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How to Become a Land Surveyor: A Comprehensive Career Map

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Surveyors are a significant part of society, from planning sustainable high-tech cities and skyscrapers to addressing global challenges like migration and climate change. Surveyors work in different ways to protect the environment, improve living standards, and tackle resource scarcity. Surveying can be a fun career full of valuable skills, and professionals are always in demand.

If shaping the world sounds interesting, and you’ll love to transform how people travel, live, and work, then a career as a surveyor might be a perfect fit for you. Here, we’ll explore what a surveyor does, their work environment, and how to become a surveyor.

Read on to see if this career path suits you.

What is a Land Surveyor?

A land surveyor—also simply called a surveyor—is a trained professional who establishes water, official land, and airspace boundaries. Surveyors work with landscape architects, civil engineers, regional and urban planners, and other professionals to create design documents. Surveyors measure and mark boundaries and collect data for cartographers, engineers, and construction companies to develop and map cities with these data.

What Does a Land Surveyor Do?

Surveyors work with highly specialized equipment to make accurate measurements of the layout of residential and commercial properties, potential construction sites, and preserved land areas. Surveyors perform lots of duties which may include:

  • Measuring the angle and distance between points below, above, and on the land surface.
  • Research survey and land records alongside land titles to determine where property boundaries end.
  • Travel to different locations and sites using known points of reference to spot the exact location of outstanding landmarks and features.
  • Establish official boundaries for water and land in legal documents such as deeds and leases.
  • Prepare maps, plots, and reports and present findings to construction companies, government agencies, and other clients.

Apart from these general responsibilities, surveyors also carry out other duties. But where a surveyor works primarily determines what they do. Some of the responsibilities include:

  • Engineering and Construction Surveying
    Engineering and construction surveyors determine the depths of building foundations and the location of roads and buildings for construction purposes.
  • Land Surveying
    Land surveyors identify the exact locations of real estate and construction sites and determine the boundaries of properties.
  • Geodetic Surveying
    Geodetic surveyors work with highly-specialized technological tools such as aerial observation tools and satellites to measure vast areas of the earth’s surface.
  • Mine Surveying
    Mine surveyors work to determine the magnitude of surface mines and mining materials. They also map tunnels and mark features of underground mines.
  • Forensic Surveying
    Forensic surveyors document accident scenes and measure the impact on the land’s geographical features and land areas.
  • Marine and Hydrographic Surveying
    Surveyors in the marine sector measure water bodies such as harbors, bays, and rivers to establish features like the river’s floor or water depth.

How to Become A Surveyor

Many surveyors possess a bachelor’s degree in surveying and geomatics, surveying and mapping, and surveying engineering technology. Most surveying degree programs incorporate field experience and classroom instruction to impart professionals’ required knowledge and expertise.

Here are the general steps to become a surveyor:

1. Complete High School

The first step to begin a career in surveying is completing high school. Most surveying degree programs require a solid background in math. Students should focus on algebra, geometry, drafting, trigonometry, computer-aided drafting (CAD), geography, and mechanical drawing. These courses provide a foundation for a surviving degree.

2. Earn A Bachelor’s Degree

It is possible to kickstart a career as a surveyor with an associate's degree, typically earned after two years. But due to the technical nature of surveying, many employers prefer candidates who have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in mapping, geomatics, or surveying.

Some states require that students complete a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) to earn a license. People who want to enter the profession with only a high school diploma or associate’s degree will undergo a more rigorous licensing process.

Related Resource: ABET Accredited Online Schools: A Guide to the Top 15

3. Consider Internship

Land surveying internships are an excellent way to get hands-on experience and apply classroom theory. In some states, internships are a requirement for licensure, while they are voluntary in others. Since surveying is extensive, it would be helpful for students to zero down on a specific specialization or subfield they wish to pursue.

The easiest way to grab internship spots is through the university program, as schools typically have partnerships with government agencies and local businesses involved in the field. In rare cases where the program offers no internship opportunities, students can search for and contact local businesses with internship opportunities. In small towns, where internship opportunities for surveyors are rare, a student can begin to plan at least one year ahead of the start date to stand a better chance.

During the internship period, interns learn a lot from professionals in the field by shadowing them and helping to collect and compile data.

4. Apply For Jobs

After gaining the necessary experience through internships, now is the time to start applying to surveyor jobs. You can start by searching for jobs in your local area, after which you might consider job boards for surveyor listings.

5. Get Licensed

Before anyone can begin practicing surveying professionally, they must sit for and pass a minimum standards examination. The National Council of Examiners administers the Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) examination. In addition to the exam, applicants have to complete a period of apprenticeship under a Licensed Professional Surveyor.

Check the licensure requirements for your state. The educational path also determines the procedures to get licensed.

The NCEES offers two different licensing exams, which are:

  • Fundamentals of Surveying (FS)
    This exam tests the applicant’s basic surveying and mathematical and scientific concepts.
  • Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS)
    This exam covers legal principles, surveying standards, business practices, professional practices, and types of surveying. Only surveyors with at least four years of working experience can attempt this exam. Most states also add a supplementary exam to the PS exam for licensure.

In North Carolina, for example, the licensing requirements are as follows:

Applicants with a high-school diploma can take the licensing exam after seven years.
Associate degree holders in surveying can take the examination after four years of working experience.

Applicants with a bachelor’s degree can take the exam after two years of practical experience. One year includes supervision by a professional land surveyor.

After earning a license, it is crucial to maintain and renew it. Renewal and maintenance requirements differ from state to state.

6. Get Certified

Although certification is not a requirement, it can go a long way to stand you to potential employers.

The National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) offers voluntary certification. There are four levels at which a professional can become a Certified Survey Technician (CST):

  • Level One: Anyone can sit for this exam.
  • Level Two: Only surveyors with at least one year and six months of experience can sit for this level.
  • Level Three: Surveyors need at least 42 months (three and a half years) of experience to attempt this level.
  • Level Four: Only surveyors who have passed the level three exam and have at least five and a half years can take this exam.

7. Keep Learning

To keep up with trends and stay updated, surveyors should take continuing education courses in advanced mathematics, data management, natural resource management, and data analysis. Surveyors can also become a part of professional societies that promote innovative surveying methods and provide networking opportunities. The most prominent professional bodies in the field are the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), also known as the Imaging and Geospatial Information Society.

Types of Land Surveyors

Surveying is a broad field, and there are many subfields, and surveyors may choose to focus on a particular discipline. However, many surveyors prefer general practice and prefer not to specialize. These are the different sub-disciplines and types of land surveyors:

  • Photogrammetry

Photogrammetrists create detailed 3D maps using aerial photos, satellite images, ranging technology, and light imaging detection. The maps display vegetation, landmarks, buildings, and topography. They also compile and evaluate spatial data like elevation and distance.

  • Construction Surveying

A construction surveyor advises contractors, architects, and engineers. They take accurate measurements to determine where a road, bridge, or underground tunnel starts and stops. They can also pinpoint where sewer, phone, power, and water lines run.

Related Resource: Top Construction Management Online Schools with ACCE Accreditation

  • Forensic Surveying

A forensic surveyor must collect and analyze data acquired as evidence in court cases. These surveyors testify over boundary disputes, automobile wrecks, and industrial accidents in court. Forensic surveyors must be very accurate, as opposing forensic surveyors will thoroughly examine the evidence.

  • Hydrographic Surveying

Hydrographic surveyors work with cutting-edge technology to map the shape and location of the land under lakes, rivers, and oceans. They search for oil, spot underwater hazards, measure erosion, and give opinions on dredging projects. These surveyors usually work for the government, oil, shipping, and utility companies.

  • Geodetic Surveying

Geodetic surveyors use satellite signals such as precise leveling, electronic distance measurements, Global Positioning System (GPS), and star observations to measure positions on the earth’s surface accurately. They use this data for high-quality mapping and monitoring shifts on the earth’s crust.

  • GIS Analysis

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. Surveyors in this subfield utilize software to design and analyze elaborate maps that show details such as fire hydrants, street signs, and land contours. Surveyors use the maps to plan housing developments, parks, and roads. They are also helpful in waste management, as they reveal pollution levels through land slopes and water sources.

  • Boundary Surveying

Boundary surveying is the design, measure, and map of property lines. Sometimes, they have to read and analyze physical and public records that go back in time. Boundary surveyors often work for home-buyers who need to determine the boundaries of properties they wish to buy. Professionals in boundary surveying must have a solid understanding of land laws and surveying mathematics.

  • Topographic Surveying

Topographic surveyors use field measurements and aerial photographs to provide information for map compilations. The maps often show the physical attributes of the earth’s surface, such as rivers, valleys, lakes, and hills. Architects and civil engineers use “Topo” maps to plan new structures.

  • Surveying Technician

Surveying technicians are commonly found on the road wearing a neon vest and using a tripod. Technicians use surveying equipment to collect data and relay it to land surveyors. The data obtained by technicians help create maps.

  • Land/Cadastral Surveying

Land or cadastral surveyors mark boundaries on properties and record the data on maps and plans, after which they create property titles. Surveyors need a special license to work in this subfield because the documents they produce are legal tenders for land transactions.

GetEducated’s Pick: Bachelor of Applied Science in Land Surveying / Geomatics from Great Basin College

  • Arts and Antiques Surveying

Arts and antique surveying is a lesser-known branch of surveying. Art and antique surveyors give recommendations for the sale, valuation restoration, and care of personal property. They also advise clients on how much to pay for various artifacts and the process of care for historic pieces of pottery. People who go into this niche have to be very passionate about arts and antiques.

  • Quantity Surveying

Quantity surveying deals with the financial aspect of construction. Surveyors here are in charge of the monetary elements of civil engineering and building projects. They manage cash flows, strive to finish projects within the budget, and handle risk/value assessments. They also partake in construction contracts such as preparing tenders, advising on contractual claims, and arranging suppliers and subcontractors. A career in quantity surveying would fit those who enjoy playing with numbers.

  • Engineering Surveyor

Engineering surveyors take detailed routes for canals, pipelines, roads, railways, tunnels, and sewers. They also survey dam sites, construction sites, multistory buildings, and other projects.

GetEducated’s Pick: Bachelor of Science in Surveying Engineering Technology from University of Maine

  • Mine Surveyors

This set of surveyors works with mining organizations to locate new mining locations, avoid old mines and safely connect underground passages. They do this by measuring open-cut and underground mines. In addition, they also work to define mining boundaries in different states and territories.

Work Environment for Surveyors

The work environment for surveyors depends on their particular job responsibilities. In most cases, they’ll work in the field and the office. Technology developments, such as electronic-distance equipment, satellite-positioning systems, remote sensing equipment, and angle-measuring tools, have reduced the surveyor workload.

Fieldwork usually involves long hours outdoors, where the surveyor takes measurements, defines boundaries, and performs other tasks. On the other hand, office work requires data compilation, preparing reports, and documenting information.

Surveyors also travel to different locations where their services are needed. In some instances, they have to travel long distances and stay away from home for long periods. Most surveyors work regular hours, while specialized surveyors might have to work non-traditional hours and more extended periods to finish projects.

Employment Opportunities for Surveyors

The introduction of technological innovations means that surveyors no longer have to spend a lot of time out in the field like they used to. Surveyors are in mining, construction, and engineering firms. Government agencies and private firms also hire them. Employment prospects depend on the level of activity in that sector.

Registered surveyors have a higher chance of being employed by more prominent firms or being partners in small private firms. Those who advance can take up engineering or administrative roles, typically in urban areas.

Surveying Job Description: What Skills Will You Need?

Surveyors need several hard and soft skills to excel in the profession. Let’s highlight some essential qualities.

Soft Skills

  • Detail-Oriented
    Surveyors need to carry out their duties accurately and precisely to avoid legal issues.
  • Communication Skills
    A surveyor has to send clear instructions and receive feedback from team members. They also have to speak to architects, lawyers, developers, construction managers, government authorities, and financiers. As a result, their communication skill must be top-notch.
  • Physical Stamina
    Since surveyors work outdoors for long periods and in rough terrains, they must have enough stamina to walk long distances.
  • Problem-Solving Skills
    Surveyors often have to calculate disparities between the current condition of the land and documents that show property lines. In cases where there have been changes in the past, they must try to restore the property lines.
  • Visualization Skills
    Surveyors must be imaginative and able to envision distances and new structures.
  • Time Management Skills
    A surveyor has to learn to manage their time and team members successfully. For example, when the daylight hours are short in the winter months, they must maximize time and meet deadlines.

Technical Skills

In addition to soft skills, a surveyor must possess the ability to use a particular technology, software, documents, and tools. These include:

  • Survey equipment
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Data Collection
  • Survey data
  • Civil 3D
  • Legal descriptions
  • Construction layout
  • Total station
  • Geographical Information System (GIS)
  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)
  • As-built

Land Surveyor Salary

The Bureau of Labor Services (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for surveyors was $65,590 as of May 2020. Government agencies were the highest paying employers, with an average of $76,220. At the same time, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction surveyors earned an average of $69,920. The top 10% in the industry earned above $109,010, while the lowest 10% earned below $37,690.

Statistics from the BLS show that between 2020 and 2030, there is a 2% projected growth rate for surveyor jobs. 2% is slower than the national average for all jobs, which is 8%. The primary reason for the drop in employment growth is drones and other advancing technologies in the field.

Despite the insignificant employment growth figures, there should be an average of 4,000 jobs every year between 2020 and 2030. The predicted employment opportunities stem from replacing retired professionals and those who change occupations. There will continue to be jobs for surveyors as they are needed to work on mineral extraction projects, review construction sites, and certify boundary lines.

Why Become a Land Surveyor?

Becoming a surveyor comes with so many perks and side attractions. They include:

Improving Health

Yes, surveyors can help improve health through active transport systems. These systems encourage physical activity like walking, running, and cycling. Apart from making people more active, it helps reduce carbon emissions, protect the environment and enhance general health.

Fighting Money Laundering

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that 2-5% of the global GDP, running into $2 trillion, is laundered yearly. Real estate surveyors can help stop the flow of crime proceeds by reporting illegal property purchases.

Enabling A Sustainable Society

3D-printed buildings, bamboo houses, and other new and innovative construction techniques are employed daily. Surveyors also help “re-wild” countryside regions with beavers, wolves, and other endangered species and protect coral reefs.

Establish a Well Paid Career

Surveying skills are needed worldwide, and professionals can specialize, build a career and explore limitless opportunities. Skills like data analytics, 3D modeling, project management, and drone flying equip professionals with valuable skills that can also be useful in other career paths.

Enjoy Variety

No two days are the same. The career combines office work and exposure to new technologies with the chance to partake in big projects that promise real social impact. Surveyors have the opportunity to network with property developers, architects, lawyers, safety experts, and asset managers. They also work on exciting projects like festival sites and film locations.

Take the First Step to Become a Land Surveyor Today!

Land surveyors play an essential role in shaping the world, human life, and travel. This career not only gives you opportunities to earn, you also get to journey to different places and play a part in global issues. Start your new career today by exploring our database of accredited online degrees that can propel you into your new career.

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