I want to talk about what I see emerging as the most interesting industry in the decade of the 2020s, and even more interestingly, very few in the industry know it today. I am, of course, talking about Professional Land Surveying, which I see developing into a technological leader in robotics. However, if you ask people in the industry about the future of it, they would most likely tell you how a lack of young professionals and a lack of recruiting are slowly leading to a crisis.
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that out of the 65,000 surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists, only 9,000 [14%] are under the age of 35, making the average age of the industry 59. You can see the same patterns reflected in the Field Surveyor and Professional Surveyor yearly exam totals.
Year over year, young people are less and less interested in beginning their careers in Professional Land Surveying. Frankly, it looks bleak, especially with Jerry Carter the CEO of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) saying:
“We’ve seen a significant reduction in the number of candidates taking the licensure exams, and that’s been a trend for probably the last several years. … The numbers of people taking the exams are significantly down and the trend appears to be that that’s going to continue to be the case at least in the foreseeable future.” -Jerry Carter, CEO NCEES
In response, the NCEES has set up task forces that have determined the best way forward is to change the image of what surveying is to excite young people, educate younger people to inspire passion in work, and to mentor them internally to pass on the knowledge and help bolster young careers. These goals and recruitment techniques are similar to most industries; however, unlike most industries, surveying desperately needs to recruit. This is because, according to the BLS, the industry labor demands in employment from 2016 to 2026 [for land surveying is] is 11% compared to the 7% average growth rate for all occupations. This is especially true as the US is thinking of offering major investment in infrastructure, which will cause an intense demand for surveying.
But regarding the challenges of recruiting young technical degree holders, I think a comment on a forum regarding surveyor shortages best describes the situation:
Young college kids want money and something more glamorous and more professional seeming than hacking through brush and lifting man holes all of the time.
I see a shrinking pool of existing talent also, and a lot of young people who wouldn't lift a machete, but there are still those looking for something better than a job. Their tech savvy lifestyle must be embraced and not mistaken for laziness. It is hard to stay up to date with all technology with our day to day operations, and these kids are immersed in it. USE that skill
Both surveyors hit the nail on the head. Simply put, to initiate more innovations in the industry, more technically talented labor and a college degree for licensure are required. However, some aspects of the field surveying job don't appeal to today's technical graduates.
Technology is where the industry turns around. With the technological advances in sensors, such as laser depth detection (LIDAR), and the maturation of aerial robotics, surveying field work can change from using a machete to chop through brush for ground measurements, to operating a robot collecting high resolution and diverse data on ground topographies, heat signatures, photorealistic models, terrain models, etc.
It changes field work from what some would call blue-collar, to a technical profession. That is what we at Apollo Robotics visualize with our product, High-Speed Digitization to roboticize surveying field work. From the aerial robot, the surveyor can take the datasets into their design software and generate the results for their customer faster and with more data offerings.
We hope the technology that has excited us to make this product will stimulate future roboticists throughout the surveying industry. I can also imagine the recruitment uptick that would take place from colleges when surveying companies are looking to hire surveying roboticists as compared to field surveyors. While we have seen that today people lament about how it is difficult for the surveyor to show opportunities to a technical generation, I hope they will realize surveying will be one of the first industries to implement robotics into small businesses making it the most exciting industry to enter today. This will grow into an industry filled with roboticists who will become thought leaders in the adoption of robotics into other industries. At Apollo Robotics, we are passionate about providing a platform that will provide the tools for a generation of roboticists.