Back in the early days of my utility engineering career a transmission line topographic survey required a crew of five to seven people. Today the same task can be performed by one person. We often hear that the only constant in the world is…change. Surveying is one profession that can particularly attest to this reality.
To quote the famous philosopher Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” This certainly applies to the world of surveying. So what should be the response to this change? Before we reply, it may be wise to consider another quote from W. Edwards Deming: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
Recent numbers for professional surveying examination candidates demonstrates the dramatic change happening in the profession. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) reports an 11 percent reduction in the number of applicants for the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam and 5 percent reduction in the number of those taking the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam. These statistics, unfortunately, reflect ongoing trends.
Many things have been suggested as explanations for this change in surveying demand. The recent weak economy certainly plays a part. Technical advancements in surveying equipment allow services to be performed with fewer people. The average age of surveyors is greater than 55, both domestically and worldwide. Surveying educational institutions are also struggling to attract students. Some suggest the potential licensing requirement of a four-year degree to enter the profession eliminates some candidates. Add to that the fact that state licensing boards require state-specific surveying exams in addition to the standard FS and PS exams, and surveying license mobility becomes another issue.
This is not the first time in history a profession has had to face watershed-type challenges. The temptation often is to simply throw up our hands and say there is nothing we can do. However, we can choose to move forward to adapt and embrace the new opportunities that await, even though they will not look the same as in the past.
Recently, Ulteig surveyor Jon Gustafson, PLS, CFedS, GISP, provided this perspective at an international surveying conference: “Surveyors have a unique ability to evolve and adapt as the technology and legal and social elements change. This is why the surveyor needs to accept the fact that it’s imperative to stay involved with technological innovation and use all the available tools to keep the profession relevant.”
As we survey surveying going forward, I encourage us all to take this positive, proactive approach and embrace the opportunities.