Geospatial Occupations Q&A - Part Two

October 27, 2010

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Last month Penn State University and Directions Media presented a webinar titled The New Geospatial Jobs and How to be Ready for Them (archived version). A total of 940 people registered for the event. We received more questions than could be answered. We asked the hosts to respond to them in two articles. Part One, which addressed the Geospatial Technology Competency Model, education and certification questions, appeared last week. Part Two, which follows, addresses jobs and job titles.

Jobs/hiring trends

Q: Are there "hot spots" in the country for geospatial jobs? Do you have any advice for getting U.S. Department of Labor or other data on the geospatial job outlook by metropolitan region?
Wes Stroh (WS):
Washington, DC and Denver have historically been "hot spots.” As discussed on the call, there's been no formal research into this topic, but you can expect more as data is collected on the new occupations.

Q: What would you estimate the percentage of employees that work only part time as "Geospatial Technician/Analyst"? In other words as only a part of their job? What's the outlook for freelance or part-time employment in the GIS industry?
Richard Serby (RS):
I may not be the best person to answer this because the vast majority of positions we deal with are either full-time/permanent or contract staffing for specific periods of time.  The need for part-time employees is specific to an employer, project deadlines, and seats available. Be ready to work second shift or from a home office.

Q: How are the job opportunities distributed between businesses and local governments? Is GIS job growth more in the private or public sector? Have local governments been laying off a lot of GIS positions?
Job growth in the commercial sector is often a function of the needs of the public sector. Public sector projects are often completed by private companies.  We are hearing more 'insourcing' talk coming from the federal level. We feel that this is a negative trend and that our public agencies should always be pressured to outsource their work to the commercial sector. Once a function becomes institutionalized within government it is very difficult to reduce or eliminate. The private sector is better able to change when the times change.

Q: Which "verticals" in the private sector are doing the most hiring?
I can only speak from our most recent 2010 activity but we see an increase in engineering design activity from sales, project management, GIS software development, applications development such as environmental, and production GIS technicians and specialists.

Q: Most of the jobs I've seen require 3-5 years of GIS work experience to apply. How do I get those first 3-5 years?
David DiBiase (DD):
Direct contact with potential employers and internship opportunities.

Q: I am also a GIS intern, I have interned (paid) for the US Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA Region III in Philadelphia. I am still having a difficult time finding GIS positions. Can I use these as 'experience' time in because they were after college at the BA level.
Absolutely. As Rich and David pointed out, networking is the ideal way to maximize your job prospects. Stay in touch with intern supervisors, ask them about openings, and ask them to put you in touch with their contacts. And by all means, highlight skills which you've developed as an intern.

Q: Is a masters in GIS taken more lightly than work experience?
GISP certification criteria include both professional experience and educational achievement. Experience is most important, but not everything can be learned on the job. For example, perspective on one's field is hard to achieve when you're working "in the trenches.” You can use the Geospatial Technology Competency Model to self-assess your knowledge and skills, and to identify priorities for continuing professional development.

RS: In the commercial sector experience and skill set has always trumped degree level beyond the bachelors. In the public sector the masters may more often been seen as an important part of career progression.

Q: I have an advanced degree, but it's in Geoscience, not GIS. How can I best utilize this?
A certificate will be a great help.

Q: I just finished a community college GIS certificate. I've been an IT support technician for the past 15 years and am looking to jump into the GS discipline. What is the outlook for someone without a Bachelor's degree (yet)?
The geospatial world is still very much a skills-based industry at the entry-senior technical levels. If you acquire skills that progress from a 'GIS user' to a 'GIS specialist' to a 'GIS programmer/developer' you become increasingly important to your employer. It is important to continue your formal education beyond the associate's because there are still many great jobs where a bachelor's degree is required to be considered for an interview.

Q: We are a class at LCCC at Godfrey Illinois; our question - is there work out there for those of us obtaining a certificate in GIS?
There certainly are opportunities, even in a tough job market. If you can't find an entry-level position immediately, look for internships as a way to build experience. But the same advice is true for those of you just starting out in the field as for experienced folks - build your network of contacts: attend conferences (many have student rates), ask your instructors who they know in the field, stay in touch with your classmates as your careers progress.

Q: It seems that many non-GIS professionals are learning the GIS basics that they need to know for their focus, and are taking work away from sole GIS professionals. Is there a suggestion for GIS professionals to get a 2nd focus under their belt or anything?
If you want to remain a technical person I suggest preparing yourself for application development and software development. The non-GIS person is not as likely to be interested in higher technical skill levels other than what he or she needs to do their job. For instance, if someone has been trained in basic GIS skills for the purpose of retail site selection there is no real incentive to become a software developer. It is already cheap and available. But, a GIS pro may very well want to become an integral part of GIS software development specifically designed for wind and solar utility development.

Q: Was wondering what the current speaker (Rich) might suggest the growth rate is for the category of GIS Developer. Sounds like programming jobs are the fastest growing but curious how fast relative to the labor stats we saw.
I think the news is very good for GIS developers and job growth. In fact, we consider this to be the fastest growing job category!

Q: I am on H1 work visa and facing problems in finding a job. Where can I find a job?
It has always been a somewhat difficult task because of the time and expense involved in sponsoring someone for a Green Card. However, our experience is that the H-1 Visa / Green Card levels the playing field for job candidates. Then you must deal with issues such as verbal and written language barriers that may be an issue with many positions.

Occupation titles/outlook/growth
Q: Predicted future growth in the field seems overly optimistic to me. The Geospatial field seems to be fast becoming a specialization of the Computer Science field.
DOLETA analysts established the baseline estimate for Geospatial Scientists and Technologists and GIS Technicians by reclassifying a portion of workers previously classified as "Computer Specialists, All Other."

Q: I am employed in the economic development field performing research and recently had a GIS component added to my work. Do you see a blurring between a true GIS occupation and say a Business Intelligence Analyst?
believe the estimates are meant to include GeoIntel. The 2008 baselines are really educated guesses. The estimates should become more accurate over time, as employers begin using these new occupation codes for reporting to the federal government.

Q: Which of the 10 designations for geospatial jobs are the most applicable to an entry level person with a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in GIS (from Penn State) with no programming experience?
Typically, a more entry-level position will have "technician” in the title. More advanced positions would be analyst, technologist and scientist.  Though titles don't always match up exactly from organization to organization.

Q: I am interested in finding out what are the differences (as far as competencies go) between a GIS technician and a GIS Scientist/Technologist. Where do I find out that info?
You can pull up the "Summary” or "Details" report for each occupation and compare them. From the competency model, pick one of the three occupation specific levels (the three blue steps on the right side of the model). You'll be linked to specific relevant occupations, and from there you can link to the reports I mention to compare them.

Q: Since there are so many different titles, what would be the best search criteria for looking for a job?
One place to look is URISA's Salary Survey. It's not free, and the current issue (2007) is somewhat out of date, but an updated edition is expected this year.

Q: Now that the Dept. of Labor has defined the six new occupations, will the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) define a geospatial job series? Currently Federal geo-information jobs are advertised using an inconsistent variety of job series.  What do you feel (Richard) will be the lag time before municipal gov't will use these categories for job ads?
The definitions for our profession are still new and evolving. You'll note that for many of these occupations, "data collection is currently underway." Expect more application and usage of the occupations and definitions over time.
RS: I think it will start with federal gov't agencies first and trickle down to state, county and municipal. I believe the use of DOL job categories and descriptions will be a function of federally funded positions. We'll probably see more of this over the next 12-24 months.

Q: Why is cartography lumped with photogrammetry? It seems like an odd grouping.
See the occupation description. As Rich pointed out, "cartographer" is almost a vestigial job title. However, when this occupation code was created, the title probably referred to the act of map compilation. In the pre-digital age map production, both photogrammetrists and cartographers performed this task.

Q: Does the Department of Labor have average salary information on the website?
Yes, you'll find salary information for each occupation. However, the many definitions are new and we can expect the data to be more accurate over time.

Q: Are there any good estimates about the number of GIS professionals who have lost their jobs in the past year(s)?
There is some indirect evidence. The market research firm Daratech reports that industry-wide sales of geospatial software, data, and services were nearly flat from 2008 through 2009. It's reasonable to assume that employment echoed those trends.
RS: I don't know of any estimates but our experience would tell us that the loss of entry to mid-level technical jobs and the loss of higher paying management positions have been on par with national employment statistics. Lack of production caused the entry to mid-level technical layoffs and eliminating high salaries from the payroll was the reason for upper level layoffs.

Q: How can I find international jobs in GIS?
Bing and Google searches will point you to many international job application options.

Q: What's the best place for job posts?
GeoSearch, of course! 

Q: What's the likelihood of ever reaching a level in geospatial science where you will be making 6 figures?
If you are referring to purely technical positions the six-figure salaries are paid to highly skilled developers; if you are referring to management positions, six-figure salaries are paid to VP, COO, CTO, CEO managers, senior project/production managers in larger organizations may also be at this level; successful sales/marketing/business development folks get into six-figures early in their careers or they are not considered 'successful'.

Q. What is the prospect for a person like me in the geospatial industry? I work as Associate Professor in the Department of Geography teaching remote sensing and GIS in India. I also own a small organization in India (Rajasthan State) employing 5-10 persons. I am keen to have collaboration with the US universities and industry for outsourcing of the geospatial projects.
The outsourcing of work to U.S. colleges and universities is a very hot topic right now. It is seen by some to be unfair competition to use students to work on projects on a paid contract basis. Becoming the recipient of work from U.S. companies is much more common. Using the word 'outsource' in a recession economy is asking for a fight among U.S. workers hoping to hold on to their jobs!


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