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Developing the Geospatial Workforce

Dr. Cyndi Gaudet
Dr. Cyndi Gaudet
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Dr. Annulis Heather
Assistant Professor
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According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), geospatial technologies will change the way people live and work more than the personal computer.

Just as the personal computer revolutionized business practices and everyday life in the latter part of the twentieth century, geospatial technologies have the promise of impacting the next millennium to an even greater extent. This high growth, high technology industry faces a serious workforce challenge. A shortage of a qualified and skilled workforce exists to meet the demands of this dynamic industry.

A key component of an efficient geospatial job market is the match between job requirements and employee competencies. What skills and competencies do employers need to satisfy business needs in the geospatial industry to support innovation and growth? In a recent study conducted by the Human Capital Institute, over 400 employers reported "low supply of people with specialized skills" and "quality of the talent pool" as the most significant barriers to recruiting and retaining talent within their areas. Employers report that people with degrees related to computer science and electronic communications will be the most difficult to find. Organizations cannot wait for a workforce crisis to develop the human capital needed. Ultimately, it is commitments from organizations that will make development materialize.

Human capital is an invisible asset in organizations, but it does not have to be an elusive asset. Human capital is the collective knowledge and brainpower of an organization. It is the facts that are acquired through informal and formal education that employees bring to the table and the skills gained through training and practice. It is the experience gained through past successes and mistakes. Human capital is the social networks developed over the years through relationships between co-workers, colleagues and customers.

The new reality for today's innovative workplace is that organizations need skilled and talented people. Talented people are the competitive advantage of organizations which is essential to an organizations' success. Human capital development means the creation of a culture that supports talent development at every level of the organization. Successful organizations realize that having the right people with the right skills and knowledge to help the organization reach strategic goals is a smart competitive advantage.

In order to have the talent a geospatial organization needs, key leaders must be able to identify the knowledge, skills and abilities required to accomplish daily work. To better define geospatial workforce needs, organizations need to know what employees need to know and be able to do. A competency-based approach to defining required skills is particularly useful in technology- oriented occupations like geospatial oriented jobs. A job task analysis is too task-specific for jobs that change quickly and often. Solving today's workforce issues requires new and innovative methods and techniques for this high growth, high technology industry.


Organizations and educational entities "…can use the Geospatial Technology Competency Model© to describe the kinds of workers needed in the geospatial information technology industry; improve employee recruitment and selection; manage the performance of existing employees; and design geospatial information technology training and education programs and curricula" (Gaudet et al., 2001, p. i). A competency model was needed to describe the kinds of geospatial workers (work roles) required, the products and services they provide (outputs/deliverables), and the required knowledge, skills and abilities (competencies) that the industry needs.

The knowledge, skills and abilities that are identified, along with the level of expertise required for each competency, provide a framework for geospatial technology curricula- academic courses and programs, as well as training programs. In addition to being used as a research framework for training providers and academic institutions to use for creating the most effective and efficient training and education opportunities for the geospatial industry, the GTCM© developed at The University of Southern Mississippi is a useful human resource tool. The GTCM© provides research-based competencies for hiring organizations to use to make better recruitment and selection decisions and to help better manage their existing workforce by using the model as a competencybased performance management system.

Methodology –Industry stakeholders from the private and public sector were involved from the beginning of the GTCM© development to help guide research validity. Members of the geospatial community reviewed the scope of the study, revised role definitions and outputs, and revised preliminary competency menus. Focus groups helped to further identify competencies, outputs, and quality requirements for the geospatial industry.

Role experts working in the geospatial industry validated the geospatial roles, competencies, outputs, and quality requirements. Organizations across the United States were represented in this study.

Results –Twelve distinct work roles were identified for the geospatial technology industry: (1) Applications Development; (2) Data Acquisition; (3) Data Analysis and Interpretation; (4) Data Management; (5) Management; (6) Marketing; (7) Project Management; (8) Systems Analysis; (9) Systems Management; (10) Training; (11) Visualization; and (12) Coordination. Four categories of geospatial technology competencies were identified as the required knowledge, skills, and abilities to function in each of the twelve roles: (1) technical; (2) business; (3) analytical; and (4) interpersonal. In addition to identifying 12 roles and 39 competencies, 138 key products or services (outputs) resulting from the work in each role were identified. Results of the study included the development of 12 role profiles that provide the: role definition, outputs unique to the role, quality requirements for each output, competencies required to function in a specific role, the level of expertise required for each competency, and the ethical challenges for the work role. For a full report of the Geospatial Technology Competency Model© results, visit .

Understanding geospatial work is critical for individual development, which in turn allows the organization to strategically develop the talent needed to compete in a global economy. However, development does not occur without focused efforts and resources. One needs to analyse how ready is one’s organization to embark on a talent development mission that will improve the geospatial workforce, and what degree of "yes" can ones’s geospatial organization answer to the following questions in order to develop the talent needed to prepare for the competitive business future?

  • Does your organization know what knowledge skills and abilities employees need to be successful in your workplace?
  • Does you organization have a systematic learning and development plan?
  • Is your organization building partnerships with educational institutions at all levels, the public workforce system, and economic development representatives?
  • Does the training in your organization correspond to the employee's desired future?
  • Are performance problems accurately diagnosed?
  • Does your organization have Individual Development Plans for employees that are personal, meaningful and owned by the person?
  • Is your workplace one that includes an atmosphere of interpersonal support and innovation?
  • Does your organization have an accountability culture that supports tracking and measuring the results of training and performance improvement initiatives?

When employees win, organizations win and the geospatial industry wins.


  • Gaudet, C. H., Annulis, H. M., & Carr, J. C. (2003). Building the geospatial workforce. Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) Journal, 15 (1), 21-30. Retrieved October 15, 2007, from
  • Gaudet, C., Annulis, H., & Carr, J. (2001). Workforce Development Models For Geospatial Technology [Hattiesburg, MS: University of Southern Mississippi Geospatial Workforce Development Center]. Retrieved October 15, 2007, from