Are land surveyor job opportunities growing or declining?

Are jobs in this industry on the rise? Are there any sub-sectors that are growing?

Where are the jobs? Which places have the most land surveyor opportunities?
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In an effort to inject some logic and reason into this thread instead of stupid political sniping, I asked a longtime PLS who is still in business this question on Quora:

"Why has land surveying been hurt so badly by the current down economy?"

Here is the reply from Eric Colburn, PLS:

"Land surveying has been hurt so badly by the current down economy mostly due to the collapse of the housing and construction building markets, the effects of slow to non-existing lending, and by high levels of unemployment.

The collapse of the housing and construction building market, post real estate bubble, has significantly reduced the amount of available work for land surveying companies, often resulting in drastic layoffs and cost-cutting measures. Although, there have been a few bright industry segments, like oil and gas.

The second issue, lending, has been an issue both for developers looking to start a land development project, to the residential home buyer looking to purchase a home. This lack of lending has created an enormous stoppage of "cash-flow" throughout most segments of the economy, particularly for housing, land development and land surveyors, too.

Finally, let's look at unemployment. First, unemployment can be attributed as hurting land surveyors in this economy just by accounting for the number of land surveyors that are now out of work, which is significant. Second, the overall high number of all unemployed hurts the land surveying business, as the unemployed are unlikely to spend their money to buy a new home or have their land surveyed, which negatively impacts the land surveying industry, particularly those land surveying companies that directly rely upon residential customers."
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@jsw wrote: "...oddly enough i can still think of several bosses who are still buying new harleys, fancy ski trips to whistler, putting their wives on the payroll, still giving themselves bonuses and big paycheck..."

So? Taking an example of a bad apple and extrapolating that to an entire profession is helpful? I'm afraid I don't follow.

It sounds a lot to me like you are just fanning the politics of guilt and envy.
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Republicans ruined the country? If you remember back in the mid 90's that Clinton said "Everybody will own a house." I don't think that the Republicans or Democraps are the ones who created the loop holes for the sub-par lenders from giving someone a 500k house to someone who can only afford 100K. This problem was caused by greed and WE ALL jumped on board with it....
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and your right owners can do what they want, unfortunately it doesnt trickle down to the employee, wages have come down, no raises for the past 3 years, but oddly enough i can still think of several bosses who are still buying new harleys, fancy ski trips to whistler, putting their wives on the payroll, still giving themselves bonuses and big paycheck ( I know accountants too) maybe your different, if so, good for you. truth is I've found ways to make money without surveying. the new generation coming in frustrates me anyway, guys think because they have book smarts or can push a button on a data collector they are surveying, theres a giant step between that and being a surveyor. as far as having my license, no but I do have my lsaw level 4 which is equal to a cst level 3, which means I should have no problem, but why should I get my license, its not a fraternity anymore, when kids come straight out of the tech school and a lie on their app about experience to take the ls test and some licensee signs off on it so he can say he has another ls in the office,why would I want to be part of that?
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Jan 10, 2011 Solution
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Whoa, guys. Enough of the politics and impugning of personal motives. Isn't there enough of that going around everywhere else on the Internet? I would remind you that this thread is about land surveying!

I'll throw in my two shekels about the unemployment situation again. I don't think it's helpful to make generalisations like: "Blame the owners" or "Blame the survey techs for not getting licensed." There are good owners who pay their bills on time and pay their employees first, and bad owners who ran their businesses into the ground and shouldn't be crying now. There are good survey techs who are an asset to the profession, work hard, put in a lot of OT, and turn in work that you can swear on, and bad techs who don't know what they're doing and shouldn't be working on a survey crew. I've been around enough to know this is true and have seen it with my own eyes.

Personally speaking as a former survey tech, I resent the attitude of PLS's who state, "if you're unemployed you should have gotten your license." Well, the problem with that attitude is that PLS and survey tech are two different jobs. If you succeed in this industry and you earn your PLS you will eventually find yourself surveying from a desk. And that's an inevitable and necessary thing, it's progress. But somebody is going to have to actually do the field work, and that's the survey techs and field crews, and they have to be well-trained, and that is up to the PLS!

"Us vs. them" attitudes within the CE and land surveying industry is counterproductive, in my opinion. The reality is that success and growth of the industry in these hard times will require both professional office and field crew expertise if it has any chance of remaining a legitimate profession.
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fist of all, I put it more saturdays and sundays over the past 20 years than I can count, missed kids birthdays, tickets to football games, my kids sporting events, etc. I have given my life to surveying, so you can pucker up and smooch away, the majority of guys I know arent working, so I guess none of us were that valuable, but no big, Im glad your working, someone has to pay my unemployment and free school tuition. and yes I will still do side surveys, and yes they are correct, I didnt get laid off because I was a bad surveyor, I got laid off because republicans, which I used to be, ran this country into the ground, "No country has ever prospered from a lengthy war" Sun Tzu
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Jan 10, 2011 Solution
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@ jsw in Bothell, Washington:

I've read most of the posts here and you are by far the most negative poster here. I'm working and have been for the last 2 years. I don't make 11bucks an hour. I'm making scale and I am NON-UNION. As far as owners, it is their money that they used to start the company, it's thier name on the building, it's thier business to do what they want. Why are you so mad? Do you have your license or LSI? If you don't then it's nobody's fault buy your own. I guess you are not as valuable as you think you were huh?? You sound like the guy who does not work on a Saturday when needed or OT with out bitchin. Most owners are good people who care about keeping their people happy. To be so synical to everybody on this board is well, kind of childish.
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ah yes, the key words being labor unions. dont worry, your massive pension funds are the next to go. 🙂 and I thought being a surveyor meant you basically work alone or with 1 other person. you must be one of those guys that cant quit talking all day, most surveyors Ive known dont want to be around people, and are for the most part alpha males, very decisive individuals, but i did work a Union job for 3 months, and left because of the lazy attitude, a bunch of guys wanting to stand around and run their yap and drink coffe all day, and refused to work in the rain.sidewalk surveyors. sound familiar.
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Hello all,

I thought I would throw in my two cents here for the record. First, to address the comments of the gentleman from Washington several months ago concerning business owners, you should move on if for no other reason than to find employment where you do not have to work with people. As a business owner I watched my company go from 30 employees to myself over the last 3 years. I worked hard to help and assist most of my former employees to secure state wide jobs. Meanwhile I have lost everything with exception to some of my equipment to rebound when the time is right. I have many colleages/business owners that have lost everything in this downturn as well. Risk taking has rewards and it has pitfalls.

I wish I could say things look better but here in California, Sacramento to be exact, it is bleak at best. Indicators point to at least 2 years before we move forward. The biggest firms in Sacramento running 25 crews in the boom are sometimes hard pressed to put one crew out for a week. My advice to all is hang in there but look for other options. Myself, I returned to law school to incorporate real estate law into my firm someday.

With regards to robotics and technolodgy, It is well received by me and that is one of the things I have always enjoyed about surveying, I would imagine all of you do also. Something had to change here in California. Addressing Mr Washington States comments about hourly rates, In California under the Union the labor rate for a 2-man crew is $110 per hour +/-. You add insurances, equipment, offices, overhead, back-charges and write-offs that are common in our profession and you will find the pie isn't cut as distorted as one might believe.

Just my point of view.
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not much going on anywhere, even if it is busy in the midwest how many surveyors will it really consume, It only takes 1 or 2 guys to survey in more pipeline in a day than a someone can build in 30 days, do the math, my wife said" what about the new viaduct going in downtown" 2 crews for topo, 1 crew for construction, 6 guys total and that may be generous.I show up for the interwiew and I know the other 10 guys waiting in the lobby, and probably the 10 the day before and tomorrow, and the real killer is that somehow I have fallen from 30$ to 11.83 an hr.(owners raping you because they know they can) when offered the job.I make more on unenjoyment every week. The way I see it is that the last 20 years of my life have been for nothing,just a temporary gig, its pretty obvious for millions that you dont get out of life what you put into it. Otherwise a friend of mine wouldnt of gotten forclosed on, he worked 70 hr weeks and got paid for 25 to 30. Ive abandoned the idea of ever surveying again.(maybe the occasionial side gig for cash,at way cheaper then the survey outfits around charge,after all at 11.83 hr they are not doing me any favors, business owners just love that) Instead i am going to shool in Jan to become a computer tech, thats right, the geek that used to come in to the office to fix the sever, now its my turn to be made fun of. At least I'll be getting paid.
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Nothing good to report in Georgia and I do not think there will be for at least 2 to 3 years. I work for a Surveying, Engineering, and Aerial Mapping Company. The only thing keeping the doors open is the aerial mapping right now.
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Dec 12, 2010 Solution
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Declining?? That is an understatement here in the US thanks to the fat cat bankers that got bailed out. Land surveyor job opportunities are DEAD!!! You can't even buy a job land surveying job. Hopefully the Mr. hope and great change savior Obama will bail us out with the new stimulus package....right keep dreaming. It will only make him and inner left circle lots of money. Good luck to everyone.
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The robotic technology has eliminated crew positions for those like me w/o a degree. I worked in the field many years, like you, starting w/a chain crew. Now one person can do what it took a whole crew then.When I started we had at least 4 guys on a crew.
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Aug 18, 2010 Solution
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The robotic technology has eliminated crew positions for those like me w/o a degree. I worked in the field many years, like you, starting w/a chain crew. Now one person can do what it took a whole crew then.When I started we had at least 4 guys on a crew.
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Aug 18, 2010 Solution
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The robotic technology has eliminated crew positions for those like me w/o a degree. I worked in the field many years, like you, starting w/a chain crew. Now one person can do what it took a whole crew then.When I started we had at least 4 guys on a crew.
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Aug 18, 2010 Solution
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The robotic technology has eliminated crew positions for those like me w/o a degree. I worked in the field many years, like you, starting w/a chain crew. Now one person can do what it took a whole crew then.When I started we had at least 4 guys on a crew.
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I love land surveying, but it hurts me to see a noble profession disappearing because of the economic depression.

I apprenticed under a wizened, old-school PC who was ex-Army Corp. of Engineers. The first few months on the job were like boot camp. I learned the fundamentals with a plumb bob, chain, rod, HP48, and a Wild T2, and a Wild level. No EDM at the time, and my PC infamously didn't trust EDM, let alone the RTK/GPS of today. While he barked at me while holding the rod, I learned fast how to bang a setup, turn a good angle, take good measurements, and most of all check my work. Even though I had 2 years of college it was not in CE. However I had trig and calculus in HS and this was enough (and should still be enough) to do the required math and perform adequate checking.

I've been out of work since 2007; before that I was putting in OT hours every week and rarely taking vacation. I miss those days!

Sadly, land surveying is dead in the US today, and I'm sorry to say that I don't see it coming back. I don't think it is exclusively the fault of the owners (although many of them run their businesses badly). I think much of the blame should be laid squarely on the doorstep of the gluttony of modern Americans, with their McMansions and vast, sidewalk-free neighborhoods. Before I get nostalgic about "the way things used to be" (I'm still too young for that), I try to be thankful for being able to do this for many years and make money from all the legitimate land development over the past years. Nevertheless, there as been an awful lot of undercutting, underbidding, and shortcuts engaged in by owners. That has come back to bite them, as insurance costs have continued to spiral upward.

I still consider myself a proud member of "the world's second-oldest profession", but I don't hold out much hope for the state of surveying as a form of employment in the 21st century.
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We cut trees down all the time in S.Ga. with a machete. We toted bush axes only when we had to. A sharp blade will take out out most_ of the BS. I'm just a crew guy, rod & instrument. Not only are the illegals killing the homeboys, the technology itself is. I've said this before on this site, I saw an old boss of mine surveying by himself. With robotics you can do that. Duh. Y'all surveyors know this. Anyhoo, I started when they still had chainmen & plumb bobs. Anybody remember that? Only old as dirt, I guess. Just one of the sites I vent, as I've done land surveying more than anything else, and it's dead now.
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Jul 14, 2010 Solution
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If any of you have Pipleline Survey expierience I would send your resumes to Universal Ensco. I heard through the grapevine that they are about to kick off a big line here in the near future and are taking applications. They are a good company with fair wages and per diem. Good luck to you all
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Jul 11, 2010 Solution
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I'm VERY happy for you! My husband got a job interview to a job in a city in the middle of nowhere here in UT - not ideal but we are going there to check it out anyway.

Just a question - how did your husband got 1 year and 8 months of unemployment? I thought 6 months were the most you could get.

Good luck for you all!
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Jun 25, 2010 Solution
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Well good news (at least for me) from my previous post above, I stated I was working with GIS and GPS, but no under a PS. I just got a new position working at a surveying firm. I thought I would put what might be one of the first positive posts on here.
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Jun 8, 2010 Solution
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I agree and disagree with a lot of what was said here. I love this profession, have been doing it since in was 18 yrs old. But I have seen a lot of change over the last 17 yrs. The days of hour long single freq. static sessions. That use to take hours to download and process To taking a 5 second RTK observation. I love the advancement in technology, but at times miss the good ole days of running a differential level line, actually reading the rod and writing it in a field book. I have done every aspect of this job starting as a rod man and worked my way through to get my RPLS. And agree there are a lot of kids out there that can pass there Test but can't survey for crap. Its a shame you take long standing practice out of the equation, and tell me how thats going to improve our profession. Guess im lucky I got my license before this all kicks in, I really think we will lose a lot of good surveyors because someone wants to see a piece of paper. Its a shame.
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Jun 8, 2010 Solution
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Wow! It sounds like we're all in this together! I'm amazed at the support other wives have given their husbands and you (fellow surveyors) have given each other in this trying time! Like other husbands, mine LOVES LOVES LOVES surveying! We even moved 3,000 miles away (after 4 long years of college) only to have it slammed shut in our face in November 08 after 4 solid years of good, hard work for the company and becoming a PLS (about a month before he lost his job--the Holy Grail of surveying isn't what it's cracked up to be sometimes)! For YEARS I operated under the notion that I would rather he is doing what he loves and is happy and offering us new opportunities to see other parts of the country than both of us working and only moderately doing what we love and living in a crappy place to boot. THANK GOD I went to college and have a good degree/experience in a field that is growing, otherwise our prospects would be horribly grim. But...life goes on. Owners/bosses (of any company in any field, really) will always be greedy and looking out for number one. It's the name of the game. And unfortunately, from the sound of it MANY of us have experienced that! And to be honest, we gotta look out for number one (and families, too) and keep on keepin on! Good luck to everyone! I KNOW we will all come out of this stronger!!
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Jun 7, 2010 Solution
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To all my survey brethren - I feel your pain. I am licensed in NC and PA. I have been surveying since 1986 and was laid off in 02/09. Since then its been scat jobs for lousy pay just to keep the house. This is awful, and the worst part is I don't see any silver lining in the immediate future. I have shifted focus on to other career possibilities, but it sickens me to think of all the time, energy and money I have put out in a career that seems as flaky as wind direction. Good luck to all and keep swinging. They gotta put one over the plate sooner or later.
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May 31, 2010 Solution
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I really appreciate your input. If any opportunities appear in the near future, I'll try to make sure it is worth it. We also don't want to wast our (very little) money relocating for a job that won't last much.

We are very uneasy with the news of so few jobs available.... hard to think of what else can we do....
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May 26, 2010 Solution
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I too have relocated many times for jobs in recent years. Only when things are BOOMING, will an engineering/surveying firm consider relocation allowances/bonus. When things slow down more, you may be able to get a LOAN from them prior to your relocation. Now... you're 100% on your own in most cases. This year i have been laid off from 2 jobs, because work dried up. BE careful if you decide to relocate at your own expense.

My last employer promised a year or more of full-time work. I spent $1500 to relocate 1200 miles. He ran out in 6 weeks, and to throw salt to the wound, told unemployment i was fired for going over-budget or some nonsense to avoid having to pay. Now my case is all tied up (week 5) in investigations- and NO money (i spent it all relocating, and then going back home). I have a couple horror stories regarding relocating- but only in recent years, because times are tight, and people just seem to 'use' each other more.

My last bit of advice- the jobs that you are finding out there now, are jobs NO ONE wants in most cases. Usually- because of its remote location, or extreme conditions (the arctic, the deserts of washington, overseas, etc). I've managed to survive this long because I was willing to work for months and months away from home- in the most extreme conditions.

I have applied for dozens of govt. jobs. I asked both the MT and ID employment reps about the situation. Most surveying jobs are getting over 400 applicants per position; you have to be WAY overqualified, because there are licensed surveyors with 30 yrs experience applying for entry-level jobs.
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May 25, 2010 Solution
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I worked for a small firm out of North Idaho (Sandpoint/Bonners Ferry). They had some govt work with Bonneville Power Administration and wind-power projects (help from stimulus $$), and i spent a lot of time in hotels along the columbia river gorge (the WA/OR border)- vancouver, walla walla, hermiston, etc. I was only home about 5 days a month (being single w/o kids made it easy). A lot of surveyors have gone out of business in N Idaho and Western Montana in the last couple years... just like everywhere else it seems.

As far as my career change, its drastic but necessary now. Stability is most important to me at this point. I'm hopeful it will be something i enjoy. I just know that full time survey-related positions are paying less and less, the jobs are fewer and fewer, and the work duration is shorter and shorter. With a college degree in Civil Engineering, and an LSIT certificate, $12/hr is not what i was expecting to be making after 11 years of experience. They pay $10/hr at my local costco, and its stable work! If i had more in savings, i'd consider trying to ride it out for the next 3-4 years... but i don't have that luxury.

Good luck to you and your husband!
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May 25, 2010 Solution
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