Surveyors take measurements of land, water and airspace boundaries using a variety of specialized equipment, such as tripod-mounted levels and transits, area planimeters, and total stations, which measure angles and distances. Among the calculations a land surveyor compiles are data about the size, shape, location, contour and elevation of a land mass–information critical for use in land deeds and leases, or in construction and mining activities.
The field of surveying has changed with the inception of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Today’s land surveyor’s often use small GPS units attached to a tripod to collect precise positioning data.
How to become a land surveyor
Many surveyors formerly learned their skills on the job, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, but most land surveyors working today have earned at least a bachelor’s degree in surveying, surveying technology or a related field, such as civil engineering or forestry.
Obtaining an education helps land surveyors quickly enter the workforce, as well as to fully understanding the highly complex equipment used daily. The American Congress on Surveying and Mapping offers thousands of dollars each year in scholarships for students interested in surveying and mapping professions.
Each state requires that surveyors be licensed as well. Most states administer a series of written tests compiled by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. After completion of the first exam, surveying candidates are required to work for four years under an experienced land surveyor before taking the second exam. Some land surveyors also choose to obtain voluntary licensing from the National Society of Professional Land Surveyors (NSPLS). Certification helps employers determine job assignments and advancement based on ability, the NSPLS states.
Skills essential to land surveyors
Mistakes can be extremely costly in this field, so prospective land surveyors must be highly accurate and precise in their calculations. The ability to visualize forms, distances and sizes is important, the BLS says. Many surveyors work as part of a team, so working cooperatively is another great asset, as are good communication skills.
Career options and salary expectations
Some surveyors work as geodatic surveyors and use data from satellites and other sources to measure the earth’s surface. Others help companies determine where to drill for petroleum or precious minerals. Marine and hydrographic surveyors determine shorelines, water depth and the topography underneath the water.
Employment of surveyors is expected to grow by 15 percent, the BLS reports. Job growth is driven by need to replace the many older workers in the field, as well as to meet the demand of new construction and infrastructure to support a growing population. The vast majority of surveyors work for architectural and engineering firms, but federal, state and local governments also employ several thousand land surveyors.