Where Does the Next Generation Stand?

by Nathan Buchholz

Before I get in depth with this article, let me explain how I came to know about surveying and what my experiences have been. My father, a professional engineer, was the one who introduced me to surveying. I guess he always knew that I wouldn’t be cut out to do the job of a desk jockey! I researched the two schools in Michigan that offer surveying programs and attended one.

However, I wasn’t truly sold on surveying yet; all I knew was that I needed some form of education in order to succeed in life. But after my second year at school I was confident in my choice, and by my third summer of working I knew that there was no turning back—I wanted to be a surveyor. Not coincidentally, this was the summer I had my two best mentors. These are the kind of guys who made sure I was aware of what I was doing and wanted me to have the best surveying experience possible.

I am now a member of “The Next Generation” of surveyors, the new set of young minds in the process of taking over the surveying profession. I believe that the upcoming generation of surveyors is going to have to bring a great deal of change to the profession compared to earlier generations. Yes, each generation of surveyors has had, and will continue to have, ups and downs with the economy. However, my generation has been equipped with a whole new set of tools to work with. These tools make a huge difference when it comes to looking for work and deciding what kind of tasks define the surveying profession.

Don’t worry: This is not going to be a depressing story about how companies are underbidding jobs and decreasing the value of our hard work. We have all heard and experienced enough of that, and in my opinion talking about it only lowers spirits. This is not the mentality that the next generation of surveyors wants to start their careers with!

When I first started my education toward surveying in 2006, I was told by many people from the profession that you couldn’t find surveyors to fill positions, and it is obvious that this is not the case now. My question is, why not work to make it that way again? We have one of the oldest and what was once the most respected professions. It used to be that in certain cases the only professional in the town was a surveyor!

I want to bring together the two ideas of how the next generation is going to be (and has to be) different than past generations and how we can work on reestablishing the quality of our profession. A surveying student today needs to start thinking outside the box for finding work as well as thinking about what type of work defines a surveyor.

Redefine Surveying for Yourself

When it comes to reestablishing our profession, I am frequently hearing people talk about how surveyors have given away aspects of the profession. One example that instantly jumps to mind is how we have given away GIS. The way I think about it is: We as surveyors may have given it up, but have you as a surveyor given it up?

I used to work for a landscaping and excavating company, but just because those were the main things the company specialized in didn’t mean we weren’t doing other projects if money could be made. So, why not get the education that is necessary to attain the skills of a qualified GIS professional and add it to the list of services you offer? What consumers want is going to drive employment in certain areas and cause a decrease in others. The general public doesn’t care about what is defined as the areas that cover surveying in the licensing law.

These ideas may sound a little out there and they may anger some surveyors, but that’s good. It seems like the deeper I get into surveying the amount of frustration I come across pertaining to the profession gets larger and larger. As the new generation, let’s use that anger and frustration to take back our profession. To survive, we need to obtain the necessary education to remain competitive in the marketplace, expand our services, and embrace new technology for what it can do for us. 

For example, look at the way surveying is being taught in certain schools. Many universities that teach surveying are branching off, realizing that a GIS option to surveying is important. I’m not saying that just by jumping on GIS we can save the world of surveying, but I am saying it is necessary in order for our profession to survive.

Our world has become an instant-gratification society that wants everything to be technologically easy and, let’s face it, cheap. A good example is a developing country trying to establish a cadastral system: They are not going to be able to afford, have the time for, or much less need conventional methods of surveying. They are looking for a quick, inexpensive system that will help them establish property rights. Low-accuracy surveys and GIS-based cadastral systems are what they are in the market for.

I believe the problem comes down to the fact that many people chose surveying because they could be outside and not have to sit in front of a desk all day typing on a computer, myself included. Unfortunately, technology has caught up with us, and just about anyone can be trained to go out and use a GPS system or total station. So inevitably we are going to have to adapt with technology.

Take machine guidance for example—it’s a technology that is taking surveyors off the job site. Unfortunately but inevitably this means less work for surveyors, and licensing laws won’t stop it because, yet again let’s face it, the market is what drives business. The only way we can have any grasp on that market is to become trained in those systems.

There is a very interesting video on YouTube about machine guidance; just search “GPS technology” and look for a man standing next to a truck. Part of the video shows a surveyor sitting around multiple screens managing an entire road-construction project from his desk. This is what I see the next generation of surveyors doing.

Try More Networking

As a current or future surveyor looking for work, don’t limit your search to your local community or state, because  jobs with the local surveying or multidisciplinary firm aren’t necessarily gone, but they are much harder to come by. Money is also tight for firms that are looking for new employees, and they probably aren’t as likely to want to spend time and money in their applicant search. So you need to stand out.

One way is through social networking at websites such as LinkedIn, which  allows people to share professional information, seek employment, and make connections in all sorts of fields. Surveyors are notorious for being loners, so why not break the trend?

Try thinking differently for summer internships, too. Currently I am in Westminster, Colorado working for the surveying marketing team at Trimble Navigation. I am doing market research and learning about the newest technologies in surveying and how they are changing the way work is done. I hope my experience here will help me to find a job when I graduate with this new marketing knowledge and to excel at surveying when I get there.

Contributing to this magazine is yet another example of how networking pays off. I would have never guessed that my trip to the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping annual convention back in April would have led to such an opportunity. This just goes to prove that—through networking and being open, professional, and respectful—great opportunities can be found.
Nathan Buchholz is a senior in surveying engineering at Ferris State University and a summer intern with Trimble Navigation.

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