Speaking with the Leaders in the Irish Survey Industry


John Kerrigan, Country Manager in Ireland for Leica Geosystems, is on a mission to speak to leaders within the survey industry. At the top of his list was Senior Lecturer at the Technological University (TU) Dublin, Dr Audrey Martin.


John’s goal is to raise exposure for the crucial work carried out by those in the industry, which is unfortunately often overlooked. There’s a distinct lack of awareness of what surveying is, and just how significant it is to building and infrastructure projects, conservation, and much more. Similarly, young people are often unaware of the opportunities within surveying. It’s because of this that both John and Audrey are driven to bring more young people onboard.


In their conversation, the pair discuss Audrey’s journey from student to senior lecturer, the importance of education within the industry, and how technology has and will continue to evolve the nature of surveying.


From Surveying Student to Senior Lecturer at Technological University Dublin

Despite her strength in numeracy and a keen interest in geography and maps, Audrey didn’t always know she wanted to go into the industry. Originally leaning towards Business and German, it was her older brother who inspired her to go into surveying. Seeing him spending his time in the attic bedroom drawing maps by hand and blaring music, led Audrey to decide, “That’s the type of course I want to do.” Her brother advised her that it wasn’t for her, which only spurred Audrey on further.


Audrey’s first project post-university was on-site at a gold discovery in Croagh Patrick in the West of Ireland where she surveyed the holy mountain before she went on to work as a site engineer in Frankfurt, Germany. After a year of early mornings in freezing cold winters and scorching summers, Audrey realised the job wasn’t for her. She then completed a survey-engineering degree through German in Oldenburg FH and went on to researching her final Thesis whilst part-time lecturing at TU Dublin.


It was during her time in Dublin she realised how much she enjoyed the combination of research and working with younger people. Audrey explained, “I really like the educational side because I can continue my own research, stay on top of new developments, and work with young and enthusiastic people every day - which is a real privilege.


The Pace of Change in the Geo Industry and the Future of Surveying

John and Audrey's paths crossed over twenty years ago. Audrey was a lecturer on the university course John studied - GeoSurveying, as it was called then. Although some areas remain the same, there are distinct differences in many aspects of the curriculum.


Audrey explained, “The Geo industry would be what is considered a disruptor technology, and we are at the forefront of that curve. The whole idea of moving from a single point data collection to point clouds having millions of points to analyse, as well as the resurgence of photogrammetry, and the advancement of technology like drones and scanners. These are all new areas that we have to teach. But the fundamentals of the course are still the exact same: chasing the precision and the accuracy of a survey throughout.


Surveyors are now doing jobs that wouldn’t have even been considered twenty years ago. And going forward, it's expected that one of the biggest roles that will develop is geospatial data management. Industry experts, such as Audrey, believe this role is set to become increasingly crucial. Whether it’s data for a GIS, a BIM model, for planning, or data analytics - all of that data has to come from somewhere. In anticipation of this change, Audrey’s course is training students in the necessary skills to manipulate, format, and present the data in a way others can read and understand.


Inspiring the Next Generation of Surveyors in Ireland

The people who choose to join the course tend to be of three categories: some like the idea of working outdoors and not being stuck in an office every day, others have family in the industry, and the last group are those completing it part-time alongside their careers to progress into more senior roles.


Unfortunately, there are still large groups of people who would love a career in surveying but aren’t aware it exists. This is leading to a drop in the number of graduates, which is already being felt by businesses relying on the industry. Part of Audrey’s role is to find the right pitch for the course, and work out how to market it to the right types of people.


In order to meet the needs of the industry in terms of the number of graduates turned out each year, new tactics are required. Audrey realised that instead of visiting schools herself, school pupils would rather hear it from students directly. This year they began a project with the final-year students to promote the program. Each student is creating a pitch aimed at secondary level students, with four teams competing against each other. Audrey said, “The students are doing some really exciting things. We’ve got video footage of survey equipment, questionnaires with existing students, and TikTok videos and Instagram pages.


Where do Students End Up?

The vast majority of students remain in the industry, working in geospatial data collection. Some examples include roles in large scale scanning and data management, construction leads, hydrographic surveying on oil rigs, GIS roles such as optimising waste management routes, and heritage mapping and conservation. And of course, there are those who go into academia. The degree is one that will bring you anywhere in the world because the technology and fundamentals are the same everywhere you go.


There is a great supportive network of people passionate about getting more people into the industry in Ireland, as many of them are graduates of the program themselves. Audrey explained, “Whether it’s getting hold of the necessary equipment for student research and projects, bringing in guest speakers, and getting graduates to sit on assessment panels, we’re incredibly lucky to have the support of those in the industry behind us.”


What Do You Believe the Future Will Look Like for the Modern Surveyor?

As new technology is introduced to the industry, more processes are being done autonomously. Most software and hardware can be preprogrammed, robots are being more commonly used, UAVs can be preprogrammed to fly wherever and tolerances can be set automatically. It’s the data management, manipulation and visualisation that will be the priority. However, these devices, processes, and the collected data will always need to be controlled and verified.


It’s likely that in the future most surveyors may become Geospatial Data Managers and even Data Collectors. Audrey explains, “I believe geospatial surveying should be broken down into the three M’s; Measurement, Modelling (GIS and BIM, or anything within that digital framework) and Management. In the future, the Management end will be the biggest priority for the industry.”


This blog has been adapted from Leica Geosystems (2022) Speaking with the Leaders in the Irish Survey Industry: Audrey Martin, Senior Lecturer at TU Dublin.

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