Surveying and mapping technicians assist surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists. Together, they collect data and make maps of the earth’s surface. Surveying technicians visit sites to take measurements of the land. Mapping technicians use geographic data to create maps.
Surveying technicians typically do the following:
- Visit sites to record survey measurements and other descriptive data
- Operate surveying instruments, such as electronic distance-measuring equipment, to collect data on a location
- Set out stakes and marks to conduct the survey, and then retrieve them
- Search for previous survey points, such as old stone markers
- Enter the data from surveying instruments into computers, either in the field or in an office
Surveying technicians help surveyors in the field on teams, known as survey parties. A typical survey party has a party chief and one or more surveying technicians and assistants. The party chief, either a surveyor or a senior surveying technician, leads day-to-day work activities. After data are collected by the survey party, surveying technicians help to process the data by entering the data into computers.
Mapping technicians typically do the following:
- Select needed information from relevant databases to create maps
- Produce maps showing boundaries, water locations, elevation, and other features of the terrain
- Update maps to ensure accuracy
- Assist photogrammetrists by laying out aerial photographs in sequence to identify areas not captured by aerial photography
Mapping technicians help cartographers and photogrammetrists produce and upgrade maps. They do this work on computers, combining data from different sources.
Geographic information systems (GIS) technicians use geographic information system (GIS) technology to assemble, integrate, and display data about a particular location in a digital format. They also use GIS technology to compile information from a variety of sources. GIS technicians also maintain and update databases for GIS devices.
Surveying and mapping technicians held about 54,000 jobs in 2012. Most surveying and mapping technicians work for firms that provide engineering, surveying, and mapping services on a contract basis. State and local governments also employ these workers in highway and planning departments.
Surveying technicians work outside extensively and can be exposed to all types of weather. They often stand for long periods, walk considerable distances, and may have to climb hills with heavy packs of instruments and other equipment. Traveling is sometimes part of the job, and surveying technicians may commute long distances, stay away from home overnight, or temporarily relocate near a survey site.
Mapping technicians work primarily on computers in office environments. However, mapping technicians must sometimes conduct research by using resources such as survey maps and legal documents to verify property lines and to obtain information needed for mapping. This task may require traveling to storage sites housing these legal documents, such as county courthouses or lawyers’ offices.
About 11 percent of surveying and mapping technicians were self-employed in 2012.
Surveying and mapping technicians typically work full time but may have longer hours during the summer, when weather and light conditions are most suitable for fieldwork. Construction-related work may be limited during times of harsh weather.
Mapping technicians who develop and maintain geographic information systems (GIS) databases generally work normal business hours.
Surveying technicians usually need only a high school diploma. However, mapping technicians often need formal education after high school to study advances in technology such as geographic information systems (GIS).
Surveying technicians generally need a high school diploma, but some have postsecondary training in survey technology. Postsecondary training is more common among mapping technicians. An associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as geomatics, is beneficial for these workers.
High school students interested in working as a surveying or mapping technician should take courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, drafting, mechanical drawing, and computer science. Knowledge of these subjects will help in finding a job and in advancing.
Concentration. Surveying and mapping technicians need to operate specialized equipment. They must be precise and accurate in their work.
Decision-making skills. As assistants to surveyors and cartographers, surveying technicians must be able to exercise some independent judgment in the field because they may be working away from team members and need to meet tight deadlines.
Listening skills. Surveying technicians work outdoors and must communicate with party chiefs and other team members across distances. Following spoken instructions from the party chief is crucial for saving time and preventing errors.
Physical stamina. Surveying technicians usually work outdoors, often in rugged terrain. Physical fitness is necessary to carry equipment and to stand most of the day.
Problem-solving skills. Surveying and mapping technicians must be able to identify and fix problems with their equipment. Also, because party chiefs rely on them, they must note potential problems with the day’s work plan.
Surveying technicians learn their job duties under the supervision of a surveyor or a surveying party chief. Initially, surveying technicians handle simple tasks, such as placing markers on land and entering data into computers. With experience, they help to decide where and how to measure the land. Eventually, technicians can get an apprenticeship or an associate’s degree so that they can develop skills based on math, drafting, and technical drawing.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
The growing need to make sure that data are useful to other professionals has caused certification to become more common. The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) offers certification for photogrammetric technologists, remote-sensing technologists, and geographic information system/land information system (GIS/LIS) technologists. The National Society of Professional Surveyors offers the Certified Survey Technician credential.
The GIS Certification Institute offers a certification program for people who wish to concentrate on database management of surveying and mapping data.
With experience and formal training in surveying, surveying technicians may advance to senior survey technician, then to party chief. Depending on state licensing requirements, they can become licensed surveyors.
The median annual wage for surveying and mapping technicians was $39,670 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,180, and the top 10 percent earned more than $65,870.
Surveying and mapping technicians typically work regular schedules but may have longer hours during the summer, when weather and light conditions are most suitable for fieldwork. Construction-related work may be limited during times of harsh weather.
Compared with workers in all occupations, surveying and mapping technicians had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.
Employment of surveying and mapping technicians is projected to grow 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Recent advancements in mapping technology have led to new uses for maps and a need for more of the data used to build maps. As a result, surveying and mapping technicians are likely to have more work.
The digital revolution in mapmaking has created a need to harmonize property maps made the traditional way by making maps based on data fed into a geographic information system (GIS). Owners of private property will need to hire surveyors and surveying technicians to gather data in the field.
Cities, towns, and counties are finding that the data gathered by surveying and mapping technicians are crucial in implementing systems integration, which is the process of putting onto one map all the information about wires, pipes, and other underground infrastructure. That way, a city, town, or county can upgrade the entire infrastructure under a street at the same time, and thus have all needed construction done as one project. This coordination of all such construction projects results in savings for the local government.
Retirements of older workers may open up prospects for surveying and mapping technicians, although competition will remain keen. However, prospects will be best for those who are trained in geographic information systems (GIS).
For more information on certification in GIS, visit
For information about career opportunities and the surveying technician certification program, visit
For more information about photogrammetric technicians and geographic information system specialists, visit