Geospatial Technology: The Land of Milk and Honey

April 25, 2011

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Ed. note: This article originally appeared in the February 16, 2011 issue of GISCI Newsletter and is reprinted here by permission.

"GIS, isn't that the thingy that uses the satellites?" Yes, we have all heard it, and is usually the result of our response to the "what do you do" question. As we struggle to describe or define our geospatial jobs and professions to industry "outsiders" and often times over-simplifying these descriptions, you might be surprised to find out that a definition has been written for us by the Geospatial Workforce Development Center at the University of Southern Mississippi. So the next time your mother-in-law or Great Aunt Flossy asks what you do for fun (a.k.a. a living), simply say, "I am a member of an 'information technology field of practice that acquires, manages, interprets, displays, analyzes, or otherwise uses data focusing on the geographic, temporal, and spatial context'". And follow-up with the good ole stand-by, "I make maps using computers ".

However, after the Dept. of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) tagged Geospatial Technologies as a "High Growth Industry" in March of 2010, maybe the new response will be "Yeah, I've heard of that. Pretty cool stuff". Reality or wishful thinking?
Reality. The ETA is responsible for the federal job training and worker dislocation programs, as well as, unemployment benefits and other public employment services and has estimated that the geospatial technology profession will experience a growth of over 330,000 geospatial professionals between 2008 and 2018. This growth figure would bring the number of geospatial professionals to just under 1.2 million and is supported by similar estimates by other geospatial organizations. As quoted by the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA), "uses for geospatial technology are so widespread and diverse, the market is growing at an annual rate of almost 35 percent, with the commercial subsection of the market expanding at the rate of 100 percent each year. "

So, what does this mean for the geospatial community? The ETA also estimates that the job growth is increasing at roughly the same rate as the entry of new geospatial professionals. Otherwise, how can our industry accommodate an additional 330,000 new professionals competing for the same jobs? In their "Identifying and Addressing Workforce Challenges in America's Geospatial Technology Sector" report revised in November of 2005, ETA identifies a need for a standard description of credentials, experience, and training necessary to work in the geospatial industry. The GISP certification issued by the non-partisan GIS Certification Institute has filled this need. At a quick glance, a geospatial professional's minimum knowledge, experience, and credentials will immediately be indicated by the four letters following their name ("GISP").
What does a "GISP" signify? As in the medical field, the letters following a name is an indication of that individual's credentials and that he or she has met certain requirements specified in their field by fellow colleagues. Similar to the "M.D." that follows a doctors' name, the four little letters "GISP" following a name describe an individual as having at least four years experience working in the geospatial industry, at least 1,200 hours of either formal or supplemental education specifically for the geospatial field, as well as, a significant presence and participation in the field through publications, association involvement, and conference participation. The bare bones of it are that a valid GISP certification means that the individual has been "vetted" by other geospatial professionals and has met the requirements specified in their field by fellow geospatial colleagues. In today's working environment where managers are rolling up their sleeves and getting their elbows dirty, no manager that I know would ever turn down help vetting an applicant. The GISP certification is essentially a "professional reference" for geospatial professionals. Any applicant that would knowingly "pass" on a professional reference from a certification board made up of fellow geospatial professionals, most likely would not make the grade in your organization.That is the long, short, and straight of it.


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