Environmental Changes Fuel Career Opportunities for GIS Specialists

In the past 12 months, flooding has wreaked havoc on the lives and environments of millions of people across the globe. Brazil, Pakistan, and Australia were among the hardest hit. Just yesterday, I watched as my Melbournian neighbor’s roof caved in during a record flood – his was just one of thousands of houses submerged in water. By contrast, at this time last year one of the city’s chief concerns was a seemingly endless drought.

Of course, floods are only part of a large laundry list of natural disasters, the number of which is reportedly increasing. Iceland’s volcano, Chile’s earthquake, Russia’s heat wave and Guatemala’s sink hole are all highlights of the 2010 international yearbook of environmental catastrophes. Increased population and climate change tend to cop the blame as the chief causes of such drastic and rapidly shifting weather patterns, and unfortunately these culpable types are not the sort that pay for their destructive behavior. The aftermath is expensive. The United Nations 2011 Humanitarian Appeal estimated that $7.4 billion is required to assist 50 million people affected by the effects of global warming. A large part of that $7.4 billion will go to professionals with the skills to redesign and rebuild communities. For instance, over the past few years there has been a significant increase in the demand for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialists, Urban Planners, Environmental Restoration Professionals, and Storm-water Management Consultants (to name a few). This article will be the first in a series to provide information about such careers. Let’s begin with the first one on the list: GIS Specialists.

A GIS Specialist works with software that create (or maintain) data or maps that relates information such as administrative or political boundaries, land use, land cover, environmental, infrastructure, transportation networks, and population demographics.

A license is not generally required, but there are a few skill sets that are key to the job. Education or professional experience that includes work with computer systems, cartography, and/or geography is ideal. Many universities and colleges also offer GIS certificate programs.

According to Indeed.com, the average salary for GIS Specialists in the United States is 66k. For those interested in contributing to community and environmental/urban development in addition to attaining job security in the wake of the global financial crisis, a GIS Specialist certificate may indeed be worth further investigation. Check out URISA, an association for GIS Specialists, for more information about the GIS community, courses, conferences, and the like: urisa.org.

Photocredit: World Food Hunger Program