Education Surveying Technology

The Geomatics Engineering Group – Time for a New Model

image of Time for a New Model
Time for a New Model

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller

At a recent meeting of the Transportation Research Board AKD70 Standing Committee on Geospatial Data Acquisition Technologies a number of state Departments of Transportation (DOT) reported that they were having a major problem attracting  young people to their agencies, particularly in the survey area. With the baby boomers retiring the situation has caused these DOT’s to reach out to universities, community colleges, high schools and even the Boy Scouts to encourage this age group to consider a career in surveying.

This should not come as a surprise to any veterans of the surveying profession as this situation has been brewing for the past ten to 15 years, but it is not only the demographics that are working against the DOT’s, young people, in general see the surveying profession as a math intensive, low paying, low tech career that requires working in difficult weather conditions, often with little opportunity for advancement.

Having been involved with the surveying profession for over 50 years, in general I have found that the surveyor has been his/her own worst enemy. As a group they have resisted the opportunity to take a leadership role with GIS, GPS (GNSS), 3D laser scanning, drones – the list is a long one. This is not the case in other countries where the survey profession is held in high esteem regarding all things related to land management.

One of the key scenarios that has prevented the private sector surveyors from gaining the stature they should have is their willingness to compete on price. Low fees mean low salaries for staff. It is part of a vicious cycle that includes the lack of interest in surveying as a career, which in turn has caused colleges and universities to eliminate courses and survey degree programs. After years of perpetuating this cycle with little leadership from the professional organizations, we now find ourselves with a broken pipeline of young talent that will take many years, if not decades to repair.

As Buckminster Fuller recommends, if we want to change the present situation in the DOTs,  we need to build a new model. That is the goal of this article and hopefully much more discussion to come.

The first step in the proposed new model is adopting a new title for this profession. Instead of surveyor I would like to propose Geomatics Professional. I recently saw a description of the geomatics profession as being responsible for all geospatial activities except boundary (legal) surveys.

That seems reasonable to me. That is there would be boundary surveyors who in most states are regulated by state boards of licensure and geomatics professionals who would have at least a certification process, much like a Certified Photogrammetrist. This will require additional thought and development.

The Geomatics Group in a transportation agency would be responsible for collecting and managing all of geospatial information for their state. Thinking in a more broad sense they would be the experts in location aware applications. They would provide the answer to the “where” question. This would include geodetic control, GNSS, 3D mapping, autonomous vehicles of all kinds, GIS, the Internet of Things (IoT) and more – all things geospatial except legal boundary surveys.

There is a lot more work that needs to be done on this new model. It is likely to take the rest of this decade to make the transition, but it has to be made. The current model is broken. It does not work. It is time for a new model that reflects the digital world we are living in and the future – not the past.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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