Inspiring the next generation of surveyors

Surveyor engineer with equipment, Geospatial Industry

Article by Elaine Ball, Founder of Elaine Ball Ltd

White, middle-aged men in high-vis jackets and muddy boots is what most people visualise when they think of a career in surveying, and many understand that there are property and land surveyors.

However, the world of surveying is vast and includes rescuing trapped miners(1), consulting on film sets(2,3), and measuring Mars(4) – and best of all, it’s absolutely not limited to middle-aged men.

Aside from the two projects that I run as part of my business, Get Kids Into Survey and The Geospatial Marketing Academy™, my other passion is to encourage more women into the world of Geospatial and surveying.  

In a typically male dominated sector, there is often the perception that the work involved is ‘dirty’ when actually that is a very small part of it. I first got myself into surveying through my father – a former mine surveyor, hydrographer and self-made entrepreneur. My favourite subject in school was always geography and I also shared my Dad’s passion for drawing.

However, after making the leap into the business world via my father’s company, I worked my way up the ranks to become Managing Director by the age of 27. Some may argue this is unheard of in this sector, not only because I was young, but a woman too (I like to break from the norm)!

Then in 2013, I decided to start my own business – Elaine Ball Ltd – the world’s first marketing business dedicated to the geospatial industry.

I have always had strong links with the geospatial industry through my family connections so it was unsurprising that I would end up where I am. But, had I not had those family links, I wouldn’t have known anything about the industry and probably wouldn’t have thought twice about surveying.

The average age of surveyors globally is 55, and there is a real shortage of new recruits coming through the ranks. This is particularly noticeable with women. As a geospatial marketer, one of my missions has been to increase female interest in the surveying profession so we can ensure its future and also help to bring geospatial into the 21st century.

As the industry is widely perceived as male-dominated, it can often deter some women from pursuing subjects within it, even if they do have a passion! This, in turn, increases the proportion of men within the sector, meaning that we end up with history repeating itself as new talent enters the world of geospatial. What is promising, is that we are seeing social media help raise awareness, with female-led communities coming together to create a supportive environment, and more women emerging as leaders in his field, like Alison Watson, who is a leading female voice in the sector and is responsible for getting surveying into the school curriculum.

When I have asked women in the Geospatial Industry how they found their careers, many found their job through their parents – like I did.

One woman in the field said she saw a family member drawing ‘levee systems’ – used to manage flood water – on a whiteboard in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Another said she was encouraged by her family to continue with further education, but she didn’t want to have an office job, so she was given two options – either study landscaping or surveying.

Some said they stumbled into it after studying geography degrees. However, there are very few who have knowledge of surveying or the career prospects it brings organically – it’s not something suggested to girls as a possibility on careers day that’s for sure!

It’s obvious that there is also a huge lack of awareness of the profession due to its slowness in grasping the digital world. The geospatial world is easily 10 to 15 years behind other industries in embracing digital marketing, which could impact significantly on the recruitment of younger generations who consume the majority of information and find inspiration online.

Right now, there is a real shortage of surveyors, meaning there will potentially be drastic consequences for the global oil, gas and construction industries if we don’t start seeing more surveyors coming into the field. This, while a pressing challenge, actually presents us with a huge opportunity to bring about change and create a bright future for both the Geospatial industry and Survey profession and the wider world by bringing in younger talent and more women.

Starting with education is a key element of solving the recruitment problem. There is so much about Geospatial that is already in the national curriculum – Egyptian pyramids, space exploration, Stonehenge, the finding of the Titanic, study of Volcanoes and finding lost cities – however Geospatial as an industry isn’t covered, despite all of these curriculum items offering an ideal opportunity to mention it and build awareness from an early age.

And, did you know that surveyors are actually called upon to help create movies, computer games, and even study crime scenes? I’m not surprised if you didn’t; the connection to Geospatial is never presented. When you think about Geospatial in the context of those things I’ve just mentioned, doesn’t it sound incredibly exciting and not the stuffy picture most of us get in our heads initially?! Plus, it can be incredibly lucrative if you’re an in demand surveyor, which can also add to the appeal of it as an industry.

I think we are all part of the jigsaw if we want to attract, retain and develop talent in the industry. It should be part of every business’ ethos that operates within the Geospatial sector to inspire children and teenagers, especially girls and women, to consider a career in geospatial. There’s a big communications exercise that needs to happen to encourage more awareness of the industry as a whole, in particular the different types of roles, and as a society we also need to look at encouraging and supporting women who want to enter into STEM careers, and young people who want to feel inspired about their future, to know they have incredibly exciting opportunities available to them.

About the author

Elaine BallShe is the world’s first in her field, and now Elaine Ball is making it her mission and career to promote the profession of surveying to children across the globe.  

The British businesswoman and Founder of Elaine Ball Ltd, a Geospatial Marketing Consultancy, wasn’t always sure which path she would take after dabbling with an equestrian career and working for oil companies. However, her true passion is improving awareness of the geospatial industry and bringing it into the 21st century.

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