Do not feel left out if you do not know about land surveying . You are not alone. Jerry Carter of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) performed a “man on the streets” survey to gauge public awareness of the land surveying profession. His survey revealed that public awareness of land surveying was and is dismally low.
I attend Kern Economic Development Foundation’s yearly STEMposium and can attest to Mr. Carter’s findings. Most of the young people know plenty about engineering but nothing about land surveying.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “Land surveyors make exact measurements and determine property boundaries. (They) provide data relevant to the shape, contour, gravitation, location, elevation, or dimension of land or land features on or near the earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, mining, land evaluation, construction, and other purposes.” For a more thorough and legal definition, see the State of California’s Land Surveyors Act at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=BPC&sectionNum=8726.
California land is valuable. All of it. Some California land more valuable than other California land, but you can bet that a California land owner wants to know where his land starts and where his neighbors land ends. Does a farmer want to plant and irrigate on his neighbor’s land? Does an oil company want to drill a ¼ million dollar well on his neighbors field? Does a land developer want to spend millions to improve land that he does not own? Does a homebuilder want to build on the wrong lot? Does a homeowner want his fence to be three feet into his legal yard? Of course not. How are these situations avoided practically and on a daily basis? Land surveyors.
The state of land surveying in California
In 2016 the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that of the approximately 65,000 land surveyors in the country, only 9,000 were under age 34. Jerry Carter of NCEES reported in 2016, the average age of a licensed land surveyor is between 58 and 60 years of age. You can begin to see state of the problem. Land surveyors are retiring, aging out and/or dying faster than they are coming into the profession. A break-out session at the 2019 California/Nevada Land Surveyors conference in Reno, Nevada identified this problem as the most important issue facing the profession. Over the next 10 years in California, a state with 40 million people and only 4,200 licensed land surveyors, all of those 57 year old surveyors become 67 year old surveyors. I would say that yesterday was the day to hit the panic button.
While many Land Surveying professionals talk about this issue, there does not seem to be any kind of coordinated effort, locally or state wide, to move the dial on the diminishing land surveyor numbers. The organization with the most at stake, the California Land Surveyors Association, discusses the issue anecdotally, but does not spend time or money studying or correcting the issue.
The pain is coming. Most of the engineering and surveying firms that I have contact with feel the pinch. They would like to expand their survey footprint, but they cannot find qualified candidates for open positions. State wide, union hall calls for surveyors are futile, the few are working. We feel the pinch today, but tomorrow it may be a slap.
With the passage of SB1 (California’s gas tax) roughly half of the $52 billion that SB1 will generate will go to Caltrans. Caltrans has publicly stated that, in order for them to spend their half of the SB1 billions, they will need to increase their workforce by 25 percent. Many of the positions they will need to fill will be land survey positions. CalTrans has already started an aggressive campaign to find land surveyors to fill positions, but they too recognize there are just not enough bodies entering the Land Surveying profession. Rob McMillan, senior transportation surveyor with Caltrans, confirms that even un-licensed surveyors with good experience are being pursued by Caltrans — many times unsuccessfully because their private sector jobs are equally lucrative.
Land surveying education
While there are a number of educational institutions in California that can help prepare high school graduates for a career in land surveying, the simple lack of awareness of the profession keeps their student numbers frighteningly low. California State University Fresno offers a Bachelors of Science degree in Geomatics, a discipline that leads to a career in as a land surveyor. Dr. Riadh Munjy reports that, despite support from administration and the local surveying community, the Geomatics program averages 40 students, — total— year in and year out. Local engineering and surveying firms support CSUF’s Geomatics program with scholarship dollars, but Dr. Munjy reports, sadly, that much of the money goes unused. Dr. Munjy is quick to relate that the five to seven graduates of the program yearly have jobs waiting for them. Most of the graduates are pipelined into Caltrans, who has logically and pragmatically targeted CSUF Geomatics students.
Cuyamaca College in El Cajon offers an Associate’s Degree and certificate in land surveying. John Butcher, a faculty member at Cuyamaca teaching the entry level surveying class, sees 50 students per semester take his class. Only 10 percent move on to the advanced classes that lead to a degree or certificate. Most students take the class to satisfy an engineering degree requirement. Like Dr. Munjy, Butcher relates that the all of the six to eight students who earn a degree or a certificate each year are placed in a job.
Selling land surveying
Land surveying has an image problem, an awareness issue, and apparently this awareness issue is not limited to California. In 2016, the National Society of Professional Surveyors held its first ever Public Relations Awards. Various surveying societies and organizations submitted entries focused on teaching the uninitiated about land surveying as an occupational path. Curtis Sumner, executive director of NSPS, says the lack of recruits to the profession isn’t because land surveying isn’t interesting — it’s because many don’t realize what it is!
Recognizing the need to bring youth into the land surveying profession, the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors entered and won the first Public Relations Award, by highlighting their program for supplying school vocation counselors with posters and leaflets promoting land surveying as viable and profitable career.
California Land Surveyors Association would be wise to follow the Texas group’s lead and leverage every available marketing method to get land surveying into the minds of California’s youth and avoid a land surveyor shortage that could cripple the state and damage a profession.
Jeffrey Gutierrez is the President and CEO of DeWalt Corporation, a professional services firm providing Civil Engineering, Land Surveying, 3D scanning and modeling and Sub-surface Utility Location. He is both a California and Federal licensed Land Surveyor.