Surveyors Job Description

Surveyors (also called Cartographers) are responsible for taking accurate measurements of the earth’s surface to verify boundaries and property lines during land development.

By Tess C Taylor
Posted 2012

Surveyors are scientific and engineering specialists who take measurements of the earth’s surface for a wide variety of residential, scientific, government or commercial purposes. They most often work in the land planning and development, forestry, architecture, construction, mining, mapmaking, building and real estate industries. Surveyors work independently as contractors or as part of surveying teams, and may supervise one of more members of a crew. Senior surveyors earn the most for their industry and may own a business after five or more years of professional work experience and achievement of special state surveying licenses. The work that surveyors do is very important to the management of land and other natural resources.

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  • Surveyor jobs are growing at a rate of 10% in the coming decade – slower than the average rate for other jobs in the technical sciences.
  • Approximately seven out of ten surveyor jobs are in architecture, forestry, engineering and other related technical fields.
  • Surveyors with a bachelor’s degree and at least five or more years of experience have the best chance of finding advanced assignments.
  • Job opportunities are favorable because building and development is slowly starting to increase in many cities worldwide.
  • Top earning surveyors can expect to earn approximately $93,000 annually and enjoy frequent travel to new regions.

Work Environment for Surveyors

Many surveyors work a standard 30-40 hour work week, and much of this work happens in a regular eight-hour shift per day. However, as project deadlines near, surveyors must work many hours to ensure that survey teams complete projects and contracts are managed well. A majority of the work performed by surveyors is done outdoors in unpredictable weather conditions. Senior surveyors may also spend some of their time in comfortable office settings or on the road traveling to work sites to review plans and make final changes after technicians have done the initial field work. Surveyors must wear safety equipment on job sites, such as reflective clothing, hard hats and steel toe boots. They may use hand tools or electronic drafting devices that communicate with satellite tracking systems for the most accurate measurements.

Education, Training and Licensing

Surveyors are required to have achieved at least a high school diploma or the equivalent such as a general education degree (GED). High school students who would like to become surveyors should concentrate on courses in mathematics, earth science, geometry, art, computer-aided drafting (CAD), electronics and computer science. Those with an interest in working as a surveyor may also want to look into internships or outdoor work experiences which will help them to learn more about the earth and surveying techniques.

Once a high school diploma is earned, candidates who wish to become surveyors can attend a vocational school that offers a program in survey sciences and related technology while getting some experience in the field as an entry-level survey technician. The best course of action for future surveyors is to attend a college or university that has a bachelor’s degree program in survey technology or a related industry such as engineering, forestry, computer science, physical science, cartography or geography to learn the basics of measuring the earth’s surface. It is possible to get employed as a surveyor without a bachelor’s degree, but it will prevent you from going on to get advanced licensing in survey technology.

Surveyors receive much of their training on the job by putting their classroom learning to work on actual survey job sites. Under the supervision of more experienced survey crews, they can expect to work for about four years before becoming eligible for licenses in all 50 states. To get licensed to work without supervision, surveyors take a series of written examinations conducted by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). They may also have to take a state licensing board exam in some states to become official surveyors.

Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings

Surveyors held 41,970 of the total surveyor jobs in the U.S., which is about one-third of all survey technology jobs, according to the most recent research published in May 2014 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

BLS expects employment in this field to grow 10% from 2012 to 2022, which is average for all occupations. This average growth is not surprising, given the challenges of the economy in many countries which has halted many building and land development projects. However, in the coming decade, for those attending school now to become surveyors, the odds are favorable that there will be plentiful work during this time period due to rebuilding efforts and the need for more energy-efficient buildings and communities.

The BLS reports indicate that the average annual wage for surveyors was $60,310 as of May 2014. The middle 50% earned approximately $57,050. While the lowest 10% of inexperienced surveyors earned an annual income at or below $32,740, the top 10% earned high incomes of $93,370 or more annually in 2014.

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