Spoiler alert: Surveyors reported earning more in the POB Annual Salary and Benefits Study in 2016 than they reported in the 2015 study. A number of factors come into play, so it isn’t a simple case of everyone taking a giant step forward. Still, over half of respondents saw an increase in their annual gross salary.

There are a couple of interesting developments in the demographics of the land surveying and mapping professionals who responded to the 2016 questionnaire. First, the percentage of professionals saying they work for a surveying firm remained virtually the same – 34 percent in 2016 and 35 percent for 2015 and 2014. There was a drop in the number of professionals reporting they worked at firms doing both surveying and civil engineering. That number fell from 34 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in the current survey. One-percent increases in those working for civil engineering firms, consulting, or utilities seems to be more of a statistical margin of error than a trend. But, a five percent increase in those reporting they work for public works or departments of transportation stands out.

Just how much those shifts affect the other results is open to interpretation. It does tie in to what may be a developing trend away from privately held companies. The percentage of respondents working at privately held companies stood at 69 percent in the 2016 study, down from 76 percent in 2015 and 78 percent in the 2014 study. Publicly traded companies may have absorbed some of that shift. Those numbers actually dropped one percent from 2014 to 2015 but gained back 3 percent from 2015 to 2016. The bigger change was a two-year increase of 5 percent in the government sector.

If there had been a rise in the number of surveying and mapping professionals reporting they worked for surveying/CE firms, we might conclude privately held surveying companies were being acquired by larger, publicly traded CE firms. While there are certainly cases where this has happened or continues to happen, the “surveying” number has remained relatively constant while the public works sector has appeared to have rebounded – it stood at 11 percent of the mix in 2014, dropping to 7 percent in 2015, and bounding back to 12 percent in the current study.
 

The Work Performed

There is a little back-and-forth in the percentages and an occasional swapping of rank for the types of work performed at the companies where respondents are employed. Boundary surveying, GPS surveying, and construction site surveying continue to dominate. From three quarters to over 80 percent of the companies perform these functions.

Cadastral or topographic surveying and civil engineering were relatively consistent with 2014 responses at 65 percent and 60 percent respectively, but cadastral/topographic surveying saw a mild spike to 69 percent in the interim year, 2015.

GPS mapping is showing some steady growth, going from 44 percent to 46 percent from 2014 to 2015 and increasing another 2 percent in 2016.

Geodetic surveying witnessed a comparable erosion over the three study periods, dropping from 40 percent to 38 percent from 2014 to 2015 and landing at 35 percent in 2016.

One category that experienced some volatility was cartography/map making. Cartography spiked from 32 percent to 37 percent in the 2014 to 2015 period before dropping to 27 percent in the current study. Even allowing for 2014 to be an anomaly for cartography and map making, a 5-percent drop from 2014 to the present makes it an area to watch.

While registering relatively low percentages in numbers of firms using LiDAR technologies, each of the three categories has increased from 2015 to 2016. Terrestrial stationary LiDAR is now performed at 15 percent of companies, up from 13 percent. Mobile LiDAR doubled its percentage from 6 percent in 2015 to 12 percent in 2015. And, aerial LiDAR increased from 9 percent to 11 percent.

 
Where We Work

We’ve already discussed the fact that most surveyors work for privately held surveying firms. Most serve communities under half a million. That said, the largest number, 34 percent, serve communities over 1 million.

This gets interesting when coupled with the fact that over half of the surveying and mapping professionals (54 percent) say they are registered in just one state. Only 11 percent are registered in three or more states.

Staff size certainly plays into the number of states served. Most firms still report having fewer than 10 employees. That number rises to 54 percent when the employee size is expanded to include 24 and fewer employees.

Some of these small-to-medium firms may have bumped out of their former slot as a result of growth. Over 40 percent reported adding employees. In the 10-and-fewer-employees category, over 70 percent reported remaining the same size in each of the last four years.

Companies with 100 to 499 employees were hiring. In that company size, 68 percent said the number of full-time employees increased. The next highest rate of hiring was in the 25-to-99-employee segment where 61 percent reported more full-time employees over 2015. Big companies were hiring as well, with 51 percent saying they had added to full-time staff.

The greatest number reporting a decrease in full-time staff were in companies with 25 to 99 employees and 500+ employees. About a quarter of respondents in those segments reported decreases, 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

Relative to size of company, the companies with 25-99 employees probably saw the most substantial growth. At a mean average of 11 full-time employees added, that’s roughly 10 percent added to their workforce. Companies with 100-499 employees added about 7 percent. Of course, when a company with under 25 employees adds to its staff, the percentages run very high – as does the impact of the additional staff on the organization both from a workload and cost perspective.

With the exception of a slightly higher representation from the south and a lower number from the northeast, respondents were spread pretty evenly across the country.

 
Value For Money

An equal number of respondents are staff surveyors as are corporate/executive management. Given the large number of smaller companies (over 50 percent with under 25 employees and nearly three quarters under 100 employees) this could reflect a substantial number of owners and principals.

When experience and age are added to the equation, it only reinforces that view. Respondents had an average of 28 years of experience and 44 percent were over the age of 55. In fact, the category for 30+ years of experience was the only one which grew from the 2015 study to 2016 study. Since the category for 15-29 years of experience remained the same and the category for 5-14 years of experience dropped by 6 percent, it would appear that some of the respondents moved from 29 to 30 years of experience and some with 14 years of experience filled the void at that 15-29-year category.

Though the numbers are still alarmingly low, the number of respondents reporting they have less than five years’ experience has been growing since 2014. Then, it was two percent. The following year, there were 3 percent with under five years of experience. And, the current study shows 4 percent. That’s still not a full replacement for the 5 percent increase in surveyors reaching 30 years.

In addition to experience, surveyors are highly educated. Over 50 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. The number of surveyors with a master’s degree or higher is low but increasing. From 2014, the number has gone up from 6 percent to seven percent, and now 11 percent.

The mean average age of surveyors has continued to hover in the low 50s. There are virtually no respondents in the 18-25-year-old band – which is likely due to the education and licensing requirements. The next age group (26-35) has remained around 8 to 10 percent. The 36-45 band showed a spike in 2015 when it registered 24 percent. Prior to that, it had been at or just below 20 percent. This is where it landed in 2016 as well (18 percent).

Nearly three quarters of surveyors are 46 years old or older, and the 46-55 band and 56+ band both grew, 4 percent and five percent, respectively, in 2016.

Most surveyors work full time (91 percent) and receive a salary (62 percent). There’s no real trend here. The number of full-time vs. part time and salaried vs. hourly employees has maintained these same levels within a percentage point or two for the last four years.

Despite any movement among age groups or experience levels, the number of surveyors who hold professional registrations or licenses remains rock solid at 78 percent. And, as expected, 91 percent hold professional surveyor credentials (RPLS, PLS, RLS, LS, etc.). Training credentials don’t seem to be on the rise (LSIT and SIT), remaining around this year’s 8 percent over the last four years.

Among those who achieved a full license (RPLS, PLS, RLS, LS, etc.), 63 percent did so over 16 years ago. That’s a 10 percent rise since the 2015 report, paralleling some of the steady ageing of qualified surveyors. This seems to be a pull rather than a push. As the higher group increased, each of the lower groups decreased except those obtaining their license less than a year ago. Before we take a lot of encouragement from that, the number only rose from one percent in 2015 to two percent in 2016, matching the response in 2014.

The good news for licensed surveyors is that over 80 percent report increased earnings after obtaining licensure or certification. The bad news for some is that the increases derived from obtaining a license were a number of years ago.

As noted earlier, the majority of licensed surveyors are registered in just one state (54 percent). Another 15 percent are registered in two states.

 
What’s It Worth?

For those who skipped ahead to read this section first, making sense of why surveyor and mapping professionals’ salaries look the way they do may be a little difficult. In fact, even with a lot of the foregoing information it may not be easy to connect the dots. That’s one reason we look at much more than salary.

After tracking around $70,000 per year, the mean salary for surveyors and mapping professionals spiked to a mean average of $80,603. It’s easy to see where that spike comes from. The number of respondents to the 2016 study reporting an annual gross salary over $100,000 jumped from 11 percent in 2015 to 21 percent in 2016. While that is a very big jump in one year, taken in the context of the last four years, the numbers run from 16 percent in 2013 to 18 percent in 2014 before dropping back to 11 percent last year.

There are some increases in other salary levels that correspond to the drop off in six-figure salaries. Namely, the three brackets from $60,000 to $89,999 each had notable increases from 2014 to 2015 when the $100,000 bracket was falling off.

For the 2016 study, over half of respondents reported making over $70,000 per year. The type of business had less impact on earnings than business sector. Respondents at surveying firms made an average of just over $2,000 per year more than their counterparts at surveying/CE firms. The averages were $84,845 and $82,666, respectively. But, private-sector firms paid better than government jobs. Surveyors at private-sector companies earned an average of $82,993 per year while government employees took home $71,711.

Health insurance was the most common benefit offered by companies. With 81 percent receiving health insurance, just four percent paid the full amount of their health insurance premiums. Most (76 percent) shared the cost with their employer, and 20 percent had an employer-paid healthcare plan.

While more employees paid the full cost of their dental and vision insurance premiums (12 percent and 16 percent, respectively), 64 percent of companies offered dental and life insurance and 58 percent offered vision insurance.

Among general benefits, paid vacation time was most common (at 86 percent of companies), followed by paid sick leave and a retirement plan.

An important benefit for a field of licensed professionals, continuing education benefits were available at 68 percent of companies and were fully paid by 57 percent of those.

Just over half of companies offered bonuses, and just 24 percent offered profit sharing. For those surveying and mapping professionals who reported receiving higher salaries in the 2016 study, 36 percent attributed that to a bonus. Another 27 percent tied their increase to company profit or success, implying formal or informal profit sharing at work.

Nearly one quarter of respondents increased their salary due to a promotion (23 percent) which is well ahead of 2015’s 15 percent or the 13 percent reporting promotions in 2014.

Though 48 percent of respondents said they had not received a bonus in either of the last two years, 38 percent had received bonuses in both years. Bonuses, for those who received them, were mostly consistent with the previous year. With 41 percent receiving about the same bonus in both years, another 30 percent said their bonus was slightly higher and 10 percent said the bonus was much higher in the most recent year. The overwhelming reason 84 percent of respondents gave was company profit or success. This topped an overall improvement in the economy by a wide margin (the improved economy got 37 percent).

Where does this leave us? The vast majority of surveyors and mapping professionals (72 percent) are very satisfied (8 to 10 on a 10-point scale) and another 25 percent moderately satisfied. A small minority report they are not satisfied at all with their jobs.