Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Surveyors, Cartographers, Photogrammetrists & Surveying Technicians

Most people prepare for a career as a licensed surveyor by combining postsecondary school courses in surveying with extensive on-the-job training. However, as technology advances, a 4-year college degree is increasingly becoming a prerequisite. A number of universities now offer 4-year programs leading to a bachelorís degree in surveying. Junior and community colleges, technical institutes, and vocational schools offer 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year programs in both surveying and surveying technology.

All 50 States and all U.S. territories license surveyors. For licensure, most State licensing boards require that individuals pass a written examination given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Most States also require surveyors to pass a written examination prepared by the State licensing board. In addition, candidates must meet varying standards of formal education and work experience in the field.

In the past, many with little formal training in surveying started as members of survey crews and worked their way up to become licensed surveyors. Currently, the route to licensure is most often a combination of 4 years of college, followed by passage of the Fundamentals of Surveying Exam. After passing this exam, most candidates continue to work under the supervision of an experienced surveyor for another 4 years and then take the Principles and Practice of Surveyors Exam for licensure. Specific requirements for training and education vary among the States. An increasing number of States require a bachelorís degree in surveying or in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry (with courses in surveying), regardless of the number of years of experience. Some States require the degree to be from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Many States also have a continuing education requirement.

High school students interested in surveying should take courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, drafting, mechanical drawing, and computer science. High school graduates with no formal training in surveying usually start as apprentices. Beginners with postsecondary school training in surveying usually can start as technicians or assistants. With on-the-job experience and formal training in surveying—either in an institutional program or from a correspondence school—workers may advance to senior survey technician, then to party chief, and, in some cases, to licensed surveyor (depending on State licensing requirements). However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain licensure without a formal education in surveying.

The National Society of Professional Surveyors, a member organization of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, has a voluntary certification program for surveying technicians. Technicians are certified at four levels requiring progressive amounts of experience, in addition to the passing of written examinations. Although not required for State licensure, many employers require certification for promotion to positions with greater responsibilities.

Surveyors should have the ability to visualize objects, distances, sizes, and abstract forms. They must work with precision and accuracy, because mistakes can be costly. Members of a survey party must be in good physical condition, because they work outdoors and often carry equipment over difficult terrain. They need good eyesight, coordination, and hearing to communicate verbally and manually (using hand signals). Surveying is a cooperative operation, so good interpersonal skills and the ability to work as part of a team are important. Good office skills also are essential, because surveyors must be able to research old deeds and other legal papers and prepare reports that document their work.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists usually have a bachelorís degree in cartography, geography or a related field such as surveying, engineering, forestry, or a physical science. Although it is possible to enter these positions through previous experience as a photogrammetric or cartographic technician, nowadays most cartographic and photogrammetric technicians have had some specialized postsecondary school training. With the development of GIS, cartographers and photogrammetrists need additional education and stronger technical skills—including more experience with computers—than in the past.

The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing has a voluntary certification program for photogrammetrists. To qualify for this professional distinction, individuals must meet work experience standards and pass an oral or a written examination.