A surveyor can work in many capacities in construction and other fields. They measure boundaries, determine the positions of roads and buildings, research land records, prepare maps and more. Surveyors are employed by private industries, construction firms and government entities to determine the best place to build roads and buildings and place utilities. Surveyors can also work for mining companies, marine industries, the justice system and natural resource conservation.
There are several levels of experience in surveying careers. While a surveyor is usually required to hold a bachelor’s degree, a survey technician is not. A technician can work under the supervision of a surveyor, handling equipment, researching and entering data. These individuals may hold a high school diploma or an associates degree.
The need for surveyors is expected to continue to grow at a slow yet steady rate. They will continue to be needed to measure boundaries and review construction plans. New technology such as drones and GPS make surveying much more efficient than in the past so fewer workers can accomplish more. The demand for surveyors will be increased in areas experiencing higher rates of new construction as land surveys are essential when building.
The average salary for a land surveyor in the US is $66,000. A survey technician, which is a entry level position without advanced degrees, will earn about $46,000 annually.
Surveyors generally need a bachelor’s degree because they will be certifying legal documents about boundaries and natural resources. While some colleges offer programs specifically in surveying, other degrees you could pursue include:
- Civil engineering
Look for programs that are accredited by the ABET. They monitor programs at all levels in the areas of engineering, computing and natural science. This accreditation is recognized internationally as the standard for surveying. You can find accredited programs by location on their website.
After graduation, you may choose to seek out an apprenticeship or internship. Your college or university may be able to connect you with a surveyor to work with to hone your skill set before working independently.
In some states an associate’s degree plus a certain number of years of experience in supervised work is accepted as education for becoming a surveyor in place of a bachelor's degree.
Surveying technicians do not require as much education and can work under a licensed surveyor. Technicians perform basic tasks of surveying like marking land, data entry and training activities to become proficient at measuring. An apprenticeship under a highly qualified surveyor will help you gain the skills you need to become certified and work independently. Search for apprenticeship programs in your state to see what organizations offer this service. After technicians have worked for four to ten years, depending on the state requirements, they may be eligible to become a licensed surveyor.
Each state’s licensing requirements vary slightly, but the general path for being licensed in surveying is:
- Complete the required level of education
- Take and pass the Fundamentals of Surveying exam. This is for recent graduates or those about to graduate from an accredited program.
- Work under an experienced licensed surveyor (amount of supervised work time required varies by state)
- Take and pass the Principles and Practices of Surveying exam. This test is intended for those with at least four years of field experience in surveying.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) manages the certifications for surveyors in all 50 states and US territories. They can help you determine the exact requirements for licensing in your state and provide the study and testing materials to help you succeed. Licensing boards can be found on their website. These organizations will inform you what certifications you need and where to submit your test results.
Other organizations offer a variety of certifications and programs to learn everything from the basics of mapping to advanced surveying skills. For some certifications, you will need to have a strong educational background such as a bachelor’s degree. Others can stand alone and will help you achieve the status of a technician.
Some possible certificates to pursue include:
- American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS)- There are two different levels of certification. A Technologist is for routine mapping professionals. He or she may have an understanding of the principles of mapping, but not yet be a professional in the field. A Mapping Scientist is generally for those with a higher education degree and ability to supervise mapping professionals under him or her. This level certifies that the Scientist is capable of teaching at a high level, is published or is participating in new research.
- National Society of Professional Surveyors- NSPS offers programs for Certified Survey Technicians, Hydrographer Certification, certified Federal Surveyors and Certified Floodplain Surveyor. Certified Survey Technicians can apply for and earn certification at four levels in accordance with their experience.
- GIS Certificate Program- If you use electronic geographic information systems (GIS), you can complete the program and become certified through the GIS Certification Institute.
After obtaining basic certification, you could choose to work in a niche area. These can include specialized training and certification. Advanced and specialized knowledge will make you more appealing to employers in some areas and can command a higher rate of pay for your advanced knowledge. Some areas you may choose to specialize in include:
- Construction surveying
- Forensic surveying
- Hydrographic surveying
- Boundary surveying
- GIS analysis
- Mine surveying
Surveying is a steady career choice. You can attend a four year bachelor’s degree program or can first work as a technician after just a few months of study and training. There are many opportunities for advancement and specialization in the field and the need for surveyors continues to remain steady.
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