Low angle of blonde woman with happy smile looking into the distance, geospatial industry, women in stem

Article by Elaine Ball, Founder of Elaine Ball Ltd 

Tell me, have you ever thought about a career in geospatial? Chances are the answer is no. And I’m not surprised, for too long we’ve been a hidden industry, dominated by middle-aged white men. But that needs to change, and ladies, we need you!

The geospatial industry, particularly surveying, is facing potential extinction. Yes, this might sound like an exaggeration, but these essential areas are struggling to attract the bright young minds of the future generation, with women especially massively under-represented, and that spells trouble for the next ten years.

You see, the geospatial industry underpins so much of our everyday life. From construction sites and crime scenes to video games and so much more, so much of what we know could cease to exist without a revolution in the industry.

There’s already evidence to show the numbers of geospatial recruits joining the industry are less than previous years, with 85% of UK surveyors experiencing problems recruiting due to the lack of qualified applicants according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). If this continues, the industry risks falling into disrepair. As its current workforce moves to retirement the void in the job market only gets bigger, as surveying and other geospatial roles fall into decline.

When we compare a geospatial career to being a Doctor, an actress or even becoming an ‘influencer’, we’re simply not coming out on top. Ask a schoolchild what they think of the geospatial industry, and it’s likely you’ll be met with a confused look, or worse, a simple ‘it’s boring’ instead.

But the idea that surveying is dull and monotonous is simply not true, however without a school curriculum showing them otherwise it’s hard for young people to think differently. Rather than thinking surveying means dark, cold and wet days stood out in fields or on construction sites at ungodly hours in the morning, we should be teaching the next generation of young boys, and more importantly, girls, how the world of survey can be exciting!

It has shaped some of the coolest parts of science and history including the Egyptian pyramids, space exploration, Stonehenge, the finding of the Titanic, the study of Volcanoes,the discovery of lost cities, and helped in the development of best-selling computer games.

Surveying and being part of the geospatial industry is about so much more than simply measuring distances and angles of land and natural features;we need to make sure children know it.

There is a huge demand for surveyors. A report from Research and Markets in 2020 projected the industry will grow to more than $502 billion in 2024. Yet this means nothing if there isn’t a passionate workforce behind it. With younger generations turning away, and women and girls not being inspired and encouraged to pursue a career in what has traditionally been seen as a ‘boys club’, that growth will dwindle and potentially even stop in years to come.

Recent reports show there is still a huge gender divide in STEM industries with the female STEM workforce making up just 24% of overall employees, and without a strong future female workforce joining then this figure could be even more disparate.

The geospatial industry struggles with the stereotype of a surveyor being a white, middle-aged man in a hi-vis. Whilst the current workforce in surveying might be more male than female, it certainly doesn’t have to remain as it is. There’s a huge opportunity to be more diverse and inclusive and it starts with educating the younger generations so that surveying and the geospatial industry can be seen as the exciting career path it is.

Knowing there’s an issue in geospatial and STEM, attracting bright young minds in general is all well and good, but what can any of us do about it?

I’m well aware I am a minority. A ballsy woman in a man’s world, and do you know what, I love it! There’s a real opportunity to make change happen from within, to pave the way and to be a champion for more women, and young people, to learn about and join our industry. And that’s incredibly exciting!

It’s why, alongside my sister, Elly, I launched Get Kids Into Survey in 2017, with the aim of educating children between the ages of 8-12 and making the surveying industry as mainstream as being a Doctor, Policewoman or Lawyer! Through educational resources, fun activities and comics that make the industry appeal to them at their level, we’re fighting to combat the global issue facing the geospatial industry that we love.

Elaine Ball

When we were young, we were lucky enough to grow up with the industry a firm part of our childhood and were inspired by our father, Steve Ball, a hydrographer and mine surveyor who made the geospatial world come alive for us. Now we want to see and teach budding geospatial experts that there is more to this profession and to see it come alive for them.

Get Kids Into Survey is more than just a passion project for us, it’s a way to drive change, to inspire young people, to make surveying accessible and appealing to all. With the predicted shortfall set to become a firm reality, we believe that Get Kids Into Survey is just one of the ways to encourage better numbers entering into the industry.

It can’t all be done by us though. We need schools and education to get behind it too, to see the national curriculum showcase geospatial terminology and skills, and for companies within surveying to consider how they will engage the younger workforce; even before they leave school or attend university. We also need other women to join us, to explore a career in surveying and shout about it,not just for Get Kids Into Survey, but for geospatial as a whole.

The industry can be fun, lucrative, and offers so much diversity within the career. But right now it’s the best kept secret. That needs to change, it’s time for a new generation of surveyors to step up, and hopefully, for women to be leading the charge.

About the author

Elaine Ball with Trimble SX10 - Intergeo 2016Elaine Ball is the Founder and CEO of Elaine Ball Ltd, a dedicated business & marketing consultancy for the global geospatial industry. Elaine is also the Co-Founder of Get Kids Into Survey, which aims to educate and inspire the next generation about the geospatial industry.

Elaine describes herself as “one part marketer, one part business development, one part strategic thinking and one part superhero”. She has a decades-long history in international marketing and business development for the geospatial industry.

Elaine Ball Ltd delivers business, sales and marketing consultancy through workshops, online coaching, training and social media execution.

For more information please visit https://www.elaineball.co.uk