Help Wanted: Advocacy Required

Edmonton, Alta (Oct. 20, 2022) – Before it’s too late, the future of one of Canada’s oldest professions depends on generating interest in geomatics – and we need your help.

As the band, The Killers, once wrote, “baby, we’re a dying breed.” Ok, so maybe that’s a bit extreme and using the words “before it’s too late” is a bit dramatic, but hopefully, I’ve got your attention.

This summer, I sat down with GeoVerra’s Chief Operating Officer, Mitch Ettinger, to chat about advocacy. I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on our conversation.

The word advocacy, in this situation, can mean many things; promoting surveying as a career to encourage more entrants into the industry, educating the public on the importance of professional surveyors, lobbying the government and highlighting the value to clients.

Advocacy is a complicated beast, and many problems need to be addressed. It’s probably why we talk about it as an industry internally but haven’t made much progress when it comes to external conversations. It’s hard to know where to start.

Let’s start with one of the biggest problems we’re all facing right now – finding talented employees with a shortage of qualified candidates. We can’t make people who don’t exist. So, we need to get more people into surveying.

When it comes to getting people into surveying, I often hear a lot of talk about salary. Why would someone get into geomatics when the perception is, they could go into another stream of engineering or a completely different profession altogether, where they may make more money? I can’t blame them, but getting people into this industry shouldn’t be all about salary. Believe it or not, the next generation cares about things other than money which works to our advantage. Don’t get me wrong – increasing wages may be a factor, but it’s not the only thing we should focus on. After all, to raise wages, we’d need to increase rates considerably. To increase rates, we need to increase the perceived value of surveyors amongst stakeholders, and now we’ve got ourselves a “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Perceived value is a whole other topic of conversation that could easily turn this article into a novel. We’ll save that piece around client advocacy for another time.

So, let’s take wages out of the equation when it comes to getting people into surveying and talk about other things we can do to generate interest in geomatics.

From what I gathered from my conversation with Mitch, historically, people have gotten into surveying based on exposure to the career. Whether it was a relative, a friend of the family, or in Mitch’s case, a surveyor his dad hired to do some work on their land in rural Nova Scotia. Mitch – a self-proclaimed lumberjack at the time – decided, “getting paid to have fun out in the woods” wasn’t such a bad idea. And we must give props to the provincial associations too. They’d done what they can over the years to promote the industry at the high school level, but that exposure isn’t enough.

If we’re relying on exposure to current surveyors to get people into the industry, we have a problem. For exposure to work, you need people to be exposed to surveyors. If we’re running out of surveyors, which is already a very limited group, who will they be exposed to? See the issue?

What once may have worked as a passive approach to fill the void, we now realize that we can’t rely on family members passing on the love of surveying to the next generation. Sadly, the multi-generational surveyor stories are becoming few and far between.

We need to take a proactive approach – enter advocacy.

From what I’ve learned about surveyors over the last two years of being in this industry is that they are incredibly smart, good at math, enjoy the outdoors and don’t mind solo work in nature. Going off that description, I know at least half a dozen people who would have made fantastic surveyors and said they would have gotten into the profession if they knew what it was all about.

Even our own COO, Mitch, admitted when he started looking into the profession, he “didn’t know there was a geomatics engineering component to [the schooling] or the path to becoming a land surveyor.” Sadly, I don’t think we’ve made much progress since then.

After my conversation with Mitch, I wanted to provide a few things he thinks we can do:

*Disclaimer: I’m sure a lot of you are doing one or more of things already, but advocacy is an ongoing effort.

Early education in schools – easier said than done, but what if we all encouraged our employees to connect with one local high school and asked to put on a presentation about surveying? Imagine how many schools we’d cover? Whether we promote the university route or the technical geomatics route, it doesn’t really matter, but the point is we’re highlighting it as an option.

Promotion at Universities – get in front of students in their first year of University. Everyone seems to know about the more popular streams of engineering. Let’s add “Geomatics Engineering” to that list.

Share, share, share – the only way people will learn about the industry is if we start talking about it! So share with your friends, family, neighbours – heck, even the person in line at the grocery store (but don’t be creepy about it, ok?). The bottom line is that people don’t know what they don’t know and right now, very few people outside of the industry know about surveying aside from them being “the person on the side of the road with a tripod.”

Be a mentor – if you’re an experienced professional, please do the next generation a favour and share your knowledge. Let’s help up-and-coming surveyors early on in their careers and set them up for success. If someone feels supported, they are more likely to follow through.

As a company, support your mentors – give your employees the opportunity (and time) to be a mentor. Create an environment that encourages growth and development through articling groups, open forums, and exam support.

Make surveying sexy (Mitch’s words, not mine) – ok, that may be a bit offside, but let’s talk about the cool parts of the job, like the technology we work with (hello, drones! Pardon me, UAVs/RPAS). How about the fact that some surveyors get to ride around on ATVs? Or, like Mitch, get an opportunity to work offshore on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. He also reminded me, “we are doing things today that will assist self-driving cars.” If you ask me, surveyors are driving the future forward. Pun intended.

Become a member of Professional Surveyors Canada (PSC) – companies need to support their employees when it comes to participating in association activities. Networking, driving change, and supporting advocacy is a mandate of PSC. Without your involvement, change won’t happen.

Communicate our value to clients – I know this isn’t directly related to getting people into surveying, but if clients see a need for licensed surveyors and the assurances and expertise professionals bring, demand will naturally increase. Given gas prices these days, we all know what happens with supply and demand, right? This one is a bit of a long game and will take time to change perceptions, but we’ve got to start somewhere, or we’ll continue to become commoditized in this race to the bottom.

As Mitch put it, “We need to communicate to the general public what the surveying industry is all about. It starts with awareness. People don’t know what they don’t know and we can’t blame anyone else for that except ourselves. This industry is essential, and no one wants to see it fade away. Be proud of what you do and how we contribute – from real property reports to major highways, every project matters. We are often the first people on site and set the bar for a successful project. Unfortunately, most people don’t know that.”

It’s going to take time – years, but we can make a difference. Cheesy, I know. But all it takes is every person reading this to have a conversation with someone, share what you do and the value you provide, build awareness, and we’ll get this ball rolling together.

Interested in a career in surveying? Check out opportunities at GV here.

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