PositionIT Inbox, Jan/Feb 2019

April 16th, 2019, Published in Articles: PositionIT

Winning letter

Re: Professional recognition

Dear Editor

There is a trend among professionals that is jeopardising their very existence.

A profession only has value where it is recognised. As with other professions, the geomatics profession is recognised in law with work reserved, albeit limited to all but cadastral work for land surveying, with a penalty for non-compliance of around R200

if memory serves me right. The geomatics profession is also recognised by industry. Clients specify that the service provider shall be registered with the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC). They do this because they expect a certain standard of work, and a certain level of integrity from the professional as defined by the council’s code of conduct.

Commercial drone work is also reserved in law, with a penalty of criminal prosecution, ten years imprisonment and hefty fines, even though drone operators are not formally recognised as professionals.

But legal work reservation has little effect nowadays on who does what.

Many geomatics professionals are voluntarily undermining their own integrity. One point in case: many land surveyors are happily committing criminal offences by operating drones for commercial purposes without possessing an operator certificate. The justification is often a cost-benefit comparison where potential fines are discounted into the price, with the perceived low probability of being caught – and they are not shy to tell those who care to listen. I wonder if they consider the potential impact on their livelihood if they are caught and prosecution results in a criminal record. We all know where the council stands on that matter. The same applies to Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) registered professionals and other professions in the built environment.

Legally compliant commercial drone operators that realise the cost-benefit ratio of ignoring the rules of the Geomatics Council will find a business case that is significantly more favourable than that of the geomatics professional illegally selling himself as a drone operator. But to my best knowledge no ROC holder is selling himself illegally as a geomatics professional. Can it be that the legal drone industry, that has no formal professional status, is demonstrating higher levels of professional conduct than the registered professionals in the industry?

If geomatics professionals wish to retain and elevate their status as professionals, they need to become a benchmark for ethical and professional conduct. Without it they risk losing respect, firstly respect of the other service providers they undermine by illegally competing with them, and secondly respect of their clients who will stop taking their professional status seriously if they cannot behave as professionals should.

Without respect there can be no recognition. Without recognition, the professional status of a geomatics professional will gradually disappear into irrelevance.

Maybe it is time for all statutory recognised professionals (from medical, legal, financial, engineering, architecture, geomatics and other industries) to regenerate a very healthy respect for the rule of law. The automatic response from industry and regulators will be to give higher status and better protection to professionals, and the rest of the market will follow suit. This will create a wave that becomes the most effective countermeasure to the corruption and lawlessness that our country has seen in a decade. I look forward to observing an increasing number of professionals acting their part.

F Fuls

re: Geomatics transformation

Dear Editor

Please allow me to respond to the letter by Teboho Maphakisa (PositionIT Nov/Dec 2018, p6), “Geomatics: Addressing the elephants in the room”:

From his letter it appears to me that Mr Maphakisa does want to make a contribution to the profession and that is highly appreciated. What concerns me is that he criticises but does not propose solutions, and still hints that there is an “us” and “them”.

He is outspoken about AfricaGEO, but does he realise that it was organised by geomaticians (a great number of them SAGI members) that offered their time for free to the profession? Can we bank on his support to help organise the next conference?

Conferences in general has lost their relevance and that is basically due to the fact that they became unaffordable. If you analyse the attendees you will find that private practitioners were few and far between and that in itself tells a story.

A conference is supposed to be a technical learning experience based on research by others better qualified or informed than yourself. It is not a social event nor a political platform. It is a technical platform to become better equipped in your profession. Conference organisers can only present papers that were submitted to them and it is the duty of the profession to submit relevant papers.

I personally cannot understand why ethics, values, culture and communication must be discussed at a technical conference. These are things which a professionally registered person in any profession should already have as part of his/her arsenal. The Geomatics Professions Act is the handbook for our profession and if you know and understand that, you are well equipped. If you want to learn more you go to leadership schools or do relevant courses.

I agree with the writer that mentorship is a huge problem. SAGI sent out questionnaires and they got answers like: “Government awarded too many bursaries and now that the economy is down there are too many semi-qualified persons. Private practice cannot absorb them all.” Or “the current economic situation is such that one-man private practitioners do not have enough work to keep themselves busy.” Most of the multi-partner practices do have mentorship programmes.

Mentorship is a serious concern and SAGI started various initiatives to address that, but in certain instances they run into a wall. There is an oversupply of students at present and training institutions keep churning them out. The knowledge of persons who come from some of these institutions is appalling. A great number are unemployable. It is not the role of the professional practitioner to teach a student the basic technical calculations or teach them to set up an instrument. My personal experience as an external examiner at one of the institutions was that I was instructed to pass unpassable papers “to get the numbers up”. I resigned.

The students want to work office hours and that does not work in private practice. I cannot pay a person if I have to teach him, then go and stand next to him in the field and then recalculate everything that he was supposed to do and on top of that he/she demands a high salary. Some students know nothing and are not prepared to even study the regulations in their private time. As private practitioners we cannot spend time to teach them the basics.

On politics, government and transformation – can the writer enlighten us where he got the statistics to make statements like “only serving the interests of a few,” “failing to represent the demographics of the country,” and “marginalising the youth and the females”. We are now 24 years past that and I propose that he gets the statistics from the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC) and then recalculate his statements. Furthermore, most big projects nowadays go out to tender and BEE effectively excludes certain groups of people to tender, which now marginalises a new group of people. We as geomaticians get marginalised because we often have to quote with other groups which even expect part of our fee as a management fee.

A question to Mr Maphakisa: What did you do to date to change the situation if it exists? The writer is mixing facts and fiction to the extent that it is difficult to understand. I agree with him that the survey profession might be an “old boys club,” but so are most professions, associations and most certainly politicians. Most groups are like that, even gangs.

On leadership and influence I 100% agree with the writer and I challenge him to come and join SAGI leadership. Currently SAGI is the only representative body of the survey profession and it is trying its best to make an impact with a very limited budget. The few previously marginalised colleagues in management make a huge impact to the profession and additional members will be an advantage.

Our biggest obstacle is that we need young upcoming professionals, especially previously marginalised people. Due to the fact that we are a small profession it is difficult to mobilise. We need members. To date 67% of professional land surveyors and 46% of professional surveyors are members of SAGC, but most employed SAGC registered persons are not in private practice and not professional. Only we as Geomaticians can make an impact. If we do not fight for our profession nobody

else will. The geomatics profession, and for that matter most technical professions all over the world, has the problem that it is not recognised as specialist anymore. Read books like “Marketing the Professions” by Robert Sinclair (published in 1987) who is a doctor and you will think is was written by a surveyor this year. Talk to any engineer, quantity surveyor, architect, dentist, navigator (this profession does not exist anymore) and he/she will tell you exactly the same story.

Get active and market the profession for what we are: professional, knowledgeable and specialists in our field.

SA Strydom

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