Surveying as a profession: Is the shine waning?

Sep 2015 | No Comment

Experts share views on issues and prospects of surveying profession

John Trinder

Emeritus Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The University of NSW, Australia

Profession is not popular amongst school leavers

The 1960s to early 1970s were boom times for enrolments in surveying and geomatics programs in the state of NSW in Australia and I suspect other states as well. At the University of NSW (UNSW) at that time there were up to 100 students per year entering the program. The large enrolments unfortunately led to some graduates in the 1970s having problems obtaining a permanent job and some graduates never entered the profession, but obtained jobs in other areas. The official statements about job opportunities for surveying graduates for the next 15 years or so were that there was an over-supply of graduates, thus turning prospective students away from studying surveying at tertiary institutions. This image of over-supply
took some time to overcome, but by the late 1980s, enrolments had recovered to a reasonable level. However from then on, there has been a reduction in enrolments that has been difficult to overcome, leading to a shortage of graduates in a number of states in Australia. Indeed, a 2013 study by consulting company BIS Shrapnel entitled ‘Determining the Future Demand, Supply and Skills Gap for Surveying and Geospatial Professionals’ commissioned by Consulting Surveyors National painted a bleak future for the supply of surveying and geospatial professionals with the impact that $30.4 billion in construction work and 14,570 private house commencements will be put at risk from surveyor skills shortages. This shortage has not been reduced and the prospects are for a continued shortage of graduates for the next decade. This has led to surveying companies recruiting professionals from New Zealand and other countries under special visa arrangements introduced by the Australian government to allow skilled migrants to enter Australia.

In 2009 I wrote in an article in GIM magazine stating that the total number of new students entering the eight geomatics programs each year in Australia is fairly consistent at between 250-300, while typical output is around 200. The optimum number of graduates required to satisfy local demand is difficult to estimate since it depends on such factors as growth in the economy and current age profile of the profession, but it clearly would be significantly larger than the present number. The number of graduates entering the profession should preferably be approaching twice the current number, at least until the shortage of professionals has been alleviated.

Recent newspapers articles have highlighted the good job prospects for graduates in surveying and geomatics professions, but it seems that in today’s employment conditions the profession is not well known or popular amongst school leavers. Therefore the professional bodies in Australia, including the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) have developed strong marketing programs to encourage school leavers to enter the profession. Their programs have had a positive effect on the number of school leavers entering the profession in some states. However, it takes time for the shortage to be overcome because of the time required for education and training. The majority of graduates can find a job almost immediately, enjoy their professional life and find their occupation rewarding.

To summarise, in Australia, the shine probably went off the profession of surveying and geomatics in the 1970s and it has been difficult to attract students into education programs since then. There is a need for more graduates in most states of Australia, but surveying and geomatics programs at education institutions are competing with many programs that seem more attractive, certainly as far as income on graduation is concerned. Marketing the courses and the profession is essential to attract more students. This is a task for all sectors of the profession and has to involve significant investment of funds and time from current surveying and spatial professionals.


Virgo Eresta Jaya

President, Ikatan Surveyor Indonesia (ISI) , Indonesia

Young generation still possesses the enthusiasm and keen interest in surveying

A higher education in Indonesia for surveying was commenced 65 years ago in 1950. Initially, the academic education was intended to create surveyors to work in army, cadastre and construction industry mainly. In 1960s, the Government of Indonesia established two agencies dealing with agrarian affairs and mapping respectively. It marked the boom of surveying industry, and further built with the rise of oil industry. As the number of mapping projects developed by the government increases in 1970-1990, surveying companies began to flourish.

However, despite of the glory of the industry, the regeneration seemed to have been overlooked. Until now, the majority of surveying company owners are from 70’s generation. Only a few are from the 80’s, and even less for the 90’s.

The young surveyors are forced to enter another niche market that is being abandoned by the seniors, one of them being the GIS industry. As a computer literate generation, young surveyors gained competitive advantage to dominate this field. Moreover, this stream of fresh blood began to specialize in the new technology LIDAR while the established surveyors adhered to traditional photogrametric and terrestrial fields. The youngsters wanting a faster track to earn money usually work for marine and offshore surveying industries. This surveying is mostly to support the oil and gas exploration. They either work for the foreign companies in Indonesia or work overseas.

It all shows that the young generation still possesses the enthusiasm and keen interest in surveying. However, instead of fiercely competing with the seniors in the same specialization, they create their own field.

There is no denying that such disparities exist, nor a smooth hand over between generations. Similar phenomenon can be observed in the Surveying Professional Association. First established by a group of enthusiast, aspiring young surveyors in 1972, the association had witnessed the fading new blood, with the last five 3-years terms of presidency held by surveyors of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Nonetheless, measures are yet to be taken to bridge the gap between the two sides. This remains the concern of the Association.

Recently In May 2015, the Association invited all of the Geodesy- Geomatics student unions from the 11 universities in Indonesia. It was discovered that the students were apprehensive about the future, but highly enthusiastic about the possibility of expanding horizons in the field.

With an extensive network among local universities’ unions, these students successfully held a national forum of 65th years Geodesy higher education recently and publish a student-run magazine on a regular basis.

These students are indeed resourceful, although uninformed by understanding, training, or knowledge of the industry, once again proving the fact that there is no existing channel of communication between the student and the surveying industry.

Following this meeting, Indonesian Surveyors Association established the Young Surveyors Compartment which consists of surveyors under 35 years of age and the students. The compartment serves as a medium for students and young surveyors to exercise their network skill and to diminish the barrier among the stakeholders in the organization.

Other initiatives currently undertaken by the association include the provision of more accessible surveying certification. The certification preparation and registration process is now done in each Campus prior to graduation. The objective is to allow an easy, almost automatic access for all graduates to enter the industry. The first batch will commence in coming September graduation in Institut Teknologi Sepuluh November Surabaya.

Once the graduates hold the certification, the participants are subject to an effective oversight by the Association for the first two years while completing their internship and CPD programs. The association will connect them to the survey related companies which allow them to embark upon a career in surveying. The arrangement creates a mutually beneficial relationship between the individuals and the industry. The student experiences a real work environment whilst giving the company opportunities for regeneration and unveiling the big potential in young surveyors.

The CPD was initiated by the association last year. It runs monthly event on introduction of new technology and provides sharing of the successful project of the members. Covering on news regarding the current needs and trends in the industry, the members including young surveyors are ensured to stay on track.

Another factor that influence enthusiasm is also work opportunities. Despite of the current downfall of oil industry, only 20% of total parcels are completed in cadastre. Whereas for topographic mapping, base map of 1:25.000 scale are only provided in Java, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi and few other areas. The BIM are not being applied in building construction. Manufacture and other services barely utilizes GIS/GPS for efficient distribution. This is where opportunity arises, young surveyors are expected to complete the spatial data and boost the operating efficiency of other industries.

This generation of young surveyors are energetic, promising and leading a new era of innovation. While young surveyors hold the future of the surveying industry, the responsibility lies on the Association to unleash their full potential.


Eva-Maria Unger

Chair, International Federation of Surveyors Young Surveyors Network (FIG YSN)

This is an exciting profession

No the shine is not waning – it’s right there and shining bright. Seriously could somebody ask for a more exciting profession! There are Young Surveyors climbing the highest mountains, diving into the deep sea, flying up into space, establishing their own company, scanning unknown caves and all that is a part of our profession – surveying. The enthusiasm about it is unbroken especially in times like these when the global agenda is referring to us as key players to create a better world for all. It is our profession, which serve towards the betterment of society, environment and economy, as stated in the Sustainable Development goals, and needs to attend the emerging issues and trends. We are the Surveyors of Tomorrow and it is us who gonna make a difference in the world! With an estimated 70% of undocumented land worldwide, increasing effects of climate change, increasing population growth and increasing conflicts over the limited resource of land we are facing several challenges – but, and this is the exciting part of it, we have the tools, we have the technology and we have the knowledge.

We were growing up in the era of digital developments which leads to changes in the methods of data acquisition and processing. The growing use of UAVs, affordable and manageable use of laser scanning, the improvements and global all time availability of GNSS, satellite and aerial imagery for spatial units identification and the increasing accuracy in a second step, data collection gets faster, cheaper and more easy applicable. Important developments such as crowdsourced data and its use in platforms as e.g. GoogleMaps, OpenStreetMap, MissingMaps as well as 3D representations in maps and cadaster are key in being addressed by us. Being open minded, revolutionary, innovative and strong believers in do-acracy is one way to describe the surveyor of tomorrow. As restless wanderer we are keeping an eye on other domains which gives us the flexibility to adjust to current developments. Bitcoins/Blockchain is just one example where the Young Surveyors Network was on the forefront in linking it with land administration and there will be more new things coming – for sure.

I am convinced that Young Surveyors who are passionate and excited are the best advocates for promoting our profession. From my experience as a chair of the International Federation of Surveyors Young Surveyors Network (FIG YSN) I can say that there is an overwhelming enthusiasm within our worldwide Network. We are now reaching out to more than 9000 active Young Surveyors and the number is increasing each day. The way we are communicating changed a lot and now being reachable all over the world 24hours changed also the time we are informed about each other. Therefor we can reach out to so many in such a short time in promoting and sharing our success stories. During recent events an increase of the number of surveying students has been reported but of course this increase varies a lot within the regions but that shows that the enthusiasm is there – so generally speaking we are on the right track. The Young Surveyors Network started back in 2006 and probably this is already an effect but this is not proved – yet. Nevertheless supporting and getting engaged with the young ones definitely pays off in many different ways. So summing up the shine is not waning at all – I am sure that there will be more young professionals joining if we are keeping up our good work and show the relevance of our profession in the world we want.


Rory M Stanbridge

MRICS, FCInstCES, FRSPSoc Secretary General – The Survey Association, UK

There has never been a better time to enter the surveying profession

Ihave been asked to write an article on this topic at a time when I personally believe that the surveying profession offers more excitement and variety than at any other time in my experience.

To put that into perspective, I have been involved in the survey industry now for just over fifty years. I ran a photogrammetric survey company for more than thirty years and for the last nine years have been employed as Secretary General of The Survey Association in the UK. TSA as it is better known is the trade body representing the survey profession in the UK with over 160 member companies in membership. I am therefore, I believe, ideally placed to offer an opinion on the current status.

The importance of surveying in the construction industry should never be underestimated or undersold. No major construction project can commence at the design or build stage without a survey being undertaken so members of the profession can rightly claim to be at the start of almost all that mankind builds. That alone makes it a fascinating choice of career.

Since I joined the profession, technology has moved on at a sometimes alarming pace and the sectors in which surveying is now adopted has also developed. Who would have imagined in the 1960’s that surveying or the data collected from it would be used on film sets. Laser Scanning data was used on the last two Bond films and is now becoming an accepted method of producing models for film sets. The recent developments in SUAs or UAVs, whichever is your personal choice of acronym, has brought aerial photography into the public perception. Personally, I hate the term DRONE which I feel is really a tool of war and surveillance.

Google Earth and various street mappers have introduced the public to a whole new area of survey data collection without even realising it. So, with all this wonderful technology and market penetration, does the industry have any problems at all? The answer to this is a resounding YES, but it is not one of a star waning, more a problem of introducing people to the technology and encouraging young people, in particular, to enter the profession. The recession in 2009 hit the members of The Survey Association (TSA) very hard and a serious number of redundancies were imposed. Many of the people that were both well trained and versed in surveying that were made redundant subsequently left the industry and have never returned. The UK industry has now returned to pre-recession levels and despite major advances in technology, many requiring less manpower than previously, there is still a serious shortage of both qualified and trainee surveyors.

TSA has over the last few years introduced a number of initiatives to address this lack of surveyors. The first of these was to develop a website aimed primarily at schoolchildren and people looking for a change of career. The Become A Surveyor website was launched a number of years ago and was completely revamped in 2014. It can be found at: Visitors to the site can view and understand what the day to day life and work of a surveyor entails and can also see and be guided through the various routes into the profession. To date, the main views have been from people that wish to change their careers but we do need to push the schools to look at it much closer.

With all this amazing technology and the excitement of potential travel whilst being at the start of something major, I firmly believe that there has never been a better time to enter the surveying profession. If I had my chance again, I would most certainly follow the same career path that I chose all those years ago.


Muiris de Buitléir

Msc, FRGS FSCSI FRICS Former president of the Irish Institution of Surveyors, Member of the committee of the Geomatics Professional Group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

People join our profession because it satisfies them intellectually

Is the shine waning on the surveying profession? A simple and interesting question but one for which there is no easy answer. I’m not an academic, so I’ve no contact with young people joining the profession, or no knowledge of what motivates them, or what expectations they might have. I’m not sure if most young people starting out on a course of study have a clear picture of the career path they ultimately wish to follow, or even if they do, that they could coherently express it in words. It is said that in our current world we are likely to change career three times in the course of a lifetime and this rate of change may accelerate in the future. Taking up surveying as a lifelong profession in the way that we know it now, may be a thing of the past. Equally in the professional body of which I’m a member, there is hardly anyone in the geomatics area under 30 years of age and the great majority of members are in their fifties and sixties. When you ask if the shine is waning, this presupposes that there was a shine at some stage. Was there a golden age of surveying? I’m not sure that there ever was. Surveyors, and particularly geomatics surveyors take up the profession because they are fascinated by surveying and perhaps a little bit obsessed by the subject. In many fashionable or high-earning professions, students are often attracted because there is the possibility of very high earnings providing a comfortable lifestyle or the professional activity has high social status, allowing its practitioners to cut a dash in society. It’s not unknown for people who have no real interest in the law, medicine or accountancy, for instance, to take up study of these subjects in the expectation of high earning despite their lack of interest or intellectual suitability.

This rarely happens in surveying. I know very few, if any, wealthy surveyors. People join our profession because it’s what drives them and satisfies them intellectually, not because of the financial rewards.

In part the profession has deskilled, with new press-button technologies allowing untrained, non-surveyors to carry out the mechanics of the surveying process, sometimes with poor outcomes, because of lack of understanding of the theoretical science that lies behind what the machines do and what their limitations are. On the other hand, there is perhaps an increasing understanding that a surveyor’s worth lies not in operating technology, i.e. acting as a technician, but in the depth of judgement, experience and professional skills which he can bring to the task.

In certain European countries the surveyor is a liberal professional who operates in the area of property registration, in a quasijudicial role, with responsibilities both towards his client and towards the state. As long as the legislative base on which this process in founded, remains in place the status and income of the surveyor operating in this area is guaranteed. In the area of construction and civil engineering, the surveyor, in many cases, operates in the role of a sub-contractor, rather than a professional member of the design team. There are indications that this perspective is beginning to change and the professional institutions are working hard to persuade the construction world of the benefits of utilising the professional skills of the surveyor as an integrated part of the design process from the beginning, rather than sub-contracting specified services at a more advanced part of this process.

In the brave now world of the internet mapping, LIDAR, UAVs, BIM, GIS, location services, navigation systems, etc. the surveyor must fight his corner based on his expertise and skills. Surveyors have no accepted or tradition rights in these areas. Certainly not in the way that there is a perceived domain of professional expertise reserved for them in property and construction. There are demands and needs for the surveyor’s unique skills in all of these emerging and developing areas, but there are a whole range of other professionals, non-professionals, entrepreneurs and sometimes downright charlatans out there hustling for position and searching out niche markets. Surveyors, if they want to become active in these new areas must fight their corner in the open market and in many cases they may be hampered by their own strict codes of professional behaviour and ethics, given that the competing non-professionals will happily cut corners and produce slipshod work, with the market being the only mechanism for sifting out the good from the bad.

The future is neither dark nor bright. It is what we make of it. Surveyors have a unique and valuable set of skills coupled with a powerful ethical and professional outlook. They must go out there and sell themselves to the mutual benefit of the surveying profession and the world at large.


Loi Hwee Yong

President, Land Surveying, Singapore Institute of Surveyors & Valuers, Member, Land Surveyors Board Singapore, Principal, H Y Loi Consultants

We have to gear ourselves for the ‘new frontiers’ that will continue to unfold

40 years ago, the programmable calculator was a great technological leap forward for land surveyors. Since then, computers and electronic surveying instruments have replaced the theodolite, the chain and the drawing board. Today, rapid data acquisition and analysis are reshaping the professional practices.

With technological advances, we measure faster and more accurately. We process the data and produce the final results in very much shorter time. In some areas, we even have the results in near real time, and with acquired field data being transmitted wirelessly and directly to servers in the office. The productivity improvement also led to fewer manpower requirement; i.e. we actually need less surveyors than before, particularly for traditional area of practices.

Another downside of technological advances is the simplification of works that led to lower dependence on land surveyors. Contractors may execute simple setting out themselves and leaving only the more complex or salient tasks to the land surveyors.

Essentially, the market forces determine the demand and supply of land surveyors. Unfortunately, the professional fees had not increased proportionately with the productivity gains. However it does mean the profession is on the decline.

New opportunities are opening up for land surveyors in emerging areas such as GIS, remote imaging and sensing, development of land administration systems, earth science researches, etc. I once asked a survey-trained director of a centre for remote imaging and sensing why there he has no surveyors among his 40 professional staff. He wished he had but he was not able to find any suitable candidates. Surveyors do have a role to play in emerging fields, and unless we grasp these opportunities, they will become domains of other professions.

Land surveyors are trained in a spectrum of geospatial sciences. In fact the combination of these training with quasi-related subjects put us in an advantageous position for certain new opportunities from new frontiers. These new frontiers not the uncharted jungles and seas but the new arena created by the advances and convergence of technologies. If these opportunities slip us by, we have only ourselves to blame.

We chronically lament about our professional status, or rather the lack of it. The public perception of our profession is very much our own doing. To change that, we have to relook at the surveyor’s role in the society because the values we give will determine our worth.

Traditional fields of surveying are not shrinking – just that technology advancement has led to the need for fewer but better trained surveyors. On the other hand, new ‘frontiers’ where we can be involved in are continually emerging. So there is a shift in paradigm. We need to break out of our cocoons to cover the new grounds. Rather than leaving it to the younger surveyors to find their footing in these new ‘frontiers’, the experienced ones should pave the way and evolve the roles for surveyors. We should be creating careers for the 21st century surveyors.

Common attributes of a 21st century surveyor are technology savvy, trained in a broader scope of survey sciences, at ease with hi-tech instruments and being well versed in Information technology. A more significant change is that many will be working in offices rather than in the field. Apart from new office-based roles for surveyors, conventional field measurements are increasingly being automated and require less surveyor’s physical presence in the field.

The traditional perception of a surveyor is one in the field with an instrument under the hot sun and dressed in sweatdrenched clothes. This does not conjure the right image as surveyors are now spread over in a wide spectrum of roles; i.e. if we do not want to live in the past. We need to update both our mind-set and the projected image of our profession.

The shine in our profession is certainly not waning. In traditional fields we need less surveyors as we became more productive – a victim of our own success! Technology has not replaced the surveyor but will require additional training in new skills. We have to evolve our mode of operation to keep with the times and remain relevant to society. And more importantly, we have to gear ourselves for the ‘new frontiers’ that will continue to unfold.


Capt Bertrand Apperry

President, International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS)

The future of maritime surveying

The growth of marine surveying business is always linked to the growth of transport by sea when claims and damages were the main operations of a marine surveyor keeping him in business. Today, new skills have become necessary for the operators of the biggest means of transport in this world.

Safety of marine transport

The frequency of maritime accidents is decreasing today compared to the growth of maritime transport itself. This proves that our actions are particularly efficient since the last 20 years.

This industry has made a lot of progress thanks to stricter rules and regulations not only for construction of ships but mainly for the management of human resources which are, as everybody knows, at the origin of more than 80% of accidents. But all improvement introduced by IMO were invariably after the accidents took place. Today, step by step, the result of feedback analysis is no longer considered as the devil’s invention towards shipowners!

We have made a lot of progress in the prevention of human errors via training and the implementation of management systems. The question is – will these new concepts reduce the workload of marine surveyors?

At the International Institute of Marine Surveying, we have been thinking about this question for quite some time now and more importantly, how are we going to survive in this industry with decreasing number of accident claims?

New opportunities for marine surveyors

No panic, we will continue to survey damages and claims even if they are decreasing dramatically. However, the sectors of safety and security management in the shipping companies and on board ships is going to require more of specialised new surveyors in a sector where the good specialists are few and far between!

I started out early in France in with the specific job profile as an ISM surveyor and consultant. I must say, I was very much on my own! And with the introduction of the ISM code and particularly due to my need for perfection, I always apply the standard guideline in my job as passenger ship’s master.

When you have an income revenue that enables you to live reasonably well, it is easier to start a completely new job without any reference apart from a personal desire to improve.

The only competitors were the classification societies who are always attracted by a new money making sector, but also interested in replacing the decreasing flag inspections sector in their role as a certification body. However, if you are involved in that job, you cannot manage the company at the same time: judge and jury simultaneously! All the big classification societies have done this, forcing even the IMO to voice their concerns. And their answer was incredible – ‘the job is carried out by sister companies or even by different inspectors’ – can you believe it!

Finally, even if the classification societies are doing more and more work of the flag administrations, we still have our place in the sector of preparation for certification. We are still in the market. Look at what the ISPS code has provoked – specialists coming from different armies have invaded the sector, but 10 years later, we are still in operation and moreover, we are working together! In fact, many governments have demanded at least one merchant marine officer in the RSO teams in charge of security assessment and plans for ships and ports!


At present, surveyors and IIMS are thinking about new opportunities such as:

ISM consultant and internal auditor (companies and ships); ISPS consultant and internal auditor (ships, port facilities and ports), and of course, the corresponding training including those already included in STCW. With officers being involved with the ISM code for more than 20 years and with the ISPS code for more than 10 years, we can propose safety and security management systems for ships and companies which are individually tailored for them without falling into the trap of ready-made systems on the shelf like ISO for example!

In addition, recently the sector of ships under 500 GT and/or ships carrying not more than 12 passengers nor requiring ISM certification, are looking for modern management systems without certification, but only for the dip in their accident rate index! This is fantastic as the ISM code has been created for just this purpose!

So, to conclude, the marine surveying industry will keep its head up by consultancy and training and with the recent birth of e-learning, authorized by STCW 2010 and where we have already great skills at IIMS.

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