Chart Your Own Path: Cartographers and Photogrammetrists

by Sarah Cunningham

December 13, 2018

The tradition of map making has been a part of human history for thousands of years. The earliest maps are cave paintings that date back to 14,500 B.C. Maps were created by explorers such as Lewis and Clark as they charted unfamiliar territory to help navigate future journeys across land and sea.

The act of map making has since evolved into the mixture of art, science, and technology that is known as cartography and photogrammetry. Cartographers and photogrammetrists are highly trained professionals who collect and interpret geographic data to create and update physical and digital maps that allow for regional planning, education, and emergency response.

A Day in the Life of a Cartographer or Photogrammetrist

While there is some overlap between the duties of cartographers and photogrammetrists, cartographers are defined in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook as “mapmakers who design user-friendly maps,” whereas photogrammetrists are defined as “specialized mapmakers who use various technologies to build models of the Earth’s surface for the purpose of creating maps.”  Cartographers and photogrammetrists work primarily in office settings, but may step outside to perform fieldwork for projects that require the on-site collection and verification of data. As technologies have improved, the duties of cartographers and photogrammetrists have grown with the profession.
Small Occupation with High Wages

According to the BLS, Oregon has a higher than average concentration of cartographers and photogrammetrists. In 2017, there were 506 people employed as cartographers or photogrammetrists in Oregon, with over 60 percent of those employed in the Portland area. More than half (52%) of cartographers and photogrammetrists in Oregon worked for firms in the professional, scientific, and technical services industry.

Due to the high level of skill and knowledge required for the job, cartographers and photogrammetrists in Oregon command a median hourly wage of $28.11, which is 47 percent higher than Oregon’s 2018 median hourly wage of $19.09. Lane County cartographers and photogrammetrists make the most out of any region in Oregon, earning an average of $69,592 per year.

Education and Skills

The typical entry-level education for cartographers and photogrammetrists is a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as geography, geomatics, or surveying. BLS data shows that some cartographers and photogrammetrists have bachelor’s degrees in engineering, forestry, or computer science. This coincides with the growing use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, which requires a deeper understanding of computer programming, engineering, math, surveying, and geography.

According to Jes Mendez, GIS analyst for the Oregon Employment Department, spatial and data analysis using GIS technologies will continue to grow: “Spatial location has become so important in our society in the last 10 to 15 years…From visualizing the latest voting patterns to finding your nearest coffee shop.” He states that to be able to use GIS technology one needs to “be comfortable working with databases, because you will be joining and manipulating multiple data sets in most analysis.” He also stresses that “you need a willingness to learn the latest techniques and processes,” because “GIS software changes very rapidly and new products are constantly being introduced.” While GIS analysts may create maps to help spatial analysis, Mendez notes that cartographers have the additional challenge to “create a visually pleasing and informative map.”

Several Oregon colleges offer bachelor’s degrees or post-baccalaureate certificates in related fields. Oregon Institute of Technology currently offers a four-year degree in surveying and surveying technology. Oregon State University, Portland State University, Southern Oregon University, the University of Oregon, and Western Oregon University all have four-year degree programs in geography with a few of them offering post-baccalaureate certificates in geographic information science and cartography.

Several Oregon community colleges offer associate’s degrees in surveying or geographic information science and cartography that can create a pathway to securing a career as a cartographer or photogrammetrist. Outside of Oregon, some states may require a Surveyor Certificate in order to work as a cartographer or photogrammetrist.

Job Growth and Opportunities Ahead

Oregon’s outlook for cartographers and photogrammetrists is bright. The Oregon Employment Department projects 63 annual openings between 2017 and 2027. Employment in the occupation is expected to grow three times faster than all occupations in Oregon at 38 percent, making it a job in high demand. Most job openings will be in the Portland Tri-County region, though growth is projected in regions across
the state.
Overall, the outlook for cartographers and photogrammetrists is very positive, as employment is projected to grow and wages are higher than average. As interactive and technologically advanced maps play larger roles in the lives of planners, educators, and every day citizens alike, those who obtain the necessary education to keep up with rapidly evolving technologies will be competitive in their field. For more information, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook or the detailed occupational profile on our website.


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