Supply and demand

April 2006 » Columns » GEOMATICS
In Idaho, as in many other states across the nation, the annual attrition of licensed surveyors is four or five times the number of newly licensed individuals.
Joseph V.R. Paiva, Ph.D., P.S., P.E.,

At the recent conference of the Idaho Society of Professional Land Surveyors held in Boise, one of the members of the Board of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors gave a luncheon speech. He reminded us of the possibility of a troublesome future for the surveying profession.

In Idaho, as in many other states across the nation, the annual attrition of licensed surveyors is four or five times the number of newly licensed individuals. We are fortunate that this is happening at a time when potential productivity gains by advancements in field and office technology can make up some of the apparent shortfall. Doubtless, there are also a number of licensed individuals who either do not actively practice, or whose practice is practically nil. These are two of the legitimate attenuating circumstances that may slightly reduce the urgency of addressing the day when the shortage in surveying professionals might become critical.

There are, of course, less desirable and not entirely legitimate ways to overcome the shortfall. One is for more groups, individuals, and projects involving surveying that require professional supervision to be assigned, at least in name, to a single person "in responsible charge." Another way is to take a variety of surveying activities that legitimately may be described as not falling within the purview of a particular state's licensing statutes and place them under the supervision of unlicensed individuals. This is particularly common in states where the engineering licensing statutes are practically mute on the subject of most types of engineering, construction, and as-built surveying.

Many states are closing or trying to close the gaps between property boundary surveying—which is universally regulated through the licensing of land surveyors—and other types of surveying, such as geodetic, control, engineering, construction, and forensic.

As the pressure for surveying services increases, if there aren't enough professionals to provide the services, economics will force many to hold themselves out as surveyors—just not licensed. Is that what the profession desires? More importantly, is that what the public desires? Regardless of the resource that is in short supply, when demand cannot be met a number of societal responses are possible. The first is for the people with the potential to supply the resource simply to meet the demand regardless of how they are qualified or otherwise able to get the job done. This might be called the informal response, and a very likely one. There also might be a more formal response through legislation, creating new groups of people who may offer the required services in a legally sanctioned way. This type of response often occurs after some kind of crisis, when it occurs to politicians, investors, and governments that profits, revenues, and possibly votes are being lost, or might be lost, if something isn't done about the situation. The crisis can occur because there is a catastrophic result from one or more instances of the informal response. Or, it may develop from a group recognizing an opportunity to become legally sanctioned.

All of these responses (and more) range from mildly to obnoxiously inappropriate. Some might even be irresponsible. The only good types of responses occur from planning, forethought, and a cooperative spirit among the affected segments of society, which, unfortunately, are unlikely to happen. Cynical? I hope not—I'm just trying to be realistic. But here follows one way of responding, which many might tell me will only happen in my dreams.

Is it possible that a group of stakeholders from the supply side, perhaps from such groups as the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), and perhaps a variety of state societies and licensing boards will meet to agree on a set of initiatives to understand and address this problem? Perhaps they will quickly come to the conclusion that part of the problem is that there is not much information out there about surveyors, and that the little information available either doesn't help people see surveying as a profession or is detrimental to choosing a surveying career.

The next step might be to devote some energy and money to develop a public relations campaign and carry it to every possible young person, mentor, and vocational counselor. If done properly, the campaign may create a new generation of vocational counselors who understand what surveying is and what it has to offer, as well as a new generation of young people eager to enter the profession. Then, the surveying schools will be deluged with applicants; the schools themselves will no longer be teetering on the brink of viability, and the new entrants will begin the slow rise to increase numbers and improve the capabilities of the profession (call it modernization).

It so happens that we are in the early stages of such a dream—except it is real. The National Society of Professional Surveyors completed a project to promote careers in surveying. It was funded by a grant by NCEES and, it is my understanding from Curt Sumner, executive director of ACSM, that they funded the program for a second year. A web site was created (www.surveyingcareer.

com) that allows people considering a career in surveying to learn more, such as education, licensure, career paths, salary ranges, and the history and contributions of surveyors to society.

A direct outcome of the project is the availability and provision of free speakers' kits upon request to ACSM so that professionals may possess an already prepared PowerPoint presentation and many other marketing materials for presentations to groups such as students in junior and senior high schools, vocational schools, and college; and to other organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Anyone who is a surveyor may request a speaker's kit at the ACSM website (www.acsm.net).

Make it a goal to get the kit and make a presentation to a single group. If those presentations don't happen, then all of this valuable information remains stuck within a very small group, and we will still creep inexorably toward the inevitable and undesirable crisis.

Joseph V.R. Paiva, Ph.D., P.S., P.E., is a geomatics consultant. He can be reached at paiva@cenews.com.


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