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Surveying and mapping technicians salary & career outlook

Where would we be without excellent mapmakers? Probably horribly lost, as anyone who has lost GPS access in the middle of unfamiliar territory can attest. Surveying and mapping technicians play a major role in ensuring the maps that guide you -- whether in paper, digital or GPS form -- are accurate and up to date.

What do surveying and mapmaking technicians do?

Surveying and mapping technicians help surveyors and cartographers collect the data they need to map the earth's surface. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2011), surveying and mapping technicians may be related, but they are unique jobs with different responsibilities. The BLS notes that the following tasks are common among surveying technicians:

  • Operating surveying equipment to collect relevant data
  • Visiting sites to record measurements
  • Searching for previous survey points and markers
  • Staking or marking the land to conduct surveys
  • Entering data into instruments or computer programs

Mapping technicians, on the other hand, usually tend to the following tasks:

  • Selecting information from databases to create maps
  • Producing maps that show boundaries, water areas and other geographical features
  • Updating maps and ensuring accuracy
  • Sequencing aerial photographs to assist photogrammetrists

Despite their differences, the BLS notes that both surveying and mapping technicians must have strong decision-making and troubleshooting skills, and must be able to work outdoors, often in rugged terrain. Most of the technical skills their work requires can be learned on the job or through surveying and mapping technician schools.

Map your future: How to become a surveying or mapping technician

According to the BLS, most surveying and mapping technicians usually have high school diplomas, though some choose to pursue formal training through surveying and mapping technician schools. Mapping technicians are more likely to enroll in such programs. Associate or bachelor's degrees in a relevant field, like geomatics, may stand in for a specialty program if none are available in your community, but it's important to check with any schools you are considering. Students may be able to complete at least some their surveying and mapping technician education online, however, expanding their options considerably.

Doing the math: Surveying and mapping technician salary trends

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2011) reports that surveying and mapping technicians earned a national median salary of $39,350 in 2011. The bottom 10 percent earned up to $24,420, and the top 10 percent of earners made up to $63,400.

Keep in mind that there are several factors that can influence earnings, like industry, location, and training and experience level. For instance, the BLS reports that the following industries offered the highest annual national mean surveying and mapping technician salaries in 2011:

  • Natural gas distribution ($62,580)
  • Pipeline transportation of natural gas ($58,710)
  • Oil and gas extraction ($57,610)

As for location, the BLS reports that the following states offered the highest annual mean salaries for surveying and mapping technicians in 2011:

  • California ($59,560)
  • Nevada ($55,270)
  • Alaska ($51,640)

Training and experience may also impact earning potential.

Looking ahead: Career outlook for surveying and mapping technicians

The BLS projects that employment of surveying and mapping technicians will grow by 16 percent between 2010 and 2020, thanks in part to recent advancements in mapping technology like digital mapping and smart phones with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. As with earnings, demand for surveying and mapping technicians tends to vary from one region to the next. The U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop (careerinfonet.org, 2011) projects that employment of these professionals will grow the fastest in the following states between 2008 and 2018:

  • Utah (26 percent)
  • Maryland (24 percent)
  • Virginia (23 percent)

The right training may give you a competitive edge in your job market, wherever you live and work. Consider exploring a number of surveying and mapmaking technician schools -- including both traditional and online programs -- to find the one that best suits your needs.