Summary

surveyors image
Surveyors map out boundaries for construction.
Quick Facts: Surveyors
2015 Median Pay $58,020 per year
$27.89 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation Less than 5 years
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 44,300
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -2% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2014-24 -900

What Surveyors Do

Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries. They provide data relevant to the shape and contour of the Earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects.

Work Environment

Surveying involves both fieldwork and indoor work. When working outside, surveyors may stand for long periods and often walk long distances, sometimes in bad weather. Most work full time.

How to Become a Surveyor

Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree. They must be licensed before they can certify legal documents and provide surveying services to the public.

Pay

The median annual wage for surveyors was $58,020 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of surveyors is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Improvements in surveying technology have increased productivity, reducing demand for surveyors.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for surveyors.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of surveyors with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about surveyors by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Surveyors Do About this section

Surveyors
Surveyors update boundary lines and prepare sites for construction so that legal disputes are prevented.

Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries. They provide data relevant to the shape and contour of the Earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects.

Duties

Surveyors typically do the following:

  • Measure distances and angles between points on, above, and below the Earth’s surface
  • Travel to locations and use known reference points to determine the exact location of important features
  • Research land records, survey records, and land titles
  • Look for evidence of previous boundaries to determine where boundary lines are located
  • Record the results of surveying and verify the accuracy of data
  • Prepare plots, maps, and reports
  • Present findings to clients and government agencies
  • Establish official land and water boundaries for deeds, leases, and other legal documents and testify in court regarding survey work

Surveyors provide documentation of legal property lines and help determine the exact locations of real estate and construction projects. For example, when a house or commercial building is bought or sold, it may need to be surveyed to prevent boundary disputes. During construction, surveyors determine the precise location of roads or buildings and proper depths for building foundations. The survey also shows changes to the property line and indicates potential restrictions on the property, such as what can be built on it and how large the structure can be.

When taking measurements in the field, surveyors make use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), a system of satellites that locates reference points with a high degree of precision. Surveyors use handheld GPS units and robotic total stations to collect relevant information about the terrain they are surveying. (Robotic total stations use laser systems and GPS to automatically calculate distances between boundaries and geological features of the survey area.) Data is then loaded into a computer, where surveyors interpret and verify the results.

Surveyors also use Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—technology that allows surveyors to present spatial information visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, a surveyor can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as tree density in a given region, and create digital maps. They then use the results to advise governments and businesses on where to plan homes, roads, and landfills.

Although advances in surveying technology now allow many jobs to be performed by just one surveyor, they also may work with the help of a crew. The crew may consist of a licensed surveyor and trained survey technicians. The person in charge of the crew, known as the party chief, may be either a surveyor or a senior surveying technician. The party chief leads day-to-day work activities.

Surveyors may be involved in settling boundary disputes. When property is sold or new construction takes place, such as the building of a fence, issues may arise because of outdated records or the misinterpretation of available records. A surveyor can be called in to settle the dispute, and may provide testimony in court if the involved parties do not come to an agreement.

Surveyors also work with civil engineers, landscape architects, and urban and regional planners to develop comprehensive design documents.

Some surveyors work in specialty fields to survey particular characteristics of the Earth.

The following are two types of surveyors:

Geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy technology, including aerial and satellite observations, to measure large areas of the Earth’s surface.

Marine or hydrographic surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the floor, water depth, and other features.

Work Environment About this section

Surveyors
Surveyors prepare plots, maps, and reports.

Surveyors held about 44,300 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most surveyors were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 70%
Government 11
Construction 8

Most surveyors work for private surveying or engineering firms. Some also work in construction and for state and local governments.

Depending on the specific job duties, surveying involves both fieldwork and office work. Fieldwork involves working outdoors in all types of weather, walking long distances, and standing for extended periods while measurements are taken. Surveyors sometimes climb hills with heavy packs of surveying instruments. When working near hazards such as traffic, surveyors generally wear brightly colored or reflective vests so they may be seen more easily.

Traveling is often part of the job, and surveyors may commute long distances or stay at a project location for an extended period of time. Those who work on resource extraction projects may work in remote areas and spend long periods away from home.

Work Schedules

Surveyors usually work full time. When construction activity is high, they may work more hours than usual.

How to Become a Surveyor About this section

Surveyors
Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree because they work with sophisticated technology and math.

Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree. They must be licensed before they can certify legal documents and provide surveying services to the public.

Education

Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree because they work with sophisticated technology and math. Some colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs specifically designed to prepare students to become licensed surveyors. A bachelor’s degree in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, is sometimes acceptable as well.

Many states require individuals who want to become licensed surveyors to have a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET and approximately 4 years of work experience under a licensed surveyor. In other states, an associate’s degree in surveying, coupled with more years of work experience under a licensed surveyor, may be sufficient. Most states also have continuing education requirements.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Candidates with significant work experience as a survey technician can become licensed surveyors. To receive credit for this experience, candidates must work under a licensed surveyor. Many surveying technicians become licensed surveyors after working for as many as 10 years in the field of surveying. The amount of work experience required varies by state.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require surveyors to be licensed before they can certify legal documents that show property lines or determine proper markings on construction projects. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree must usually work for several years under the direction of a licensed surveyor in order to qualify for licensure.

Although the process of obtaining a license varies by state, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying has a generalized process of four steps:

      • Complete the level of education required in your state
      • Pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam
      • Gain sufficient work experience under a licensed surveyor
      • Pass the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Surveyors must provide clear instructions to team members, clients, and government officials. They also must be able to receive instructions from architects and construction managers, and explain the job’s progress to developers, lawyers, financiers, and government authorities.

Detail oriented. Surveyors must work with precision and accuracy because they produce legally binding documents.

Physical stamina. Surveyors traditionally work outdoors, often in rugged terrain. They must be able to walk long distances for long periods.

Problem-solving skills. Surveyors must figure out discrepancies between documents showing property lines and current conditions on the land. If there were changes in previous years, they must discover the reason behind them and reestablish property lines.

Time-management skills. Surveyors must be able to effectively plan their time and their team members’ time on the job. This is critical when pressing deadlines exist or while working outside during winter months when daylight hours are short.

Visualization skills. Surveyors must be able to envision new buildings and altered terrain.

Pay About this section

Surveyors

Median annual wages, May 2015

Architects, surveyors, and cartographers

$69,130

Surveyors

$58,020

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for surveyors was $58,020 in May 2015. 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 $32,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,800.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for surveyors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $64,980
Construction 61,730
Architectural, engineering, and related services 56,610

Surveyors usually work full time. When construction activity is high, they may work more hours than usual.

Job Outlook About this section

Surveyors

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Architects, surveyors, and cartographers

6%

Surveyors

-2%

 

Employment of surveyors is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Advancements in surveying technology, such as robotic total stations, let surveyors complete more work in less time, reducing the demand for surveyors. However, some surveyors will continue to be needed to certify boundary lines, work on resource extraction projects, and review sites for construction.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for those with a bachelor’s degree in surveying or a related field are expected to be good. Increased use of sophisticated technology and math has resulted in higher education requirements. As a result, those with the right combination of skills and a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET will have the best job opportunities.

Demand for traditional surveying services is closely tied to construction activity, therefore job opportunities will vary by geographic region, and often depend on local economic conditions. When real estate sales and construction activity slow down, surveyors may face greater competition for jobs. However, because surveyors can work on many different types of projects, they may have steadier work than others in the industry when construction slows.

Employment projections data for surveyors, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Surveyors

17-1022 44,300 43,400 -2 -900 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of surveyors.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Architects

Architects

Architects plan and design houses, factories, office buildings, and other structures.

Bachelor's degree $76,100
Cartographers and photogrammetrists

Cartographers and Photogrammetrists

Cartographers and photogrammetrists collect, measure, and interpret geographic information in order to create and update maps and charts for regional planning, education, emergency response, and other purposes.

Bachelor's degree $61,880
Civil engineers

Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Bachelor's degree $82,220
Landscape architects

Landscape Architects

Landscape architects design parks and the outdoor spaces of campuses, recreational facilities, private homes, and other open areas.

Bachelor's degree $63,810
Surveying and mapping technicians

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

Surveying and mapping technicians 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. They both assist surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,010
Urban and regional planners

Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

Master's degree $68,220
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Surveyors,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/surveyors.htm (visited May 30, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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Pay

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State & Area Data

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2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.