Diversity in Surveying & Engineering: Where We Are, Where We Need to Go

Diversity in Surveying & Engineering: Where We Are, Where We Need to Go

The surveying and engineering industries are not known for being the most diverse. But at DGT, we want to make our thoughts and beliefs clear on the importance of diversity in a field that is largely white, largely male and largely of older age. DGT is committed to building a more diverse and inclusive environment where we champion the benefits of different perspectives, skills, and mindsets. Throughout our rich and proud history, we’ve seen the positive outcomes of embracing the traditions and culture of others. As a conglomerate of legacy firms, being inclusive of other people’s ideals is how DGT was formed.

Empowering diverse voices is critical to the success of DGT, our employees, our partners, and especially our industry. One thing we know is that the next generation of surveyors and engineers will bring a variety of personal backgrounds and life experiences. They may differ in age, background experiences, education, race, gender and religion. These differences should be embraced as they each bring varied perspectives and outlooks that enrich innovation, creativity and decision-making. That’s why, as we look to grow our surveying and engineering business, we are committed to fostering a diverse pool of candidates, both at our company and in the surveying and engineering industry as a whole.

Recently, we sat down with our co-founders and principals, Mike Clifford and Bob Staples, to answer some questions about our current and future diversity efforts, as well as uncover what it means to be a professional in the field of surveying and engineering.

1. What do diversity and inclusion mean to you, both personally and professionally?

Mike: Personally, diversity and inclusion was a large part of my spiritual upbringing. Looking at my family history, I’m the son of immigrants and have seen very different races, religions, and socio-economic statuses just based on where I grew up. I’ve always believed that embracing one another’s differences allows for unique perspectives. Professionally, as a surveyor, my focus has always been in Boston because that’s where we’re able to gain new business, as well as strengthen our workforce. Boston is known for its diverse makeup, and traditionally our workforce comes from a working-class background because a career in surveying is a possibility with or without a college degree.

Bob: Diversity means having a wide variety of backgrounds and different perspectives, leading to possible better decisions and outcomes. It means that people come from all walks of life, which is what we strive for at DGT. Being in Boston, we hire a lot of minorities and people with diverse backgrounds. There’s a lot of different career paths for a surveyor, which is what makes our workers and their workloads so diverse.

2. How are you promoting a diverse workforce at DGT?

Mike: Though there’s always more to be done, I think that we’re actually doing a good job in this area in our Boston office. Our Boston office is currently made up of about 50% minorities, and we strive to encourage men and women, of any age or race, to consider a job in surveying.

For us, diversity emphasis encompasses age too. We’re continuously looking for opportunities to mentor younger individuals who would add a great perspective in the field. In the past, we’ve met with high school students and students from the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, a post-secondary technical school in Boston, to introduce them to the field of surveying. Most recently, I worked with The Compliance Mentoring Group to facilitate a virtual career exploration session, which allowed students at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School to ask me questions about my career path and being a surveyor. We’re always looking to get involved with different mentoring programs to aid in adding a younger, more diverse workforce to our industry.

Bob: We have in the past and still currently advertise open positions in minority or open job boards and will continue to do so. And while we have a few women on our team, we would love the opportunity to hire other qualified women and as well as introduce younger women to the field of surveying. Women may not think of working as field surveyors, which is where you normally need to start to learn the trade, so we must continue to increase intentional recruiting efforts in this industry to encourage gender diversity.

3. Why are women, people of color and younger professionals still chronically under-represented in the surveying profession?

Mike: Our industry doesn’t have a lot of glamor, so it’s often difficult to get anyone interested in becoming a surveyor. Seeing people standing in the middle of the road doesn’t attract a lot of applicants, but if you look past that one aspect, there’s a lot of opportunity in the industry.

Bob: Our industry does need to change, and as we try to bring in new, younger surveyors, they’ll be able to change the perception of surveyors and show that there is depth and a future in this industry. Another issue is that the average entry level field technician positions, across the industry, are not highly paid at first, which could be a deterrent for some. In our field, people learn and advance with field and office experience in surveying to move to higher paying positions.

4. What must we do to make the industry a more welcoming place to work for women, people of color and younger professionals?

Mike: At the risk of stating the obvious, I think the number one thing we need to do, as a whole industry, is hire more women, people of color and younger professionals. As we continue to add diversity in the industry, it will become a more welcoming place to work. As leaders at DGT, we have an open environment that has no tolerance for misogyny, racism or ageism.

Bob: While I do think our industry has been slow to change, due to the predominantly older. white male makeup of our industry, there are a lot more women working in the construction field. Mike started out in construction and transitioned to becoming a surveyor, so I think there may be other instances like that where women transition from being in a similar field, or construction industry, and may be interested in a surveying profession. Additionally, in attracting young people, I don’t think the surveying profession is promoted by high school guidance counselors or parents as a possible career field, and that’s likely due to the lack of knowledge of what surveyors do.

5. What are the benefits of hiring younger engineers and surveyors? Older engineers and surveyors?

Mike: Younger surveyors, and professionals in general, bring a great energy into the office. They’re adaptable, eager to learn and bring a variety of perspectives. We receive a lot of applications from younger individuals that have an assortment of academic backgrounds, from mechanical engineering to geography, which is great because it allows them to teach us new things.

Because we’re always looking for younger surveyors to join our field, we strive to keep our online presence up through social media and our website. We want to make sure we’re reaching candidates through a variety of means.

Bob: On the flip side, it’s also great having experienced members of our team who bring a lifetime of experience and knowledge. What’s also great is that people who have been in the industry longer can provide mentoring to younger surveyors entering the field, and younger surveyors are able to teach veterans in the field new tactics and promote new technology faster. There is a bright future for those who want to learn and excel in the survey business; as many older people are getting ready to retire, there are lots of openings to explore.

6. For individuals interested in surveying, what qualities or skills are needed for a career in surveying?

Mike: Someone who’s interested in mathematics and has a strong grasp of trigonometry would definitely be interested in surveying. Also, having strong communication skills is important because when you’re on a job site, you’re interacting with civil engineers, construction people, property managers, etc. Other qualities would be someone who has a flexible state of mind, an innate sense of curiosity for the world, is interested in history, architectural history, and the history of cities and how they came to be.

Bob: Someone who’s logical and a great decision maker will go far. Having critical thinking skills allows for better solutions and better overall outcomes. There’s a lot of detective work involved with surveying, so someone who’s interested in solving mysteries or puzzles would be a great fit for a career in surveying. Also, history and searching through old deeds, plans and photos from many years ago are usually involved in some of our work. Something I notice about myself, even today, is that every time I’m out on a new site or even on vacation in a new location, I’m drawn to look and search for survey monuments just walking around.

7. What education is needed to become a land surveyor? Are there exams or licensure requirements for land surveyors?

Mike: That aspect definitely differs. Personally, I got my degree in civil engineering. Bob also went to college and got his degree in business management. Very few people actually get a degree in land surveying because there’s only one school in New England, University of Maine, that offers it. But if you did get a degree in land surveying, you would be in big demand in the surveying world.

Bob: There are also other avenues that you can take—just having a high school diploma, a few survey courses in a certificate program or an associate degree will allow you the opportunity to work as a field technician. And, you can even get certified with a certified surveying technician (CST). If you’re interested in becoming a Professional Land Surveyor (PLS), you will need to have experience working under someone who is licensed, and with a few surveying courses with varying levels of education and experience, you can then sit for and take certain national and state exams to become registered in a state to perform land surveying. What’s great about surveying is that there are many different avenues to explore to get where you want to be.

8. What is a typical day like as a surveyor?

Mike: Is it too cliché to say that every day is different? It’s true!

With a field person, a typical day could be meeting up with your crew and other field members early in the morning. You’d load up your vehicle with equipment, drive to the job site, whether its construction or topographic survey on a college campus, and you come up with a plan of attack for the job you’re doing. At the end of the day, when the job is complete, you would check in with the office to go over data gathered and debrief the project manager in the office.

If your job is more tailored to the office environment, you could be reviewing data, talking to clients and team members (such as architects or legal), giving estimates for work, writing proposals for projects, or gathering historic plans.

Bob: It’s also important to distinguish between a survey technician and a registered surveyor. They could often be doing similar tasks, but a technician is more apt to do the field data collection and or drafting than a registered surveyor who must oversee all of the operations and has the final say in any boundary decision.

The surveyor would also be more involved with taking all the data gathered from that field and plotting it and comparing and analyzing against the deeds of record and boundary law. They would also be reading deeds, interpreting what that deed says and what the evidence in the field is showing to make a proper decision on a property survey or in creating permit plans and construction as-built drawings. All of our work and the plans we create help ensure that new construction of a building goes in the right place where it is safe and sound.

9. What has been your favorite part about working in surveying?

Bob: You get the opportunity to travel, see a lot of different properties, homes, and construction sites. Also, there’s a lot of variety in surveying. You could go to the lowest depths of Boston tunnels one day, to working on a high-rise building the next. We get to play a critical role in some of the most important projects around Boston, Framingham and Worcester. And it’s cool to look around and say, “we had a hand in that.”

I also really enjoy the opportunity of working indoors and outdoors. I never planned or thought I would become a surveyor, but with insight from my uncle, that a local surveyor he hired was looking for help, I applied and took the entry level job as an instrument operator and loved of the variety of work and projects I was doing. Surveying felt like an interesting career that I, just by luck, entered into and pursued to become licensed in, then started a business, and made it a career.

Mike: There’s a lot of camaraderie in the industry and mutual respect shared. Even with people who may be your competitors, you’re able to break bread and learn about their perspectives and diverse viewpoints, which is definitely unique compared to other industries. Overall, the people we work with and the collaboration between men and women, especially of different backgrounds, keeps me motivated and excited about what’s to come in our industry.

Learn more about DGT’s surveying, engineering, or SUM work.