I just heard a surveyor say that he wishes he had never become a surveyor. This licensed fellow has been unemployed for a year and a half and is doing part-time work and odd jobs to pay the bills. In fact, he is now repairing lawn mowers and said he is making more money than he did as a surveyor. While I am pleased to see he can generate income, it breaks my heart to hear that America-the land that desperately needs infrastructure improvements-can’t employ its surveyors. It further disturbs me that if this is true for surveyors, then engineers and construction contractors are right behind them.
Having fielded questions from many surveyors during the past couple of years of this downturn, I have identified several reasons why this field is having so much trouble keeping its associates gainfully employed:
1) Surveyors still do not understand that they offer a great value to society, and, as a result, they underprice their work. I just heard of a nice project where the winning bid for a job was $2 million. That sounds great. However, the next two bids were $3.1 million and $3.25 million. I spoke to the 2nd place bidder who felt that he bid as low as possible and could not fathom how he was off by 50 percent.
2) Not enough work falls into the domain of the surveyor. One of my previous blogs suggested that surveyors should lobby their state boards to get more tasks to fall under the law requiring a licensed surveyor. I think this should take front and center for all state boards or this industry will all but die in the next five years. We just had a contractor sitting side by side with an unemployed surveyor in one of our classes, and the contractor spoke of how they don’t need surveyors any longer. They hire them to set two or three control points, and they then use GPS to do the rest of the job. A couple years ago, they would have hired the surveyor to perform stakeout and string-line setup. No longer.
3) Many surveyors don’t offer enough value to the employer. Wow! It’s an arguable statement, but hear me out. If you are a field surveyor, you should take classes in office computations. Learn to master both field and office tasks, and become the dual employee. Someone that can perform in the field AND perform comps in the office is a first-class professional. Any employer making tough choices will terminate those that can be replaced. It is very hard to replace a person that can work in both environs.
4) Many surveyors have only mastered one way of doing things. They need to expand their horizons and learn multiple software packages for field-to-finish and office computations.
This sounds difficult. However, I really don’t think it is. The survey offerings in most applications are not that deep, robust or demanding. Focus specifically on field-to-finish, traverse computations, geometry layout and terrain modeling in Civil 3D, Bentley or Carlson products. Reasonably priced classes are offered everywhere, and these now include distance learning for accomplishing this in your spare time. This will enhance your résumé and show that you can work with software traditionally used by the land development market as well as the software used in the infrastructure market. The employer will benefit in that you can hit the ground running without them having to spend money to train you as a new staffer.
5) Learn new twists to survey computations. Learn how mastering GIS can help bring in new revenue for employers. ESRI just held its international conference in San Diego, and one theme was GIS for Surveying. ESRI offers a starter kit, and information on this can be found at www.esri.com/industries/surveying/starterkit.html.
6) Another new technology that surveyors might watch is BIM, or building information modeling. The two main players in this market are Bentley and Autodesk; check this out on their respective Web sites. In April, The GSA announced two new laser scanning/BIM opportunities. Here are two words I never thought I would see in the same sentence; yet, here it is. Valuable employees might bring some of these revenue-producing initiatives to their employment interviews or add them to their résumés. That is one way to stand out in a crowd.
7) Every state has a Workforce Investment Board that may finance and pay for your training. The very nature of this board is to improve the state’s workforce. In Virginia, I know firsthand that this is a great benefit because surveyors and contractors routinely join our classes, and the state is paying for the tuition. They often assist those who are unemployed, but my understanding is that they will also assist if you are underemployed, changing careers or threatened with downsizing. For more information on WIB Training Grants please feel free to contact Reiko Lewis at: rlewis@harken-reidar.