Steering the next generation of talent into surveying and the broader field of geospatial data management is incumbent on everyone in every industry sector. In this episode of HxGN Radio, we discuss why and how attracting new talent to the surveying profession matters in creating a sustainable, autonomous future.
CG: Hello, and welcome to this episode of HxGN Radio. I’m your host, Christine Grahl.
Everything that has been built or will be built requires the expertise of professionals who understand the convergence of math, science, history, law and other disciplines; masters of measurement. These are the surveyors, and they are essential to civilisation. They are also becoming increasingly difficult to find.
On today’s podcast, we’ll talk about why programmes such as Get Kids into Survey and other outreach initiatives are so critical to our future.
Joining me today is our guest Tim Burch, Executive Director of the U.S. National Society of Professional Surveyors and a brand ambassador for Get Kids into Survey. Thank you for speaking with us, Tim.
TB: I appreciate the invite.
CG: So, Tim, it’s no secret that everyone in every industry right now is facing a talent shortage. How serious is the current situation for surveyors in particular?
TB: In the surveying profession, we’re definitely seeing a shortfall. And while we would’ve thought that through the pandemic, we would’ve seen things slow down, we’ve actually seen things ramp up quite a bit with the infrastructure that is being built and such. So, it’s really become magnified, the shortage of surveyors, both inside and outside.
CG: What is the impact of the shortage on construction and engineering? Can’t the work be done by others who aren’t surveyors?
TB: I don’t think you’d want to go into a hospital and be cared for by somebody that’s not medically trained. So, bottom line is it’s holding up projects, it’s holding up progress on getting things done, whether it’s public infrastructure, private development, anything that requires engineering, planning, and the initial work that the surveyor does on the ground, construction staking, as-builts, all of that. When there’s not someone there in field and in the office to create these surveys and plans, it’s not getting done.
CG: Some programmes have been started in the last few years to recruit young people into the surveying profession. One of the most innovative of these is called Get Kids into Survey. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
TB: It’s an interesting story because I noticed it on LinkedIn—this was in the fall of 2017—this incredible poster that had been published by a young lady out of England by the name of Elaine Ball, who has a background in surveying. Her family has been involved in surveying for a number of years. And it was a really interesting poster that was put together for a regional promotion of surveyors and the lack of surveyors being available in England. And I connected with her at that time. That promotion went over so well that she was engaged to do a few more posters.
So, the spring of 2018, I reached out to her again about how do we get these posters in the hands of the surveying community and the educational systems in the United States? How do we do this? So, she happened to be in the United States for a conference. I flew down to meet her. And we struck up a professional relationship and a friendship that put NSPS in a position to become the national distributor—actually, for North America—of all of her posters. And at that point in time, I think there were three posters that had been completed. We’re now up to 20 and a lot of other content, but she saw the need for being able to explain to not just students, but to parents and to other interested parties of what a surveyor truly does. And capturing it through, basically, an animated poster has really been a nice way to promote the profession throughout the United States and the world.
CG: So how do these posters get into the hands of the people who need them, the parents, the teachers, the schools?
TB: Well, she set up a website as everybody normally does for these things. But what we typically do is we’ve done our own initiative within the United States. And I know she’s worked with the associations around the world to promote the posters and the programme through professional associations, to get the posters into the hands of the surveyors, who then take them to career fairs, to school events, to parents, to just wherever we can possibly get them out. But she’s done a lot of promotion. Posters are free, just pay the shipping to get them there. But it’s really been a grassroots effort. And it’s having opportunities to partner with larger corporations like Hexagon to be able to help promote what this programme is all about.
CG: It sounds like surveyors are really taking an active role in not only getting the posters into the hands of the younger generation, but also taking the lead in educating them on what this means. It’s one thing just to hand off a poster to someone; it’s another to really engage with someone.
TB: Oh, exactly. Otherwise, you might as well hand it off to a marketing company for them just to distribute. This way, it really does. You’re right. You put it into the hands of the surveyors. They need to be the ones to go to the career fairs, to talk to the parents, to talk to the educators, counsellors, to help explain who we are and what we do and where the profession is going.
It would be nice if we had really deep pockets and we could do it on cable TV and all these other outlets. But bottom line is, it is putting the burden of explaining the profession back on the surveyor, which is the proper way to do it. Why not have the surveyor explain what it is that we do?
CG: How have the NSPS members responded to this initiative?
TB: Actually, quite well. Most of the state affiliates are constantly ordering posters for distribution at their state conferences. To date, I think we’re just short of having distributed 70,000 posters nationwide. So, I’d like to think that it’s been a pretty successful initiative. The nice thing has been being able to keep the posters free through the generous sponsorship of dozens of companies and individuals, being able to organise to be able to put these thoughts together on different aspects of surveying. Like I said, there’s 20 posters now covering all ranges of surveying. So, being able to keep that cost low and really be able to quickly get those posters into the hands of the surveyors, it’s been very, very popular.
CG: Sounds like there’s a lot of opportunities for a lot of different people to get involved in this initiative. It’s a fantastic initiative, for sure. It’s obviously only been running for a few years now with COVID in the middle of all that.
CG: But I have to wonder, are you starting to see things change because of this programme?
TB: We are, actually. It’s amazing that we are getting more and more requests for participation in career fairs. These posters and this whole programme are filtering into the school counsellors. In fact, our national society is getting ready to exhibit at the National School Counsellors Conference in Austin later this summer. This is our sixth year doing that and distributing the posters there. And usually, there’s anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 attendees for that. Those posters go nationwide. And within weeks, we get these calls of, “We need you at this career fair. We need you at that career fair.” It’s opening the doors for surveyors nationwide to help generate buzz about who we are and what we do and the technology and everything that’s based upon the profession itself. So, it has really been a big help.
I think, one of the things that Elaine is also trying to do within the Get Kids into Survey brand is to create more educational pieces as well. You can go on the website. There are colouring sheets and things, but she’s also beginning to work with educators to put together lesson plans for young children as well on even just even those small mundane survey tasks of measuring something: measuring a room, developing calculations of whatever. Just to kind of plant that seed of what a surveyor does.
CG: Sounds like that’s exactly what’s needed. Hats off to that entire programme because it’s so innovative, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future.
Now that, of course, addresses the awareness piece, which is critical right now because if you were to go into any school, talk to the kids, they would have no idea what a surveyor is. So, we’re starting to break down that barrier with programmes like this.
And there’s also a perception issue among the surveying community. Like, “What is it that a surveyor does?” No one really understands. So, with regard to that perception issue, obviously, we need to address that in different ways as well. And one of those is through technology; bringing awareness to the idea that surveying is a fun, cool, exciting profession to be in. Can you talk about the technology piece a little bit?
TB: Absolutely. It’s amazing to me… a little bit of my background, I’m a second-generation surveyor. So, the surveying that you’re talking about, the stereotypical surveyor, that’s what I grew up with. That was the man on the side of the road, with a tripod, taking pictures. And so, if you explain that to somebody, similar to what we are doing, that’s what the perception is. Whereas now in the 21st century, it is so much more than that. It is all geospatial. And planting that seed early with the technology for the kids and the parents to understand how much 3D technology is in what we’re doing now, the laser scanning, all of the technology that’s in there, a lot of this technology that’s built into video games. And when you buy your kid a UAV, or drone is what everybody wants to call it, we’re using these toys as tools. And it’s being able to take that application and put it into… well, this is part of what a career could be. So that’s why it’s very important for the profession do a better job of explaining the technology that’s involved in our profession because there’s so much of that technology now that it’s not just randomly measuring a few points here and there. It’s laser scanning an entire room or building, or site, or what have you, and basically creating what the industry calls a digital twin of that space.
So being able to take that information. And it’s realistically, it’s the same… they’re creating the same digital models of something real that they’re seeing in video games. And so, being able to make that relation that, yes, what you’re seeing in a video game is all digital. What you’re creating, what your job is to help create digital representations of something that’s really there. So, making that connection, I think, is very important and having the industry partners with the technology push it along is very important as well.
CG: It sounds like a great foundation is being laid right now to build something very successful into the future, and possibly, even just a few years from now as that awareness grows. As more visibility is accessible to everyone through all the social channels and YouTube and all of that is certain to make a difference. I wonder, what else in your view needs to be done to ensure that we have enough surveyors for the work that’s needed in the future but also right now?
TB: Well, I think that’s the biggest part of it is explaining and really getting the younger people to grasp what it is that we do. And I think, I say, unfortunately, we’re all carrying cell phones, our kids now are carrying cell phones, and everything is geolocation. Everything. If I want to know who’s delivering my sandwich wherever, or how do I get to the nearest shopping centre, what have you, all of that mapping and all of that geospatial technology and data is being generated by surveyors.
So, they need to understand what it is so they’re looking for it. And I assume we’re going to be come to a point where not just electric cars, but it’s going to be autonomous cars and somebody driving them somewhere, that all has to be on roads that have been mapped accurately enough to where an autonomous car can go and travel those paths automatically.
So, making that connection to understand that a career in surveying and a geospatial career is something that’s going to affect the world right now. I think that’s the nice thing about the younger generations is they are worried about the impact on the environment and our world. Well, this is a career that helps ensure that what we’re doing is accurate mapping, it’s accurate data, it’s putting all these things together to where we are looking out for our world around us. So, it’s making that connection that they can jump into something that will make a difference right here and right now. And like I said, there’s obviously a need, and it’s a very fulfilling career. And it’s making sure that that message is really presented in a way that they get it, they understand it.
CG: What would be the single best way for our listeners to get involved in sharing that message?
TB: Well, I think part of it is getting involved in our professional societies, in the surveying societies, because that’s part of what the mission of NSPS, Get Kids into Survey, and all of our state affiliates, and actually, international professional organisations serving in geospatial are helping to get that message out and working with our professional organisations to get that unified message out of, what’s going on? What are the numbers? Where do we need help? Because that’s the one thing we’re also taking a really good look at is the areas that we… overall, yes, we need surveyors. But some areas are what I call survey deserts to where there’s not surveyors, and there are opportunities there for a young professional to go into an area of… it might be an hour or two away from where they grew up, but that’s some place that they could really go and make a difference, that there’s a widespread need everywhere, that we collectively need to work together to work towards.
And working with the professional organisations, we have the information, we’ve got promotional material, we’ve got the posters, we’ve got all of these things that can help tell that story, to help tell that message. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel on your career.
So, that’s what I would suggest. Reach out to us. Let us know that you want to help, and we can help get you the information you need to help you, point you in the right direction.
CG: So, Tim, you have been in the executive director role with NSPS for a very short time, actually. But I can see that you’re very passionate about everything that’s going on right now. What are you most excited about as you look ahead to the future?
TB: I’m excited about the technology, and I keep saying that I’m hoping that we get a few years down the road and it’s not that we’ll ever, I mean, we’re going to have labour shortages in so many places. We’re still going… I think we’re going to have it regardless of how much we’re able to accomplish. But I’m hoping to see that it’s going to be a less of a shortage for us because we’re going to make that connection with the younger generations.
And even that younger generation that maybe has already went through college, maybe they’ve gotten their degree, they’ve realised that their diploma, their master’s in basket weaving is not going to pay off, that I want to do something that is a worthwhile career. And we come across the 25- to 35-year-olds that are still looking for an identity.
So, it’s not just chasing down the junior high, high school, college kids. It’s also a generation of young adults that are still maybe looking for something, that like a challenge. If you want to be challenged, if you want a project, if you like technology, there’s so many facets of surveying now. It’s not just going out and finding property lines. There’s so much to the measurement, to the data. I think we can make that technology connection in the next several years with the right industry partners, really highlighting what all of the technology is doing.
So, I am optimistic, positively optimistic, that we’re going to make a difference simply because I know even early in my career, what fascinated me about surveying and the technology that kept me in surveying for a long time. I know there’s more like-minded people out there like me, that like a challenge, that like the history, that like being able to work with people, work with data, work with things. There’s a lot more out there. And I think we just need to find those bright, young minds and challenge them.
CG: Fantastic insights, Tim. Thank you so much for your time today.
For those who are listening in, you can learn more about NSPS initiatives and all things surveying in the Surveyor Says! Podcast, available through Podbean or your favourite streaming providers.
Tune in to more HxGN Radio episodes on iTunes, Spotify, or SoundCloud, or visit hxgnspotlight.com for more stories from Hexagon. Thank you for listening.