Mapping a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Career Path

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is a fast-evolving capability used on an ever-increasing basis by governments and businesses around the world. As such, GIS offers increasing career opportunities for those with the right credentials and motivation.

What is GIS (Geographical Information Systems)?

In essence, GIS is a system, application, or tool that lets you answer questions and solve problems by visually presenting data or information in a way that can be quickly and easily understood and shared. GIS comprises hardware, software, data, and people that capture, manage, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information.

Data, for the most part, is mainly in digital form these days, and we collect a lot of it. By using information technology equipment and applications, organizations can improve the speed and accuracy in uncovering trends and patterns to answer questions and make better decisions.

Why is GIS a growing industry?

GIS represents data and information relative to spatial location. Most commonly, GIS is used relative to earth maps, but it also extends to space and even the human body; its uses are endless.

Analysts, managers, commanders and even “John Q. Public” use GIS to assemble, integrate, analyze, and display data about location, quantity or density in a digital format. The systems typically are used to make maps that combine information useful for environmental studies, geology, engineering, planning, business marketing, and other disciplines.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying and mapping technicians – just one subset of GIS – is expected to grow 19 percent through 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Who uses GIS?

GIS can be used in almost any enterprise, including Federal, state, and local governments; the military and intelligence agencies; educational institutions, and many businesses.

For instance, the military uses GIS in battlefield management to maintain strategic advantages. Governments use it in urban planning, criminology, and population analysis. Businesses use it in resource management, logistics tracking, marketing, and prospect mapping. Even civilians use it to enhance family quality-of-life by referencing various GIS products, such as Google MapsTM, to help make personal decisions like where to live, what to buy or even to get directions.

How can I prepare for a GIS career?

As I have mentioned in my previous articles and webinars, preparation should include education, certification, and experience.

Remember, GIS integrates hardware and software, so having IT-related skills such as networking, application and web design and development, and database management can be helpful. Skills surrounding data capturing, managing, and analyzing are also helpful.

GIS jobs span a significant salary range, sometimes to well over $100,000 per year, depending on the type of job and level of supervision and management.

Military training for GIS

For those in the military, you may well be on the education and experience path needed. For instance, Army service members who attend the various National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency courses at Ft. Belvoir and work in GIS-related MOS’s have ACE transfer credits that may be applied toward Associate or Bachelor’s degrees.

Earning a specialized degree, like those offered in American Sentinel University’s GIS degree programs, plus military experience are the qualifications that contractors and businesses will be looking for when you transition from the military.

For most of the mid- and upper-level GIS positions, degrees are an important factor, and there are various certifications. If you are looking at the IT side of GIS, IT certifications are applicable. There are both certificates and a certification for GIS that can help bolster your credentials.

And don’t forget the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. (American Sentinel has an online PMP training program available.) Because GIS projects touch many parts of an organization, employers will look for trained project managers with GIS experience to head up their GIS projects.

Any comments or questions – please add to the blog or contact me directly. (paul.capicik@americansentinel.edu or toll free 1-800-470-3743.)

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