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Surveying Technician Job Description, Career as a Surveying Technician, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school

Salary: Median—$30,380 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Surveyors measure and write descriptions about land where highways, airports, and other buildings are to be constructed. Technicians help surveyors with the surveying equipment.

Some technicians handle equipment that has been used in surveying for years. Instrument workers set up, adjust, and operate surveying instruments such as the theodolite and electronic distance measuring equipment. A theodolite looks like a telescope and measures horizontal and vertical angles, distances, and elevations. The theodolite operator sights on vertical rods that are held by rod workers. The rods look like large rulers and have markers or targets that can be moved up or down. The theodolite operator signals for the rod worker to adjust the marker on the rod. Then a reading is taken and recorded. Chain workers measure distances with steel tapes or surveyors' chains. When they are finished measuring, they mark the points on the ground with chalk or with a wooden or metal stake.

Together the surveyors and technicians measure all the important distances and heights on a piece of land. They keep notes and use mathematical calculations to locate land boundaries, help prepare maps, and compute the total acreage of a piece of property.

However, technology has changed the nature of surveying. For many projects, surveyors now use the Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite system that locates the points on the earth using radio signals transmitted by satellites. Technicians carry and set up the devices that record the signals. They also use Geographic Information Systems (GIS), an advanced piece of computer software, for computations and computer-assisted drafting.

Education and Training Requirements

Most training is given on the job. A high school education with courses in geometry, algebra, trigonometry, and computer science are recommended. Usually, high school graduates start as apprentices or rod workers. After several years of on-the-job training and more education, they become chain workers and instrument workers. It is possible to start as an instrument worker with the additional training offered by night schools, technical schools, or junior colleges. As technology advances, technicians may need more formal training.

The National Society of Professional Surveyors offers a certification program for surveying technicians. Technicians are certified at four levels based on continuing experience and written examinations. Certification is voluntary, but it can be a good credential for employment or advancement.

Surveying technicians must be in good physical condition and must pay close attention to detail. They should also work well with others.

Getting the Job

During the summer, high school and college students fill many surveying technician jobs. Summer experience can be very helpful in getting a permanent job in this field. Gas, electric, water, and telephone companies regularly need surveying teams, as do real estate developers, contractors, and construction firms. Other sources of job information are local professional surveyors—they are listed in the Yellow Pages—state and local employment offices, newspaper classified ads, and Internet job banks.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

The key to advancement is education. After several years of on-the-job experience and some courses in surveying, a person can move from rod worker to chain worker to instrument worker. With more education and experience, an instrument worker can become a licensed surveyor. Most surveyors entering the profession today have four-year college degrees.

Opportunities for surveying technicians are expected to grow as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014. Job openings will result from the need to replace workers who retire or transfer to other occupations. In addition, new construction and repair of the nation's infrastructure will require the surveying of land for roads, shopping centers, housing developments, and other buildings. Surveying technicians familiar with GIS and GPS will have the best opportunities.

Working Conditions

Surveying technicians work in all kinds of weather. They must be able to carry equipment long distances, climb hills, and stand for long periods of time. Surveying teams are often the first people to work at construction sites, so conditions can be difficult. Teams also work in cities near construction equipment and heavy traffic.

A five-day, forty-hour workweek is typical, although some overtime and weekend work may be required during the warm months when conditions are best for surveying. Higher wages are paid for extra hours. Some surveying technicians belong to labor unions.

Earnings and Benefits

In 2004 the median income of surveying technicians was $30,380. Earnings vary, depending on experience and location of the work. Union workers generally earn more than nonunion workers. The median for those who worked for engineering and architectural services was $28,610 per year. The median for those employed by local governments was $34,810 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

National Society of Professional Surveyors
6 Montgomery Village Ave., Ste. 403
Gaithersburg, MD 20879
(240) 632-9716

American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
5410 Grosvenor Ln., Ste. 210
Bethesda, MD 20814-2160
(301) 493-0290

International Union of Operating Engineers
1125 Seventeenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-9100

American Congress on Surveying and Mapping
6 Montgomery Village Ave., Ste. 403
Gaithersburg, MD 20879
(240) 632-9716

American Society of Civil Engineers
1801 Alexander Bell Dr.
Reston, VA 20191-4400
(800) 548-2723

Government employees and union members generally receive paid holidays, life and medical insurance, and pension plans. The number of vacation days granted is based on the number of days worked each year or length of service.

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