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Survey Technician: Requirements & Career Info

Learn about the work responsibilities of a survey technician. Discover what skills and education are necessary, as well as salary and job outlook statistics, to make an informed career decision.

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Career Definition for a Survey Technician

Survey technicians assist licensed surveyors in collecting data used to create maps, establish property boundaries, build roads and bridges, and explore for oil and other types of natural resources. They work as part of a survey team collecting data used in construction, engineering and environmental industries.

A survey technician may conduct land and marine surveys, maintain survey equipment, download field data, perform calculations, create drawings using computer-aided drafting (CAD) applications and develop 3D models, layouts and site plans. They may also perform administrative duties, such as scheduling work, organizing data and submitting progress reports. Survey technicians work for private surveying and engineering firms, mining companies, utilities and government agencies.

Education Associate's degree is typically required; high school diploma plus college coursework may be enough for entry-level jobs
Job Skills Knowledge of surveying technology, strong computer skills, able to work independently and as a team, physical stamina and strength
Median Salary (2015)* $42,010 (for mapping and surveying technicians)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* -8% (for mapping and surveying technicians)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Many employers require that survey technicians have a two-year degree, such as an Associate in Applied Science in Surveying Technology or geomatics technology. A high school diploma and postsecondary coursework in surveying, engineering technology, and computer-aided drafting may be sufficient for certain entry-level positions. The National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) website lists accredited A.A.S. and B.S. programs throughout the country. Professional certification, such as the four-level Certified Surveying Technician (CST) program offered by the NSPS, may enhance opportunities for advancement (www.nspsmo.org).

Skills Needed

Survey technicians must have a working knowledge of surveying equipment such as total stations and data collectors, along with an understanding of advanced survey technologies, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Land Information Systems (LIS). They need strong computer skills, including CAD drafting and design and word processing. Survey technicians work independently and as part of a team, interacting with surveyors and members of the survey party. Survey technicians are often required to stand for long periods and carry heavy equipment over rugged terrain.

Economic and Financial Forecast

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 8% job decline for mapping and surveying technicians over the 2014-2024 period. Certified survey technicians who have experience with a variety of land and marine surveying technologies may have the strongest job prospects. In some states, experienced survey technicians can become licensed surveyors without a bachelor's degree, but the degree may also increase job opportunities. In May 2015, the BLS reported that median annual earnings for mapping and surveying technicians were $42,010, with the highest-paid ten percent earning $68,160 or more per year.

Alternative Careers

The following careers also require some surveying skills:

Surveyor

For those seeking more technical responsibilities than what a surveying technician performs, becoming a surveyor could be the right fit. Surveyors take land measurements, locate natural and man-made boundary lines, participate in presentations for clients and government officials, reference public records such as land titles and survey data, plot out feature locations and create documents for construction and legal purposes.

To work as a surveyor, a bachelor's degree in surveying, civil engineering or a related field is generally required. All states also require licensure of surveyors who perform specific tasks in construction or certify property lines. To qualify, an approved education program must be completed, as well as several years working under a licensed surveyor. According to the BLS, over 44,300 surveyors were employed in the U.S in 2014 and earned a median yearly income of $58,020 in 2015. Employment in this field is projected to decrease from 2014-2024, with a 2% decline expected during that time.

Cartographer

If collecting geographical data from engineers and creating maps for commercial and scientific use sounds interesting, consider a career in cartography. Cartographers gather information from satellite pictures, photographs and surveying reports and use computer software to draw out printed maps of land features and man-made structures. They also design interactive maps that are becoming more commonplace on government and commerce websites.

Entering this profession usually requires a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, cartography, geography or a related area of study. Some states require cartographers to obtain a surveying license, and optional certification is available for those want a competitive advantage in the hiring process. Based on predictions from the BLS, job opportunities for cartographers and photogrammetrists should increase by 29% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in the creation of 3,600 new jobs. The BLS estimated that the median salary for these mapping professionals was $61,880 in 2015.

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