Becoming a Surveyor: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a surveying career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a surveyor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Surveyor

Surveyors measure the land to help create maps and other important documents. Read the following list of pros and cons to find out if a career as a surveyor is the right choice for you.

Pros of a Surveying Career
Good pay (mean salary of about $60,000)*
Healthy employment growth (10% job growth from 2012-2022)*
Many specializations available (including construction, hydrographic and forensic surveying)**
Variety of tasks, both indoors and outdoors*

Cons of a Surveying Career
Education and training requirements can take up to eight years*
Work can be physically demanding (job duties might include heavy lifting and standing or walking for long periods)*
Might need to temporarily relocate to work sites*
Some dangers associated with the work environment include exposure to the elements or working around heavy traffic***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Society of Professional Surveyors, ***Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

As a surveyor, you'll complete tasks related to measuring and mapping out the surface of the Earth. Job duties for this position include transporting and setting up equipment, such as slope lasers, hand levels and measuring rods. You'll then record site data, including height, depth, longitude and latitude. While you might spend a large part of your time in the field leading a survey crew, this job also requires some time indoors performing research or recording survey results for use in legal documents or maps.

Career Options

As a construction surveyor, you might determine official property boundaries, layout a job site or ensure the proper placement of utilities pipelines. Other surveyors specialize in hydrographic surveying, which can be used to dredge bodies of water and locate petroleum. You could even work as a forensic surveyor who presents evidence in court.

As of May 2014, most surveyors worked for architectural and engineering firms, according to the BLS. You might also work for employers that include construction companies and government agencies.

Salary and Employment Outlook

The BLS reported that surveyors earned an average annual wage of about $60,000 as of May 2014. Jobs in the federal executive branch paid considerably more. Surveyors in this sector were paid a mean salary of around $82,000. Those working for state governments also earned a higher-than-average salary of around $74,000 in the same year.

Additionally, 4,400 new surveying jobs were expected to be created between 2012 and 2022. This was due to an increase in construction work and the growing use of GIS technologies, according to the BLS.

Career Skills and Requirements

Education Requirements

Before you can work independently and provide your services to the public as a surveyor, you'll need a license. Though there are some states that allow surveyors to become licensed with an associate degree or several years of work experience, most require a bachelor's degree in surveying, civil engineering or a related field. In some cases, this degree program must be approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Surveying and civil engineering bachelor's degree programs often include instruction in the use of computer-aided drafting (CAD), remote sensing and GPS technologies. Through a combination of class lectures and lab hours, you can learn how to map coordinates for utilities and roadways or measure elevations, planes and curves. You'll take calculus and trigonometry courses as well.

Experience Requirements

Licensing requirements also include a supervised work experience. If you graduate from a bachelor's degree program, this entails working as a surveyor-in-training for around four years. Passing scores on the Fundamentals of Surveying and the Principles and Practice of Surveying exams are also required.

Useful Skills

As a surveyor, you might want to develop some soft skills and abilities to supplement your technical training. These could include an ability to visualize project dimensions and work as part of a team. You might develop the problem-solving skills needed to troubleshoot GPS equipment as well. An eye for detail is also essential to ensuring a project's accuracy.

What Employers Are Looking for

Potential employers can require anywhere from 3-8 years of experience in addition to a bachelor's degree and state licensure. A familiarity with Microsoft Office, AutoCad and Trimble GPS software was also listed among common requirements. Read on for a sample of what employers were looking for in March 2012 job posts:

  • A construction company in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was looking for a surveyor with a bachelor's degree and at least eight years of experience to take on supervisory responsibilities. Candidates also needed an understanding of civil engineering as it pertains to dam construction.
  • An asphalt company in Wisconsin was looking for a surveyor to perform both field and office duties, including map layout, data management and inventory tracking tasks. Applicants needed to be familiar with such computer software as AutoCAD and Microsoft Excel.
  • An engineering firm advertised for two survey crew chief positions in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Strong mathematical skills and 3-5 years of experience were required. Applicants would need to be licensed land surveyors or land surveyors-in-training. National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) Certified Survey Technicians could also meet minimum qualifications.
  • A construction company in Alaska was looking for a grade checker and surveyor with a high school education and at least five years of experience. Applicants with a degree in civil engineering were preferred.

How to Stand Out

Bolster Your Software Skills

According to the BLS, the best job prospects should be available to surveyors who can demonstrate proficiency in computer mapping technologies. While enrolled in your undergraduate degree program, you might want to consider taking GIS coursework to develop your digital mapmaking and survey software skills.

Get Certified

If you're interested in specializing in a particular kind of surveying, earning certification could also improve your chances for employment, according to the NSPS. This professional organization offers a certification program to hydrographic surveyors with five years of experience. The completion of an approved training program can be substituted for 36 months of experience.

Alternative Career Paths

Civil Engineer

If you'd like to be more involved in the design and construction of a new structure or public works project, a civil engineering career might be a better fit. Licensing requirements for this profession also include a bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited program, a period of supervised work experience and passing scores on written exams. However, civil engineers earned quite a bit more than surveyors. As of May 2011, their mean annual wage was almost $83,000, though the projected employment growth was a bit slower at 19% over the 2010-2020 decade, according to the BLS.

Urban or Regional Planner

If you like the idea of working with GIS technologies but are more interested in using them to conserve natural resources or forecast an area's economic development, consider a career as an urban or regional planner instead. Training requirements for this field are still fairly extensive. The BLS reports that a master's degree is a typical for most positions, although a bachelor's degree might get you an entry-level job as an assistant. These planners earned an average salary of over $67,000 as of May 2011. However, with employment opportunities projected to grow 16% from 2010-2020, the job market isn't as favorable for urban and regional planners as it is for surveyors.

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