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Can a Felon Become a Surveyor?

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There are resources available for felons looking for a job. Often it takes learning a new trade or starting a different career to demonstrate that felons make good employees.

For those with experience in land development, becoming a surveyor is a possibility.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a surveyor.

  • What is a Surveyor?
  • What is Required to Become a Surveyor?
  • How Much Does a Surveyor Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Surveyor?

A surveyor is a certified professional who is responsible for determining boundaries of land, air space, and water.

He or she:

  • Helps determine property ownership
  • Makes maps and describes land contours
  • Plans and organizes property development
  • Creates legal land descriptions and property deeds
  • Establishes state lines and airspace restrictions

A surveyor must have knowledge of:

  • Computers
  • Measuring devices
  • Mapping systems
  • Data collection
  • Making graphic representations
  • State and federal laws regarding boundary determination

There are a number of traditional tools that a surveyor uses routinely, including a level and a transit for measuring vertical and horizontal angles and distances.

More technological equipment involves using a global positioning system (GPS) to locate reference points precisely. A surveyor also uses a geographic information system (GIS). This technology allows surveyors to represent spatial information as maps and charts.

There are several types of surveyors:

  • Land surveyors
  • Construction surveyors
  • Forensic surveyors
  • Marine surveyors
  • Mine surveyors

To succeed as a surveyor, someone must be able to record data accurately and envision distance in size to describe physical objects as landmarks on a map.

Other essential skills involve:

  • Communication
  • Visualization
  • Physical stamina
  • Detail-oriented
  • Time management
  • Problem solving

What is Required to Become a Surveyor?

A surveyor typically needs a bachelor’s degree and must be licensed.

Becoming licensed usually requires approximately four years of work experience and training with a licensed surveyor after completing a bachelor’s degree. While working as a novice (journeyman) surveyor, someone is called a chainman and utilizes tools typical for a forester to clear land for measuring.

Because of the technical nature of the job, most employers require a surveyor to have a bachelor’s degree in surveying, mapping, or geomatics.

A degree program typically includes course work in:

  • Calculus
  • Geographic information systems
  • Cartography (map making)
  • Land law

Licensing requirements differ from one state to another. Some states require only a high school diploma while others expect a college degree. However, all states require taking and passing the Fundamentals of Surveying Exam given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) where these requirements can be found in detail.

Certification as a land surveyor is optional and can be attained through the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). Certification can allow a surveyor to attain a specialty status.

A candidate can take the Fundamentals of Survey Exam and may qualify by having one of the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in surveying
  • A bachelor’s degree with 32 hours in civil engineering, land surveying, math, land law, and one year experience under a Registered Professional Land Surveyor (RPLS)
  • An associate degree in surveying and two years’ work experience under an RPLS
  • 32 hours in land surveying courses and two years of experience under an RPLS
  • A high school diploma with four years of experience under an RPLS

There are approximately 25 universities that offer a bachelor’s degree in surveying. There are many two-year college programs and also programs through vocational and technical schools.

Two examinations are required for licensure:

  • Fundamentals of Surveying
  • Principles and Practice of Surveying

Typically, four years of experience working as a chain-man under a licensed surveyor is required before taking one of these exams.

Each exam tests areas such as:

  • Standards and specifications
  • Legal principles
  • Professional survey practices
  • Business professional practices
  • Types of surveys

How Much Does a Surveyor Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 50,000 practicing surveyors. The median annual wage for a surveyor in 2021 was $61,600. The median income is the level at which half of surveyors earned more than that amount and half earned less.

Level of experience and specialty certifications will affect how much a surveyor earns. Location is also important with those working in the Northeast and Northwest having a higher salary than a surveyor in other parts of the country.

This area is expected to show an 1% job growth from 2021 to 2031, which is very little.

An Opportunity for Felons?

An applicant must provide a summary of any conviction in detail so that the state board can determine if it relates to the practice of professional surveying. If the board determines the conviction is related to the profession of surveying, an applicant must provide details of the conviction to determine the effect on eligibility for registration.

Information considered by the state board regarding an applicant’s information typically includes:

  • Nature and seriousness of the crime
  • Relationship of the crime to the purposes for requiring a license to practice surveying
  • Extent to which a license might offer an opportunity to engage in further criminal activity the same time
  • Relationship of the crime to the ability or fitness required to perform the duties and responsibilities of a Registered Professional Land Surveyor

Factors that the board will consider in determining a person’s fitness to perform the duties of an RPLS include:

  • Extent and nature of the individual’s past criminal activity
  • Age of the individual at the time the crime was committed
  • Amount of time since the last criminal activity
  • Conduct and work activity of the individual prior to and following all criminal activity
  • Evidence of rehabilitation
  • Evidence of fitness to practice as professional land surveyor

The state board may request a history of valuation to determine eligibility for registration. Information required typically involves:

  • Entire court record of any criminal offense
  • Final court orders with sentencing information
  • Conditions of probation
  • Other information relating to criminal history of the applicant

Helping themselves be successful in their pursuit of becoming a surveyor requires felons to be honest about their background.

There are re-entry programs, such as drug treatment, and educational opportunities for felons who need them. For many felons, having their felony expunged can give them the chance they need to begin with a clear record and succeed in becoming a surveyor.

Recommended Action

It’s a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to become a surveyor. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest, productive life no matter how challenging it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a surveyor with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

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