Update on Certification of Lidar Practitioners

In 2009, an entry appeared on the LiDAR News blog asking some basic questions about the need for certification of lidar practitioners within the geospatial profession. Professional certification programs in the mapping sciences (photogrammetry, remote sensing, GIS, and geospatial intelligence) have been around for a number of years and are offered by several organizations, but lidar specifically has not yet been addressed until NOW! At the ASPRS Board of Directors meeting in Louisville, KY on March 27, 2014, the ASPRS Certification Committee presented a proposal for a Certified Mapping Scientist LIDAR addition to their existing portfolio of professional certifications.

Of the various organizations offering professional certifications, ASPRS is the only one accredited by the Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards (CESB). Membership in and accreditation by CESB requires meeting a set of criteria and guidelines for the administration and operation of a professional certification program. The full scope of the CESB accreditation criteria is published on their website at http://www.cesb.org/accreditation-guidelines.html, but in summary, organizations and programs are evaluated based on:

  • the formality and impartiality of their certification requirements,
  • the financial sustainability of their certification related activities,
  • the composition of the committee within the organization that oversees the certification program, including education and experience pertinent to certification for all those involved in certification decisions
  • procedures for determining the body of knowledge and scope of activities addressed by the certification
  • use of a fair and objective method for evaluation of competencies required for certification
  • maintenance of a publicly accessible roster of certified individuals
  • maintenance of a process for recertifying individuals on a cycle no greater that five years to ensure that certified practitioners remain current with regard to technological advancements

ASPRS currently offers 6 types of certification that have been accredited by CESB:

  • Certified Photogrammetrist
  • Certified Mapping Scientist GIS/LIS
  • Certified Mapping Scientist Remote Sensing
  • Certified Photogrammetric Technologist
  • Certified GIS/LIS Technologist
  • Certified Remote Sensing Technologist

Details concerning these CESB accredited certifications can be found at http://www.asprs.org/Certification-Program/Introduction-to-ASPRS-Certification-Program.html.

The pending proposal for a lidar certification follows the current model and would provide for:

  • Certified Mapping Scientist Lidar
  • Certified Lidar Technologist

At the Certified Mapping Scientist level, an applicant would be required to successfully complete a written examination, have a total of six years of relevant professional experience, and have 4 references from individuals who have first-hand knowledge of the applicants professional and personal qualifications. At the Technologist level, an applicant is also required to pass a written examination and have four references, but only three years of relevant professional experience are required.

In accordance with CESB guidelines, ASPRS certified professionals must apply for recertification every 5 years. Recertification is based on the applicants continued work experience, contributions and service to the profession, and continuing education totaling at least 100 Professional Development Hours (PDH) or PDH credits. Categories and valuation of PDH credits can be found at http://www.asprs.org/Certification-Program/Certification-and-Recertification-Guidelines.html.

If and when the lidar certification proposal is approved by the ASPRS Board of Directors, the Certification Committee will finalize their work on a detailed Body of Knowledge that defines those areas of geospatial science that are essential to effective professional practice using lidar technology. This Body of Knowledge will include fundamental principles of mathematics, geomatics, project management, and professional ethics as well as topics specific to lidar technology as it is applied to mapping and GIS. A written examination, related to the Body of Knowledge, will be developed by an independent group of existing practitioners and educators. It is anticipated that this work can be completed and an accreditation application submitted to CESB in late 2014. If the Certification Committee is successful in meeting this timetable, the two ASPRS proposed lidar certifications could be open for applications in early 2015.

In addition to the CESB accredited certifications, ASPRS also offers an avenue for active students with no work experience to get a jumpstart on professional certification. Details concerning the Geospatial Intern program can be found at http://www.asprs.org/Certification-Program/Geospatial-Intern-Program.html, but in summary this program allows students who are currently in a degree program, with a minimum of 2 courses in the spatial sciences (GIS, photogrammetry, or remote sensing) to sit for the written examination of their choice at the time of their graduation. The Geospatial Intern program is modeled after the Engineer-in-Training and Surveyor-in-Training status recognized by many states, which allows aspiring professionals to get over the sometimes intimidating hurdle of a written examination while they are still used to the test-taking environment!

The ASPRS Geospatial Intern program is a great way to get your career off to a good start and show potential employers that you take your career development seriously. The application process may seem a little overwhelming at first, but you have up to 6 months to study for the exam once your application is approved. ASPRS offers exam preparation workshops at conferences and online. You can use one reference book during the 4-hour exam, which consists of 100 questions. Students taking the exam upon graduation have a very high pass-rate compared to other certification candidates who wait until later in their careers. And its a relief to get the most daunting aspect of the process out of the way early on! Once you have passed the exam, you have either 5 years to complete the 3 years of experience required for a Technologist certification or 10 years to complete the 6 years of experience required for a CMS.

As certified professionals, long-time industry practitioners, past-presidents of ASPRS, and now university instructors, we strongly advocate for certification as an integral part of career development in the mapping sciences. It is great to see so much interest in certification specific to lidar, and we believe that certification is an important factor in achieving a high standard of quality for lidar projects and products. A CESB-accredited certification lends additional credibility to the lidar practitioner working in a professional engineering or surveying environment. Certification also helps to create a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation among practicing professionals, and gives our profession a boost in the eyes of the general public. We hope that the proposed ASPRS lidar certifications are seen as a positive step forward in response to the questions posed by LiDAR News a few years ago!

About the Author

Karen Schuckman

Karen Schuckman is Senior Lecturer in Geography at Penn State University, teaching remote sensing and geospatial technology in the online programs offered by the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. Before moving to the academic sector, Karen was the Geospatial Technology Leader at URS Corporation from 2005-2007 and held various management positions within the EarthData group of companies from 1995 - 2005, including President of EarthData International of North Carolina. She also served in the public sector, working for the USGS National Mapping Division in Menlo Park, California from 2002-2005. Karen is a Past-President of American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, and was recently elected as an ASPRS Fellow. She has served on numerous national committees, including the NOAA Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES), the National Research Council's Committee on Floodplain Mapping Technologies and the Committee on FEMA Flood Maps, and the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES). She is an ASPRS Certified Photogrammetrist (CP), a Professional Land Surveyor (PLS) licensed in North Carolina, and she also holds a BS degree in Meteorology and a Masters in Geographic Information Systems from Penn State University. Karen was a member of the 1971 and 1972 US National Womens Gymnastics Teams and competed for Penn State from 1974 - 1979, winning individual national championships in All-Around, Floor Exercise and Vaulting, and was the first female in Penn State history to receive a varsity athletic scholarship.
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