Editorial: What Makes a Perfect GIS Job Candidate?

By Atanas Entchev

_My friend Kerry has a Ph.D.in planning from Berkeley.He is a casual user of GIS.Last week he asked me whether he should go for basic or advanced GIS training in order to brush up on his GIS skills.Basic or advanced? Training or education?

I was indoctrinated in GIS in an academic environment - at a respectable graduate school no less.But I got most of my first practical GIS skills as an intern at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity for both GIS education and training.And almost daily I encounter colleagues who have obviously had only one or the other.Now I do not want to venture into the general arena of training vs. education vs.learning.I am neither qualified, nor is this the right forum for such a discussion.But I can ask the question: What makes a perfect GIS job candidate? Good education or good training?

Over the years I have been involved with many a hiring selection for GIS specialists at all levels, and I can share an observation that I believe will surprise nobody.There is an abundance of GIS job candidates with impressive resumes who do not possess even the minimum basic GIS skills.Resume inflation is only partially to blame.The bigger problem is that for the most part these candidates sincerely and earnestly believe that that two-day "advanced GIS" course really gave them the advanced knowledge and understanding of the system in question.(It seems to me that some of the "advanced" training courses are actually thinly-veiled sales pitches for the higher-end products, but I may be wrong.)

I have been conducting GIS training regularly for more than 12 years - in formal and informal settings, commercial and academic, vendor-authorized and freelance, short and extended.There is one common thread that can be traced through all those years and all those courses.The students are eager to gloss over the intro stuff in order to get to the fancier applications, and the instructors are almost always more than happy to oblige.Basic is boring, advanced is exciting.Basic thus suffers.The reality, however, is that most of the entry-level GIS work can be boring, but this boring career phase can serve as a proving ground of sorts, to test a candidate's real interest in the field.Basic is necessary.

The problem with most GIS training as I see it (and with other technical training, as far as I can tell) is that all too often the trainees are undertaking the training exclusively in order to learn how to perform a certain set of tasks related to a specific project.No understanding of the more general workings of the system is required. In fact, often a more general understanding is considered harmful to the immediate success of the immediate project."Just show them which button to push" is often how a manager instructs the instructor prior to the training session.This is the same manager who thinks that every task should take 15 minutes or less, because "the computer does it for you."

So, is it GIS education or GIS training that are more important for a successful GIS career? According to the prevailing school of thought, they are interchangeable - "X" years of education are equal to "Y" years of training.I disagree.Education and training are complementary, but distinct.Education is important, especially in the long run.But training is necessary, too.I gained my teaching experience through training (that is being trained to do training), not by studying at an institution of higher learning how to teach others.


Published Saturday, September 24th, 2005

Written by Atanas Entchev



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