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Is Land Surveying Ready For "The Great Retirement?"

What's gonna happen when we're all gone? The average age of a licensed professional land surveyor in America hovers around 58 years old. Surveyors are retiring and leaving the profession at a higher rate than younger people are entering it. It doesn't require a math degree to know that the reservoir of experience, technical knowledge and just plain wisdom is draining faster than Lake Mead. How do we, as a profession, adapt to this reality to ensure that the needs of private landowners, public entities and our clients are being met now and well into the future? Because if we don't tackle this problem head-on, someone else darn sure will and their solutions may not be to our liking. Let's face it: most long-time licensed surveyors and surveying business owners are irreplaceable. Upon retirement, with them will go decades of wisdom younger surveyors can't match. Instead of losing all that wisdom: How can we carry it forward? With technology so dominant in today's working world, there is a common misconception that the past is irrelevant and has nothing to teach us. But as every surveyor knows, without an acquired knowledge base, modern surveying tools and technology are useless. Human experience and wisdom drives this profession. You can't easily replace what's not written in a book. Simply stated: we can't afford to lose this wisdom bank. We need mechanisms that span generations and connect younger surveyors with the knowledge needed to keep the profession strong and relevant. Otherwise, a vast resource of wisdom and experience is going to waste. Processes and technology may change, but the deepest knowledge of surveying practice (e.g. complex boundary resolution, local knowledge, client interaction and leadership) do not. There are valuable lessons to be learned from our predecessors; we are much the poorer for not tapping into the knowledge and stories from their careers. The funny thing is, when surveyors retire, is when they actually have the most to offer – albeit in different forms. And it's not uncommon for retirees to feel bored, restless and stuck. After time, your enthusiasm and energy diminishes and your mental health suffers. You miss doing the work you loved but don't necessarily want to jump back in. You wanted to leave the headaches behind but not the happiness. So how can retired surveyors stay active, add value to the world and maintain their hard-won identity and wisdom? Retirement isn't just about financial-planning, it's also about life-planning. Finding purpose and meaning is essential and the truth is: your former profession needs you as much as you need it. In a recent study aimed at seniors, 75% of respondents said that it was important for them to be able to pass along their values and life lessons. The fact that seniors have a wealth of knowledge and experience has not been lost. The Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina has developed a program called “Pass the Torch” for companies to use in order to ensure that seniors approaching retirement are able to effectively transfer what they know. In these questions about surveyors and retirement, there's an unmistakable need for solutions. Retired surveyors will need to stay engaged and the profession needs the relationship to continue in a manageable way. What if someone created a network of retired surveyors who purposely made themselves available for advanced, consultant-type roles? Special roles could be created that accessed only the highest level skills and wisdom. An "Old Crows Network" so to speak, that efficiently connected the wisdom to the need and then compensated the retired surveyors for it. Companies could invite former land surveyors to return and talk to their staff about the most valuable lessons they learned during their careers. Many surveyors I know would enjoy taking part, because they feel their experience is part of a bigger history. Social Media could also play a role in keeping retired surveyors active and perpetuating their hard-won knowledge, experience and wisdom. This is not entirely different from my own story. Parkinson's sidelined me from day-to-day surveying operations but it also opened up an entirely different world of possibilities. Now I am able to draw upon my decades of surveying experience and share it through writing, Social Media and other forms of teaching. I dare say this new work has been even more gratifying than my original surveying work. Life is about change and adaptation. Surveying is no different. John Rogers

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