Geospatial Careers: Opportunities and Challenges

By: Shahnawaz
The geospatial sector has grown sizeably in the past two decades. But its future seems bleak without enough trained personnel to fill new positions. Geospatial education may need to be revamped with flexibility in curricula design, enhancement of academia-industry interaction, with emphasis on a lifelong learning process to meet this challenge.
Education

India has experienced substantial expansion of the geospatial sector and the resultant job-market over the last two decades. With the help of the information technology (IT) sector and India’s space programmes, the sector has experienced continual growth. In fact, the market share of geospatial based technologies in India is estimated to touch the 10 billion USD mark by 2019 (FICCI, 2013).

Several landmark policy changes by the Government of India have given a boost to this sector which, among others, include the National Map Policy 2005 (GoI, 2005), Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011 (GoI, 2011), and National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy 2012 (GoI, 2012). India’s far sighted vision regarding national geographic information system (GIS) has especially thrilled leading global players (ESRI, 2014) and earned accolades too.

Drivers of the Geospatial Job Market

The geospatial career market is extremely dynamic and is largely influenced by three main drivers; geospatial data, geospatial technology and geospatial applications (Fig. 1).

These drivers continuously interact with each other, and hence, a change in any one of the three triggers a change in the other two. For example, availability of a new type of data requires new software capabilities for processing and analysis, and a combination of these two facilitates expansion in new areas of application. Similarly, emergence of a new area of application may require a new type of data and new software capabilities.

Of course, these changes may create a demand for ‘ready-to-deliver’ geospatial professionals with the required competencies. Where existing professionals are concerned, their readiness in taking on challenges will depend on how much they engage themselves in ‘lifelong learning’ to enhance their skills.

Opportunities in the geospatial sector for fresh graduates are dependent not only on what has been learnt in the course of their degree, but also on whether their skills acquired are suitable for their jobs or not. This implies that existing professionals as well as beginners need to continuously upgrade their geospatial competencies in tune with the changing dynamics of the job market.

Fig. 1: Drivers of geospatial career market
Fig. 1: Drivers of geospatial career market

Workforce Situation

Realising the challenges of producing geospatial professionals, the Indian Government constituted the National Task Force on Geospatial Education in 2010 under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which submitted its report in 2013 (GoI, 2013). The then availability of geospatial workforce was assessed at between 22000 and 31000 persons, with additional demand for skilled personnel estimated to reach 7000 to 9000 persons per annum by the end of 2015.

There was some apprehension whether this additional demand for skilled personnel could be met suitably. The taskforce had observed that ‘currently, the education system is not performing at the desired level for meeting the nation’s needs’ (GoI, 2013). The ramifications of this are reflected in the lack of confidence of the geospatial industry in the local professionals available and the acute shortage of ‘fit-for-job’ professionals. Although initiatives for extended geospatial literacy and basic disciplinary knowledge are already in place (Jain, 2011; Kumar et al, 2014) to attract aspirants toward this sector in future, the numbers of geospatial professionals required for taking the industry to the next level remains unfulfilled.

The situation draws attention to the role higher education institutions can play in imparting industry-oriented geospatial education so that fresh graduates can immediately ‘jump-start’ their career in the readily available geospatial career market.

Education Scenario

Technology and engineering institutions in India had initiated geospatial courses and study programmes (such as GIS, remote sensing, geoinformatics, geomatics) far ahead of universities. However, such institutions and their students are few in number. Universities continue to debate on whether GIS is a technology, science or a tool and whether its inclusion in the curriculum of a particular discipline is justified. Since geography is the closest to geospatial education, it could be the first discipline to incorporate geospatial education within its academic domain.

But the situation shows that “geography teaching and research in India has been facing innumerable internal and external challenges. Internal challenges pertain to a feeble response and preparation for introducing appropriate changes in the teaching curriculum at the school, college and university levels in the light of the changing nature of the discipline globally, and its relevance in addressing contemporary issues at the global and local levels” (Sinha, 2014).

Although this situation is definitely not progressive, it seems somehow better than that in universities which introduced the course. “The curriculum in most of the Universities was designed by diluting the technical aspects of geospatial science and not updated as per the current developments in the field” (Shekhar, 2014). As a result, fresh graduates who have acquired geospatial education remain confused about the availability of appropriate jobs. The real problem, though, is that such job seekers have none or very little ‘hands-on’ practical skills, which are essential in this field. This prevents them from landing geospatial jobs in keeping with the requirements of the job market.

We may thus question who is responsible for this situation, students or higher education institutions or both. Of course the responsibility lies with the higher education institutions since the curricula is designed by them, and students have little choice in the matter except for learning what is offered.

Possible Solutions

  • Flexible Curriculum Design: There is no doubt that a large number of geospatial career opportunities are available in India, even as there are rapid changes observed in the skill level requirements. Updating curricula in keeping with the pace of change in the job market is near impossible. However, the curricula can be designed in a way that frequent revisions are not needed, and there is always some space for emerging topics to be incorporated. This could be done by grouping various courses under compulsory and elective subjects (Shahnawaz, 2010), wherein electives could be introduced in keeping with emerging needs. Apart from including practical exercises, at least one separate course should be focused on enhancing job oriented ‘hands-on’ practical skills, wherein students could be asked to select a project based on the current requirements in the job market.
  • Responsible Academia-Industry Interaction: Even as geospatial career opportunities multiply in India, there is little, if any, interaction between higher education institutions and the geospatial industry. Consequently, teachers and students remain largely unaware of current developments in the industry, preventing students from landing appropriate jobs. This problem can be overcome through enhancing academia-industry interaction for the mutual benefit of both the industry and teachers. This will also enable teachers incorporate necessary changes in their teaching process and equip students with the right skills for appropriate jobs.
  • Indulging in Lifelong Learning: It should be remembered that there is hardly anything that can be termed an ‘end product’ in education and learning, especially in the IT-based sectors. The geospatial career market demands frequent enhancement of skills and qualifications, although this is rarely possible for ‘on-the-job’ professionals. Fortunately, the availability of internet has facilitated access to a wide range of resources and made ‘online distance learning’ possible anywhere in the world. Learners can take advantage of various online distance education programmes conducted by reputed international institutions while continuing ‘on-the-job’ and ‘with-the-family’ (Shahnawaz, 2013, 2010). Such ‘lifelong learning’ can help professionals remaining ‘fit-for-job’ to climb up the professional ladder.

Endnote

The geospatial sector in India has achieved significant expansion and growth. But, its future growth and progress will depend on the availability of highly competent geospatial professionals. For this, the higher education institutions will need to respond to the educational demands of this sector, along with students, professionals and employers playing their roles responsibly to take this sector to the next level.

References

Department of Science & Technology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India. (2012). National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy 2012. Retrieved from http://ogpl.gov.in/NDSAP/NDSAP-30Jan2012.pdf.

ESRI. (2014). India: A Vision for National GIS. ESRI, Redlands, California, USA. p4. Retrieved from www.esri.com/library/ebooks/india-a-vision-for-national-gis.pdf.

FICCI. (2013). Empowering India through Geospatial Technologies. Retrieved from http://ficci.in/spdocument/20195/FICCI-GT-Empowering-India-through-Geospatial-Technologies.pdf

Government of India. (2005). National Map Policy 2005. Retrieved from www.surveyofindia.gov.in/files/nmp/National%20Map%20Policy.pdf.

Government of India. (2011). Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011. Retrieved from http://www.nrsc.gov.in/Remote_Sensing_Data_Policy.

Minister of Human Resource Development, Government of India. (2013). Report of National Task Force on Geospatial Education. p13. Retrieved from http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/RportNTFGE2013_0.pdf.

Jain, J.L. (2011, April). Broad-based geospatial education in India: Imperatives, hindrances and ways out. Geospatial World. Retrieved from http://geospatialworld.net/Paper/Application/ArticleView.aspx?aid=1678.

Kumar, P., Siddiqui, A., Gupta, K., Jain, S., Krishna Murthy, Y.V.N. (2014, December). Capacity Building through Geospatial Education in Planning and School Curricula. The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, XL-8ISPRS Technical Commission VIII Symposium. doi:10.5194/isprsarchives-XL-8-1253-2014.

Shahnawaz. (2010). UNIGIS – A framework for standardised GIScience Education, in Jekel, Koller, Donnart and Strobl (eds.): Learning with GIScience @ GI_Forum ‘10, Proceedings of the Learning with GIScience. Heidelberg: Wichmann Verlag. pp230-234.

Shahnawaz. (2013). UNIGIS Online Distance Learning Towards International GIScience Qualifications. International Journal of Geoinformatics, 9(2), 1-6.

Shekhar, S. (2014). A Study on state of geospatial courses in Indian universities. The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, XL-8. ISPRS Technical Commission VIII Symposium. p1445. doi:10.5194/isprsarchives-XL-8-1443-2014.

Sinha, S. (2014, August 21). Rethinking Geography Education in India. Geography and You.  Retrieved from www.geographyandyou.com/editorial.html.

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