Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries. They provide data relevant to the shape and contour of the Earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects.

Duties

Surveyors typically do the following:

  • Measure distances and angles between points on, above, and below the Earth’s surface
  • Travel to locations and select known reference points to determine the exact location of important features
  • Establish stake sites and official land and water boundaries
  • Research land records, survey records, and land titles
  • Look for evidence of previous boundaries to determine where boundary lines are located
  • Record the results of surveying and verify the accuracy of data
  • Prepare plots, maps, and reports
  • Present findings to clients, government agencies, and others
  • Take notes of land for deeds, leases, and other legal documents
  • Provide expert testimony in court regarding survey work

Surveyors provide documentation of legal property lines and help determine the exact locations of real estate and construction projects. For example, when property, such as a house or commercial building, is bought or sold, it may need to be surveyed to prevent boundary disputes. During construction, surveyors determine the precise location of roads or buildings and proper depths for building foundations. The survey also shows changes to the property line and indicates potential restrictions on the property as far as what can be built on it.

In their work, surveyors use Global Positioning System (GPS), a system of satellites that locates reference points with a high degree of precision. Surveyors interpret and verify GPS results.

Surveyors also use Geographic Information System (GIS)—a technology that allows surveyors to present data visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, a surveyor can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as tree density in a given region, and create computerized maps. They then use the results to advise governments and businesses on where to plan homes, roads, and landfills.

Surveyors take measurements in the field with a crew, a group that typically consists of a licensed surveyor and trained survey technicians. The person in charge of the crew (called the party chief) may be either a surveyor or a senior surveying technician. The party chief leads day-to-day work activities.

Surveyors may be involved in settling boundary disputes. When property is sold or new construction takes place, such as the building of a fence, issues may arise due to lack of up-to-date records or the misinterpretation of available records. A surveyor would be called in to settle the dispute, and may even have to provide testimony in court if the involved parties do not come to an agreement.

Surveyors also work with civil engineers, landscape architects, and urban and regional planners to develop comprehensive design documents.

Some surveyors work in specialty fields to survey particular characteristics of the Earth.

The following are examples of types of surveyors:

Geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy technology, including aerial and satellite observations, to measure large areas of the Earth’s surface.

Geophysical prospecting surveyors mark sites for subsurface exploration, usually to look for petroleum or natural gas fields.

Marine or hydrographic surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the bottom, water depth, and other features.

Work Environment

Surveyors held about 42,400 jobs in 2012. Although most worked for private surveying or engineering firms, some worked for state and local governments.

The industries that employed the most surveyors in 2012 were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 69%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 6
Heavy and civil engineering construction 5
State government, excluding education and hospitals 4
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 3

Depending on the specific job duties, surveying involves both field work and office work. Field work involves working outdoors, standing for long periods, and often walking long distances. Surveyors sometimes climb hills with heavy packs of surveying instruments and other equipment. When working near hazards such as traffic, surveyors generally wear brightly colored vests or reflective material so they may be seen more easily. When working outside, they are exposed to all types of weather.

Traveling is often part of the job, and surveyors may commute long distances or stay at a project location for an extended period of time. Those who work on resource extraction projects may spend long periods away from home, as they must work in remote areas.

Work Schedules

Surveyors usually work full time. They may work more when construction activity is high.

Education and Training

Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree. They must be licensed before they can certify legal documents and provide surveying services to the public.

Education

Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree due to greater use of sophisticated technology and mathematics. Some colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs specifically designed to prepare students to become licensed surveyors. Many states require that a bachelor’s degree come from a school accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). A bachelor’s degree in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, is sometimes acceptable as well.

Many states require individuals who want to become licensed surveyors to have a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET and about 2 years of work experience under a licensed surveyor. In other states, an associate’s degree in surveying, coupled with several years of work experience under a licensed surveyor may be sufficient. The amount of work experience required varies by state. Most states also have continuing education requirements.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Many states allow candidates with significant work experience to become licensed surveyors. To receive credit for this experience, candidates must work under a licensed surveyor. Many surveying technicians become licensed surveyors after working for as much as 10 years in the field of surveying.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require surveyors to be licensed before they can certify legal documents that show property lines or determine proper markings on construction projects. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree must usually work for about 2 years under the direction of a licensed surveyor in order to qualify for licensure.

Although the process of obtaining a license varies by state, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying has a generalized process of four steps:

  • Complete the level of education required in your state
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam
  • Gain sufficient work experience under a licensed surveyor
  • Pass the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Surveyors must provide clear instructions to team members. They must also be able to receive instructions from architects and construction managers, and explain the job’s progress to developers, lawyers, financiers, and government authorities.

Detail oriented. Surveyors must work with precision and accuracy due to the legal nature of the documents they produce.

Physical stamina. Surveyors traditionally work outdoors, often in rugged terrain. Therefore, they must be able to walk long distances for several hours.

Problem-solving skills. Surveyors must figure out discrepancies between documents showing property lines and current conditions on the land. If there were changes in previous years, they must figure out the reason for the changes so that property lines can be reestablished.

Technical skills. Surveyors use sophisticated technologies such as distance- and slope-measuring “total stations” and GPS devices to collect land survey data.

Time-management skills. Surveyors must be able to plan their time and their team members’ time on the job. This is critical when pressing deadlines exist or while working outside during winter months when daylight hours are short.

Visualization skills. Surveyors must be able to envision new buildings and distances.

Pay

The median annual wage for surveyors was $56,230 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,190, and the top 10 percent earned more than $90,920.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for surveyors in the top five industries in which these workers worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $68,590
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 61,880
Heavy and civil engineering construction 57,250
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 55,260
Architectural, engineering, and related services 54,430

Surveyors usually work full time. They may work more when construction activity is high.

Job Outlook

Employment of surveyors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will result from increased construction related to improving the nation’s infrastructure.

An increasing number of firms are interested in geographic information and its applications. For example, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be used to create maps and information for emergency planning, security, urban planning, natural resource exploration, construction, and other applications. Surveyors will also be needed for legal reasons to verify the accuracy of the data and information gathered for input into a GIS.

Surveyors will continue to be needed for construction and resource extraction projects. States rich in oil and gas may continue to see higher demand for surveyors due to growth in extraction projects in those areas. In addition, some will also be hired by county and state governments for land boundary clarification.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for those with a bachelor’s degree in surveying or a related field are expected to be excellent. Increased use of sophisticated technology and mathematics has resulted in higher education requirements. As a result, those with the right combination of skills and a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET will have the best job opportunities.

Demand for traditional surveying services is closely tied to construction activity and job opportunities will vary by geographic region, often depending on local economic conditions. When real estate sales and construction activity slows down, surveyors may face greater competition for jobs. However, because surveyors can work on many different types of projects, they may have steadier work than others when construction slows.

Job prospects should be particularly excellent in fast growing industries, such as oil and gas mining.

For More Information

For information about surveying, career opportunities, and licensure requirements, visit

National Society of Professional Surveyors

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

For information about a career as a geodetic surveyor, visit

American Association for Geodetic Surveying

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.