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News & Press: Hoosier Surveyor

I survived a Career Day and the CST Exam all in 1 year (Part 2)

Thursday, November 21, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Glen E. Boren, PS, CST I
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Article originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of the ISPLS Hoosier Surveyor

 

After successfully surviving my first career day, I turned my attention to the other action item that seemed attainable from the Northwest Chapter’s joint meeting about workforce development: the topic of finding qualified individuals or technicians to fill our workforce. Many hours have been spent trying to seek out experienced individuals to fill in-demand positions where they could be plugged into any company and immediately have results. The reality of it is that those individuals are already working for other companies or there are just not enough new ones coming through what few formal surveying programs we have left.

 

My company got to the point where we hired a very prominent national head-hunting business to find licensed surveyors, technicians or anyone that we could work with or mold to help fill our employment needs. After writing a very large check with the promise of also providing a percentage of first year’s wages, we provided a very basic description of what we were looking for.  An envelope arrived about a month later with a check for our money back and an apology letter saying they couldn’t find anyone in their entire national network.    

 

We were still left with the same problem as everyone else, but that fateful chapter meeting offered up a different approach to a solution. The problem wasn’t that we can’t find employees, but rather we can’t find employees with the stuff we want them to already know.

 

This concept hit me like a ton of bricks because it was absolutely the truth. If you scaled down the description of the employee you were looking for to just: “Needs to show up and work,” then suddenly the prospective employee list just got a lot bigger. Not huge or vast, as you can insert your “Millennial” joke here.

 

This changed my way of thinking in that we could elevate the people we already have through training and fill in the entry level positions much easier. The problem being that nobody has the time to train and often there is no motivation to learn. Enter the National Society of Professional Surveyors Certified Surveying Technician (CST) program.

 

I had heard about the program years ago and didn’t really give it much thought until it was re-introduced to me at that chapter meeting. The program has four levels of nationally recognized certification including specializations in either an office or field track. The benefits are all listed on their web site, but the key element that I was fascinated with was the self-study.

 

Each level culminates in a very rigorous exam testing the individual in all the fundamental categories of surveying that I was expecting our employees to already know. Knowing that it was going to take years for my career day efforts to kick in and produce the surveyors that I needed now, I decided to implement a CST program in our office to tackle the issue at hand.

 

There were a few fundamental problems that I was going to have to address to get this thing off the ground. This was going to have to be a voluntary thing as I was not going to force my very valuable employees into doing something they didn’t want to do. I had to approach this by taking away all the excuses I thought I would hear about why they wouldn’t take the exam.

 

The first and most obvious excuse of the average employee would be cost. Each exam costs $180 (discounted if multiple people take at the same time) and upon successful completion of the exam, a renewal fee of $40 per year is required to maintain the certification. This is a valid excuse and the only way around it was to take it away completely. It was decided that the company would pay for the first-time exam fee and the renewal fee every year after that for as long as they were employed by the company. This is a minimal investment for the company, given the cost of what it would take trying to hire prequalified people who don’t exist.

 

The second excuse they would bring up is that they didn’t have time to take the four hour (first level) exam. Most employees were not going to give up their nights or weekends or worse yet, vacation time to take the exam. Therefore, it was decided that we would schedule the exam during business hours, and they would be paid for their time while taking the exam.

 

With the first two problems out of the way, the only real big remaining problem was motivation to take the exam. This begs the age-old question, “What motivates people?” For some employees the answer usually comes back as something as simple as “money.” I wanted to develop different tiers of monetary reward for successful completion of each level, but I was also reminded that just as important as money is to some people, that paid time off is sometimes equally as valuable. This is especially true for field personnel who we struggle to keep busy on bad weather days. We already had Paid Time Off (PTO) days, so for the purposes of installing this new program, we invented Bad Weather Time Off (BWTO) days.

 

With different tiers of monetary and BWTO days established, I was asked by my business partner what my goal was for the new company program. More specifically, was it more important to get those who chose to do it to pass and move up or would a high participation number be more important even if the pass/fail results were not great?

 

I eventually settled in with participation as being the most important goal, and we restructured our company first-level reward tier for taking the CST with a team or group mentality in mind. We added a simple requirement that stated that you would only be eligible to receive the first-tier reward if 80 percent of the surveying department employees all took the exam at the same time. If we couldn’t achieve 80 percent participation, then the individual would not get a reward until successfully passing level 2. This was an extremely risky gamble on our part, as I felt we were either going to get everybody or nobody.

 

What happened next was there were a few that wanted to do it and many that were on the fence. Those that wanted to do it started encouraging (“encouraging” being the politically correct term) the others, and the next thing I knew, everyone except for two individuals were on board. 

 

During all of this, in the back of my mind I knew I was on a collision course with the inevitable question of whether I was going to take the exam. At the time, I thought it was kind of beneath me. Here I was licensed in two states, director of the department, former university guest lecturer and here was this “technician” test before me. As I was debating this question, I came across an internet meme that depicted a man sitting on a rock yelling at the people in front of him to pull the rock which was labeled “Boss.” The picture below it was the same man in front of the rock pulling on the rope with everyone else behind him and was aptly labeled “Leader.” I knew at that moment that not only was I going to have to take the exam, but I absolutely had to pass it or lose all credibility with my employees.

 

I secured a room at our local library and decided on the paper option for the exam. With the date and location locked down, I found a proctor. I announced what our company was doing at our next chapter meeting and offered up to anyone who wanted to send their employees that they would be welcome, as we had a time, a place and a proctor. It was not received like I expected it, and I heard things like “Why would I want them to get certified? They will just quit and go somewhere else.” While disappointed with some of the comments, another individual approached me later who shared my enthusiasm and brought another five to the exam.

 

NSPS provides a category list of topics to study and points you to a free online study program specific to each exam level. The exam is open book, which presented my next problem. Many of the technicians never had a formal surveying class and thus no need to purchase a fundamentals of land surveying book. I brought in every surveying book I owned and put them on a shelf in a common area in our office and created our first company surveying library. I knew that we were still going to be in trouble on the day of the exam with not having enough books to go around, so I went shopping on-line.

 

It is amazing how much the value of a book drops once it is replaced by a new edition. The current used editions of fundamental surveying books were hovering around $100, while if you went back one or two editions, they were at $2-$4 with free shipping. I bought a bunch of these books and handed them out like candy. That is the thing about surveying fundamentals: they don’t change. The only thing that I had to be careful of was one edition was a little too far back as they were touting the emerging technology of something new called GPS.

 

We held a couple of voluntary study sessions after working hours and I would occasionally overhear a couple of guys talking about certain sample questions. All of this meant that the self-study aspect was working.

 

Exam day came, and we all went in together. We all experienced the same mental and physical toll that a four-hour exam does to someone. Rigorous is probably the best way I can describe it. Everyone came out shaking their head at what they just experienced, and it had me contemplating contacting the beekeeper I met on career day to see if she was hiring.

 

 

The results came back, and we had 11 of 15 people from our company who passed including myself. I was proud of what we accomplished but prouder of how we did it.  The best part was when I saw an official CST Technician window cling proudly displayed in the window of an employee’s vehicle in the parking lot.

 

We still have a long way to go, but the current plan is to try and organize an effort for Level 2 sometime in 2020. In the meantime, I still can’t believe I survived Career Day and the CST exam all in one year.

 

Glen E. Boren, PS, CST 1, is Director of Surveying at DVG Team, Inc., in Crown Point. Contact him at gboren@dvgteam.com. The first of his two articles, detailing his initial Career Day event, appeared in the Summer 2019 Hoosier Surveyor, Issue 46-1.

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