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by Scott Shambach

How many remember the song Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson? If you are into country music, it’s a good tune. Even if you aren’t, give it a try. If you listen to the song and decide to follow its advice, let me give you a tad of parenting advice. You better provide a good alternative.

Allow me to make a recommendation. According to the website All About Surveying (, in most states the average age of a surveyor is 57 years old. This means that states are losing 10% of their surveyors annually to retirement. Ask yourself, “How many surveyors do I know?” Now, being kind, how old do you think they are? Are they over or under the average age? I will be transparent. As of this writing I have less than a year to become average.

Also, let me be specific in stating that when I refer to a surveyor, I am referring to one who has completed all state requirements to receive a Professional License in Surveying (PLS). I am not taking away from those who are able to do the work of a surveyor in various aspects. But the many legal requirements often mandate the stamp of a PLS.

I don’t think I have to explain what the definition of average is, but lets a take a look at what this average is indicating. In order to lower the average age two components need to change. Either the number of those over the average needs to be reduced or the number of those under the average needs to be increased. Due to retirement, the former is going to happen automatically. Unfortunately, that creates shortage. The latter is much more desirable. While the former creates job security and higher wages for us “old timers”, it creates time delays and higher costs for clients. The latter provides opportunities for an exciting career that many may have overlooked.

So, what does it take? For one, it takes interest. If you do a job just because it pays well or you are shoved into it, you will not get a lot of satisfaction. But if you do a job you enjoy, it becomes less like work. It also takes a degree of aptitude. Not everyone is suited for surveying. But what I found out about aptitude is that it takes exploring. If you don’t look, you don’t know. Most importantly, it takes action.

Each state has their own licensing requirements. Here in Pennsylvania the most common path is a college degree (associate’s or bachelor), followed by a Fundamentals of Land Survey (FLS) exam to begin apprenticeship and then a minimum of four years of job experience. At the end of that, you present your experience to the License Board for acceptance to take you PLS exam. Check your state for individual requirements. Pennsylvania College of Technology offers an Associates Degree while Penn State Wilkes-Barre offers both an Associates and Bachelors Degree. A minimum of an Associates Degree in Land Survey is required in order to sit for the FLS.

With an associate’s degree from either of these two colleges, a candidate can enter into the beginning of an exciting and rewarding career. It is my opinion, this is an often overlooked opportunity. A two year degree cuts the cost of education and puts the candidate into a job market where competition for good jobs is much smaller.

Mama’s, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys or cowgirls. Instead, have them talk to a surveyor. Have them get a catalog from a school that offers a degree in surveying that qualifies for taking the FLS in your state. Explore the possibilities and you may find a hidden nugget that can be both profitable and very satisfying.