession, constantly more inclusive rather than constantly narrowing the focus of what we do
  • integrating a deep understanding of business principles into the practice of surveying
  • viewing ourselves and projecting a view outward that we are thoughtful, smart, reliable and thoroughly communicative in our business relations
  • projecting, when it comes to boundary surveying, the understanding that we are the impartial (and only) finders of the truth.