Land surveying: Profession or trade?

I have not paid much attention to what is going on in my state’s capitol lately regarding legislation affecting land surveying, but a letter from a concerned CE News reader caused me to reconsider my neglect of the subject. The reader referred to a bill that has been winding its way through the New Jersey Assembly and that has the backing of some professionals. According to the writer, the new bill would make it easier to meet state requirements for taking the surveying licensing exam. The writer states that the bill is being supported by some licensed engineers and others who feel that land surveying is not a real profession, but rather an inferior trade that does not require formal education, as does a true profession. (Those are not my words.)

It is not only this individual member of the land surveying profession who is concerned about relaxing the standards and requirements to become certified. The New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors (NJSPLS) has also spoken out on the subject. According to newspaper accounts, the NJSPLS’s position is that, if passed, the proposed law would expose consumers to poor quality work and lower professional standards. As I write this, the NJSPLS intends to deliver a petition to the governor, signed by its 800-plus members, asking that he assist in blocking the bill, which is moving slowly through the legislative process.

The introductory statement in the current version of the bill, part of which is paraphrased below (edited for length and clarity), lists the following four tracks that would become available to those seeking licensure if the bill becomes law. (I added comments as to the stringency of each track in parentheses.):

Track 1—Graduate from an approved, four-year curriculum in engineering that includes successful completion of specific courses in land surveying (12 college credit hours) and complete an additional three years of responsible-charge experience in land surveying of a character satisfactory to the state licensing board, as well as pass all parts of the written examination in surveying, as prescribed by the board. (This is a relatively high standard.)

Track 2—Graduate from a board-approved curriculum in surveying of two years or more, plus obtain an additional six years of experience in land surveying work of a "progressive character" satisfactory to the board, indicating the applicant’s competence to be placed in responsible charge of such work, as well as pass all parts of a board-approved written examination in surveying. (This is a less exacting standard.)

Track 3—Graduate from an approved, two-year curriculum in engineering and successfully complete certain specific courses in land surveying from an approved curriculum. Also, obtain an additional eight years of experience conducting land surveying work of a "progressive character" satisfactory to the state board, presumably under the supervision of a licensed surveyor, as well as pass all parts of a board-approved written examination. The work experience must indicate that the applicant is competent to be in responsible charge of land surveying work. (This is even less exacting.)

Track 4—Finally (and this is the track that many presently licensed surveyors oppose), successfully complete high school (!) and at least 15 years of apprenticeship in land surveying under the supervision of a state-licensed land surveyor, as well as pass all parts of a written examination. The work must be of a "progressive character" satisfactory to the state board that will indicate the applicant is competent to be placed in responsible charge of land surveying work. (This is least exacting.)

An interesting sidebar to the proposed new law as presently written is that it removes the provision that completion of a Master’s Degree in surveying shall be considered equivalent to one year of surveying experience, and completion of a Doctorate in surveying shall be considered equivalent to one additional year of surveying experience.

I have no axes to grind on this question. I am a licensed land surveyor (as well as a professional engineer, which is my primary—almost only—source of income), but I worry about the direction we are heading related to surveying in my state, and perhaps in the nation.

The letter I received was succinct and to the point when it ended by stating that the proposed method of attaining licensure will retrograde New Jersey law back to its 1992 status and set a bad example for other states looking at the direction in which New Jersey seems to be heading.

I admit that I am not entirely knowledgeable on the subject since my professional concerns primarily involve engineering rather than surveying, but it seems to me that the following comment by the concerned reader has some validity: "This is an attempt to open up the profession to just about anyone, so that land surveying will become less a profession than a trade."

Land surveying should remain an honored and respected profession. The proposed legislation should be rejected out of hand since it would lower the standards mandated to become licensed. High standards are best for the people of New Jersey, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of laws intended to protect citizens and ensure high quality work performed by licensed land surveyors.

Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S., is a consulting engineer in Hackensack, N.J. He can be reached at 201-441-9719; or e-mail him at

Posted in Uncategorized | January 29th, 2014 by

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