Milwaukee — Paul Taivalkoski graduated with an engineering degree 35 years ago, as the nation was entering a severe recession.
Taivalkoski eventually migrated into the profession of surveying, which led him to some outdoor jobs for oil drillers in the Rocky Mountains and other assignments.
Taivalkoski, 57, is now director of survey at R.A. Smith National Inc., a Milwaukee-area consulting engineering firm that includes surveying among its services.
What does he do? Oversees surveying operations, with 25 staffers.
How did he get this job? Taivalkoski earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1980. His first job was with the California Department of Transportation, where he was assigned to a field office.
Bored with the mundane tasks, Taivalkoski left four months later for a civil engineering firm that needed someone who knew surveying — a job he had done during summers while a college student. Taivalkoski now hires people who’ve gone through a four-year degree program for professional land surveying.
What were his first assignments? Taivalkoski initially was working on housing developments near Silicon Valley. But rising interest rates in 1981 killed demand for new homes, so Taivalkoski took a job working in Wyoming, Utah and Montana on oil exploration projects.
“I was working in national forests,” he said. “It was very scenic.”
Still, the frantic pace of working seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset, led Taivalkoski back to his former California employer after a few years. He eventually came to R.A. Smith National, where he will mark his 25th anniversary in November.
How has the job changed? There have been big improvements in technology over the past 10 to 15 years, Taivalkoski said. For example, surveyors used to set out stakes at construction sites to mark property boundaries. Now, bulldozers have global positioning systems that provide that information directly to the equipment operators.
Also, surveyors used to take notes while doing field work and then transfer that information by hand when they were back at their office. Now, they can record that information electronically at the job site and download it later.
Finally, the profession is beginning to use drones as a tool. At R.A. Smith National, company executives are holding off on using drones until the Federal Aviation Administration clarifies safety regulations on the practice.
Does he enjoy working outside, in public view? “I think a lot of guys get into surveying because they enjoy the outdoors,” Taivalkoski said.
Surveyors are often asked by passers-by what projects they’re working on. Sometimes, they’re told not to say much to the public because the projects are confidential, Taivalkoski said.
He instructs his staff to remember that their entire profession can be judged by one brief interaction with the public. So, even if they can’t disclose the project, they need to be polite.
“Be professional,” Taivalkoski said.
An overview of opportunities for surveyors:
Compensation: The average annual salary for surveyors in 2013 was $52,180, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. Entry level surveyors earned an average of $34,640 a year, while experienced surveyors made $60,940.
To get in: Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They must be licensed before they can certify legal documents and provide surveying services to the public.
Outlook: Employment of surveyors is expected to decline 1.2 percent in Wisconsin from 2012 to 2022, according to the Department of Workforce Development. Nationally, employment is projected to grow 10 percent over the same period, according to BLS.