In this week’s PROFESSIONAL LAND SURVEYOR SURVEY I’m asking the question:
Post Great Recession-Are Jobs Going to Come Back?
I've been thinking lately about what the jobs situation in the land surveying industry will look like as as a full recovery takes hold and the Great Recession, hopefully, comes to an end. Lately I've heard several experts talk about jobs and the economy discussing how this will not only be a jobless recovery, but that in certain fields some jobs will never come back. In many respects, I believe this will be true for professional land surveyors and all land surveying technicians.
The times They Have A Changed!
Regardless of the current economic conditions and times, although significant, if you look at the history of land surveying there is one very important truism: As technology has increased the number of surveyors to complete the work has decreased. If you've been surveying for any amount of time, think back to how many people worked on your field crew and how many people it took in the office to get that work done. If you go way back, was it four or more people on your field crew and nearly an equal amount in the office? If you go back to when I started in the mid 1980's, there where three field crew members and at least two to three surveyors or drafters working in the office (this doesn't include clerical workers).
However, shortly after I started surveying the Total Station with built-in EDM became commonly used, and the field crews were reduced to two people. Over time, the office became the same way, in that personnel was reduced as software like AutoCAD was adopted. Where it was common to have an office survey technician do basic reductions and control plotting, a drafter plotted field notes and prepared plans, and a professional land surveyor calculated boundaries and provided professional oversight, it didn't take long after automated drafting and surveying software took hold that the work it formerly took many people to complete could now be completed by one person. And now, with Robotic Total Stations and GPS, it's becoming more commonplace to only have only one person working in the field.
But here's the rub: Before the Great Recession hit, many professional land surveyors had not moved to use systems, both in the office and in the field, to increase productivity and reduce the total amount of employees required to complete their surveys. Since then, how the times they have a changed! With a lack of work and with no cash flow, many firms have been forced to cut to the bone and work with skeleton crews. Some, like myself, had invested in "Solo-Surveyor" equipment like Robotic Total Stations and GPS, so they could work with as little as one person (if there was work at all).
So here's my predictions on the near future of the land surveying jobs market:
- Those companies that pared down to a very minimal number of employees, maybe as little as one, will not be very willing to ramp-up their number of employees any time soon. Many have learned a valuable lessen on "less is more" and don't want to take on the headaches, responsibilities, and overhead costs that come with employees. They will instead find ways to increase productivity and profitability that require a lower investment in capital with a higher ROI.
- Use of "Solo-Surveying" technologies will saturate the marketplace and become the norm. Many firms will invest in technology like Robotic Total Stations and GPS (Laser Scanning, too), which can be used with as few as one person, before they will hire additional employees. At first this will be strictly a cost issue, but eventually as the economy begins to soar again, many will see these technologies not only as a way to keep overhead low and productivity high, but also as a way to expand their number of field crews. Look at it this way: In good times, pre-recession, if I could afford three two-person field crews using conventional equipment, then if times become good again, then I can take those six employees and potentially turn them into six field crews.
- On the office side of the survey business, I think more and more land surveying companies will use technology to be more productive. I saw many land surveying and engineering companies that refused to correctly implement modern drafting, engineering, and surveying software, such as AutoCAD Civil 3D, and paid the price for those decisions (or lack thereof). Many of the firms I saw close shop completely and go bankrupt were companies with professional land surveyors or engineers that did not know how to use their drafting software. Even a few of their supposed "CAD experts" where really no more than what I call "Digital Hand Drafters". Too much overhead killed them.
- The long and the short of it is that many of the land surveying jobs that were in existence prior to the Great Recession will not, in my opinion, be coming back. They're gone forever and if you held that job before you'll have to make some hard decisions and embrace change from this point out. We'll talk about this more in a later post, but I'd be interested in what you think.
Take This Week's Professional Land Surveyor Survey!
Post Great Recesion-Are Jobs Going to Come Back?
- No (72%, 13 Votes)
- Yes (28%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 18
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