Geospatial intelligence isn’t a measure of your knowledge and skills using geospatial tools and techniques. It is about the human activity on earth derived from analysis of imagery and geospatial information that describes, assesses and visually depicts physical features and geographically referenced activities. Knowledgeable geospatial professionals clearly play a significant role in enhancing the quality and utility of geospatial intelligence.
In everyday applications geospatial intelligence helps in monitoring highways and city streets; analyzing rugged, difficult-to-traverse terrain; architecting buildings with BIM systems; and tracking geographic population distributions and characteristics. On the clandestine side, national intelligence agencies use geospatial information to assess activities of adversaries, and insights from this information are used by the president and policy makers.
But today’s most pressing challenge in the geospatial intelligence marketplace actually is about knowledge and skills — finding enough qualified people to do this analytic work.
Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) projects there will be a shortage of geospatial scientists with university degrees by 2017. This prompted Brett Bundock, managing director of the Esri Australia and Esri South Asia groups, to call on universities to extend the reach of their geospatial programs and courses. They note that GIS technology was once the sole domain of land management agencies, governments and defense. But today, it is increasingly commonplace inside commercial groups. Australia’s major insurers, banks, resources groups and retailers have all adopted GIS technology in recent years, Bundock notes. Bundock adds the only threat to this growth is a lack of local talent.
This problem of finding local talent is not unique to Australia. GIS comes up on the U.K. skills shortage list as well. And, in the U.S., where GIS revenues are in the billions of dollars, 281,600 geospatial scientists and technologists, 101,400 precision agricultural technicians, 81,300 geodetic surveyors, and 106,400 mapping technicians will be needed in the workforce by 2018, according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates.
Universities and other institutions of higher learning are being called upon to provide geospatial intelligence training, but in many cases there is a “disconnect” between what these institutions are teaching and what industry really needs. On the flip side, companies themselves are not prepared to train employees on the job, and many don't want to.
To bridge this gap, organizations like the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation offer certifications and awards to colleges and universities that provide education in geospatial intelligence knowledge and skills that are needed in the professional workforce. Institutions receive USGIF accreditation if they can meet a rigorous set of qualifying guidelines.
Pennsylvania State University, a USGIF-accredited school, offers a 35-credit Master of Geographic Information Systems degree that enables experienced professionals to further develop and customize their GIS skills to reflect their career interests. The university also has a one-year online geospatial intelligence analytics graduate certificate program that enhances the skills and credentials of those already doing geospatial intelligence work.
Other institutions offering USGIF-certified education include Northeastern University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Southern California, the University of Redlands, Fayetteville State University, George Mason University, the University of Utah, the University of Texas at Dallas, the United States Air Force Academy and West Point.
The question is, of course, “Will current levels of educational coverage be enough to prepare both future and existing workers for the market’s needs in geospatial intelligence skills?”
To assure that they are addressing needs proactively, companies and geospatial workers can take these steps:
- If you are a company, consider teaming with a local university where you can provide input into the geospatial intelligence curriculum and company internships to students to assure that you have a local labor supply that is trained in the geospatial intelligence skills that your organization needs.
- If you are an individual who would like to work and/or enhance your skills in geospatial intelligence, consider taking an online course or even enrolling in a degree program to build the skillset. The median salary of a senior geospatial intelligence analyst in February 2016 is $85,000.