Surveying Technicians Job Description and Salary

In land survey work, Surveying Technicians (also known as Cartographers and Survey Mapping Technicians) are responsible for activities including the careful adjustments and operation of various survey equipment and distance measuring tools.

By Tess C Taylor
Posted 2012

These skilled scientific, technical or government technicians are responsible for the accurate recording of survey notes and measurements as used by building, transportation, land development and architectural firms. Surveying technicians are accountable for the very detailed handling of survey tools such as prisms, theodolites and electronic distance measuring equipment, hand drawn sketches and photographic images of land, mathematical degrees of locations, angles of light, elevation and atmospheric dimensions, and many other aspects that go into the decision to build or develop a particular area. Most surveying technicians work as part of larger survey companies and may supervise other survey crew members as part of a team, while some work independently as contractors. Surveying technicians most often work outdoors, and a great deal of travel is required to complete survey projects.

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  • Surveying technician jobs are growing at 14% in the next ten years – on pace with the average rate for all other jobs in the technical sciences.
  • Almost seven out of ten survey technician jobs are in architecture, engineering and related technical fields.
  • Surveying technicians with a bachelor’s degree have the best chance of getting hired for well-paid positions.
  • Job opportunities should be favorable because the science and technical field is growing in many regions, particularly in large urban areas and suburbs where new building is on the rise.
  • Top earning surveying technicians can expect to earn approximately $67,000 annually, in addition to having career advancement opportunities.

Work Environment for Surveying Technicians

Many surveying technicians work a regular 40-hour work week, with days ranging from six to eight hours on average. The work environment is mainly outdoors in all types of weather conditions. Work requires excellent hand-eye coordination and can be very physical, so being able to stand, bend, lift and walk for long periods of time is necessary to be successful in this line of work. Surveying technicians generally wear street clothes or uniforms, reflective or safety orange coverings, steel toe boots and hard hats when in construction or building zones. The work requires having a great deal of understanding of earth science, mathematics, geography and technology in order to simultaneously take hand and digital measurements of all the components that go into planning or designing a major construction project or developing land or waterways.

Education, Training and Licensing

Surveying technicians are generally required to have earned at least a high school diploma or the equivalent of a general education degree (GED). High school students should take coursework in earth science, geography, algebra, trigonometry, geometry, art, drafting, electronic technology and computers. In addition, they should participate in extra-curricular activities which will allow them to learn how to identify and capture images in the natural world. These activities would include photography clubs and outdoor nature clubs.

Once a high school diploma is earned, candidates who wish to become surveying technicians should attend a college or university that offers a bachelor’s degree in survey technology or a related field, such as cartography, engineering, forestry, computer science, physical science or geography. While some surveying technicians can become employed with less than a bachelor’s degree by doing coursework at a vocational school or working as survey interns, not having an actual degree can make it impossible to obtain licenses in survey technology. This lack of degree will prevent candidates from advancing in their career.

Entry-level surveying technicians can expect to receive much of their additional experience from on-the-job training. By working with more experienced surveyors and as part of a team, surveying technicians will learn about the latest technologies that make surveying more efficient and accurate than ever before. Surveyors will learn to use traditional tools such as prisms, theodolites, and hand tools along with modern global positioning systems (GPS) to make detailed drawings of land, sea and sky.

Every state in the union requires that new surveying technicians take a written examination conducted by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), work four years in the field under the supervision of licensed surveyors, and then take another license exam for the Principles and Practice of Surveying. In addition, some states also require that the survey technician pass an exam administered by the state licensing board to show proficiency in all areas of survey technology.

Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings

Surveying technicians held 50,750 of the total surveyor jobs in the U.S., 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 14% from 2012 to 2022, which is average for all occupations. This tepid growth results from a large number of building projects that have been on hold for several years due to poor economic conditions at home or abroad. However, as the economy recovers, there is expected to be a steady growth in all fields of technology, including building and land development. Therefore, those who get the education and skills to do this work can reasonably expect that there will be jobs available near large cities and suburbs where building and land developing will most likely occur.

The BLS reports indicate that the average annual wage for surveying technicians was $43,870 as of May 2014. The middle 50% earned approximately $40,770. While the lowest 10% of entry-level surveying technicians earned an annual income at or below $25,270, the top 10% earned upwards of $67,320 per year in 2014.

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