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GIS Consultant: Job Description and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) consultant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about job duties, degree programs, and the employment outlook.

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A bachelor's degree in geography or environmental science is the typical education needed to become a GIS consultant. Voluntary certification is available for a number of disciplines within the GIS field, which might be beneficial for career advancement. A master's degree may also help lead to more advanced positions.

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Essential Information

GIS consultants advise individuals and businesses on the use of GIS and geospatial systems and technologies for a variety of projects. These consultants work for a wide range of industries, including technology, transportation, law enforcement and construction. A career in this field often requires a bachelor's degree and work-related experience. Optional certification could improve employment opportunities.

Required Education Bachelor's degree, typically in geography or environmental science
Other Requirements Optional certifications in related discipline
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) -2% (for all geographers)*
Median Salary (2015) $74,260 annually (for all geographers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

GIS Consultant Job Description

GIS consultants are responsible for collecting, analyzing and storing geographical data. A GIS consultant generally tailors solutions to improve a client's specific processes, services and profits. Consultants could be used to implement software systems, update and maintain data, organize GIS data into a user-friendly format and serve as the primary contact for GIS-related problems. Typically, much of a consultant's work is performed using digital maps and models to manage GIS projects, ensuring a solution adequately meets a client's needs.

Education for GIS Consultants

GIS consultants often require a bachelor's degree and work-related experience. According to CareerBuilder.com job postings in April 2015, firms that hire GIS consultants generally look for candidates with a bachelor's degree related to GIS, such as geography or environmental science. In addition, the BLS reports that advanced education, such as a master's degree program in GIS, could assist professionals with career advancement.

In an undergraduate program, students can frequently concentrate their studies in GIS though elective coursework. Core curricula usually cover environmental studies, general chemistry, zoology, anthropology and political ecology. Major-specific topics focus on applications and uses for GIS, such as geostatics, remote sensing, GIS software and global positioning systems.

Graduate courses in GIS master's programs offer advanced studies in complex areas, such as system design and project management. Master's curricula cater more to consulting aspects of the profession, though some programming and application development training could also be included.

Training and Certification

As a profession that requires expert-level knowledge, GIS consultants typically require years of practical job experience. School-sponsored internships at companies that use or design GIS systems are a good way to earn relevant experience while in school. These programs typically involve entry-level jobs working with seasoned GIS professionals that could also lead to permanent, postgraduate employment.

GIS consultants can demonstrate their expertise in the field through voluntary certification in several related disciplines. The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing organization offers a Certified GIS/LIS Technologist certification that signifies a consultant's experience with photo imaging and analysis (www.asprs.org). Additionally, the GIS Certification Institutes confers a GIS Professional credential to those who exemplify GIS accomplishments through education, experience and participation in professional activities and research (www.gisci.org).

Salary and Employment Outlook

GIS consultants fall into the occupational category of geographers. The BLS reported that the median annual salary of this group as a whole was $74,260 as of May 2015. Additionally, the BLS projects that employment of geographers will decrease by 2% during the 2014-2024 decade. This projected decline is mainly due to the fact that more candidates are applying for jobs than there are positions available.

GIS consultants must have a solid understanding of GIS and geospatial systems and, because of their advisory role, it is essential that they also possess strong communication skills. They need a bachelor's degree, preferably in geography or environmental science, and professional certification can help prove their expertise. Jobs in this field are expected to decline over the coming years, with more candidates than available positions.

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