Survey Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a survey technician's career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a survey technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Survey Technicians Career

Survey technicians mainly help photogrammetrists, surveyors and cartographers with gathering geographic information. The following are some pros and cons of the profession to help you decide if you want to become a survey technician:

Pros of Being a Survey Technician
Significant education isn't required*
Able to work in the field as well as the office*
Anticipated job growth (14% from 2012-2022)*

Cons of Being a Survey Technician
Exposure to all types of weather*
You may have to carry heavy equipment*
Surveyors may commute long distances*
Low initial wages (about $31,000 a year)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Survey technicians work in survey parties where there is a party chief, surveying technicians and assistants. Technicians also record information, conduct surveys, perform calculations, determine controls and set grids. They use a variety of measuring instruments, such as prisms and theodolites. Some individuals may also act as supervisors in addition to visiting sites to record data and measurements. Survey technicians conduct surveys in order to find man-made constructions as well as natural structures below ground, beneath water and on the surface.

Job Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that from 2012 and 2022, survey technicians were expected to see 14% employment growth, as fast as the average for other occupations. This prediction was attributed to leaps in mapping technology and the increased need for data to create maps. Surveying technicians will also be required to make sure that the information downloaded with GPS technology is accurate.

In May 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that survey technicians earned an average yearly salary of $43,870. The upper 10% of survey technicians earned about $67,320.

What Are the Requirements?

While a high school diploma is enough to qualify an individual to become a survey technician, you may want to consider earning an Associate of Applied Science or Bachelor of Science degree in surveying technology. While enrolled in a surveying technology program, you will learn about a variety of topics, including global positioning systems, construction management, composition, physics, business communication and technical animation.

What Employers Are Looking For

Employers may request applicants with adequate experience, leadership abilities and experience with certain software, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Access. The following are examples of job postings from May 2012:

  • A utility company in North Dakota advertised for a full-time survey technician with 1-9 years of experience to use survey equipment and carry out routine tasks while being supervised by the crew chief. Requirements included an associate's degree, at least two years of experience and certification. Base pay was $20-$28 an hour.
  • An energy company in Pittsburgh, PA, advertised for a technician to create surveys for land development and other projects in addition to using global positioning equipment to gather data. Qualified candidates would posses either an associate's or bachelor's degree in addition to at least five years of surveying experience. Other desirable qualities included self-motivation and the ability to multitask.
  • An engineering company in New York advertised for an experienced survey technician. Applicants were asked to have a strong work ethic and be open to learning. Requirements for the position included an associate's or bachelor's degree, at least three years of experience working in an office setting, the ability to interpret GPS data and experience with certain software.

How to Stand Out in the Field

While not always required, earning certification can certainly help with job prospects and advancing your career as a survey technologist. The National Society of Professional Surveyors offers the Certified Survey Technician credential for individuals with the proper experience and who successfully pass an exam. Technicians should have the ability to work independently when deadlines approach. Other important qualities are listening skills, physical endurance for working outside and carrying equipment as well as the ability to repair any equipment.

Other Career Paths

Cartographer

If you would like a career with a better job outlook and a higher initial salary, you may consider becoming a cartographer. These individuals use satellite images, aerial photographs, ranging technology and light-imaging detection to create maps. They gather information on population, demographics and weather patterns in addition to using data from various sources. Cartographers should have a Bachelor of Science degree in geomatics or a closely related field. These professionals may want to consider becoming certified by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. In order to qualify for certification, applicants must have the proper level of education, experience and pass an exam. In May 2011, the BLS reported that cartographers and photogrammetrists earned a median annual salary of about $56,000. The BLS also reported that job outlook for these fields was 22% from 2010-2020.

Drafter

Drafters work alongside architects and engineers to transform designs into drawings with computer-aided design and drafting software. This profession may be better suited for individuals who enjoy working with images but don't like the idea of being exposed to the elements or carrying around equipment. In order to become a drafter, individuals should have an associate's degree, while those who wish to work in the architectural industry may need a bachelor's degree. Drafters also have the option of becoming certified by the American Design Drafting Association, which requires that they pass an exam.

The BLS indicates that employment opportunities for drafters are expected to increase just six percent from 2010-2020. Of the specialties, mechanical drafters had the highest employment outlook of 11%. Their pay varied slightly. In May 2011, the BLS reported that architectural and civil drafters earned a median annual salary of about $47,000, while electrical and electronics drafters made more than $54,000.

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