GIS Technician: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for a GIS technician. Get the facts about education needed, optional certifications and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Culture & Media Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a GIS Technician?

Geographic information systems (GIS) technicians create digital maps from geospatial data. Their duties include selecting data, producing and updating maps, and examining aerial photographs. They may work with engineers, surveyors, cartographers, or photogrammetrists. They produce maps which may show features including boundaries, water locations, elevation, and terrain, employing GIS technology to compile information and maintain and update databases. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Education Required Certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree
Training Required Internship recommended
Key Responsibilities Creation and maintenance of geospatial databases; tech support
Certification Possible through the GIS Certification Institute or ASPRS
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% decline (survey and mapping technicians)
Median Salary (2015)* $42,010 (survey and mapping technicians)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a GIS Technician Do?

GIS technicians manipulate or model geospatial data, such as topographical statistics or population demographics. This data is then used to create interactive digital graphs or maps used by city planning, marketing or utilities professionals.

As a GIS technician, you may also work with engineers or scientists to alter, create and maintain GIS databases. Other job duties may include providing technical support to users.

What Type of Education Do I Need?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there are many job opportunities for GIS technicians with associate's degree or certificates in GIS (www.doleta.gov). These 1-year certificate programs may include coursework in geography, photogrammetry, remote sensing and global positioning systems. Additional courses in computer aided design, statistics, cartography and database design are required for a 2-year associate's degree in GIS.

The Employment and Training Administration also recommends completing an internship. These training opportunities may be available through a college's GIS associate degree or certificate program.

Can I Earn Any Professional Certifications?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earning voluntary certification through a professional organization can help you advance in the field (www.bls.gov). The GIS Certification Institute offers the GIS Professional (GISP) credential to candidates who've acquired points on the basis of their education, experience and contributions to the profession (www.gisci.org). You may obtain these points by completing a degree or certificate program, attending a conference, presenting a workshop or volunteering with a service organization. You'll also need at least four years of professional GIS experience.

The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) also certifies GIS technologists (www.asprs.org). You'll need a minimum of three years of GIS experience and passing scores on the written exam to earn this credential. Provisional certifications are also available to recent graduates of approved educational programs. These applicants must also pass the written exam. Full certification status is granted once they acquire the necessary work experience.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

Surveying and mapping technicians, such as GIS technicians, earned a median wage of $42,010 as of May 2015, according to the BLS. An 8% decrease in employment opportunities for these professionals was projected through the 2014-2024 decade. This is due to advancements in technology causing increased productivity and reducing demand for surveying technicians.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Someone interested in becoming a GIS technician may also want to also consider cartography, surveying, or landscape architecture, all of which can be pursued with only a bachelor's degree. Cartographers collect geographic information and create maps and charts for regional planning, education or emergency response. Surveyors make measurements of the landscape in order to determine property boundaries, engineering or mapmaking. Landscape architects work in outdoor spaces such as parks, campuses, recreational facilities and homes.

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