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July - September 2006
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Defining the Geospatial Workforce

From in-car navigation systems to the depictions of glitzy satellite image-driven military applications in television shows and movies, the public has become acutely aware of the power of geospatial technologies, even if its understanding is not profound.

A more formal recognition of both the growing importance of geospatial technologies and the impending shortage of workers for this field came with the promulgation of President George W. Bush's High Growth Job Training Initiative. This initiative identified 14 sectors that are expected to add substantial numbers of new jobs. These sectors are in businesses that are being transformed by technology and will require workers with new skill sets. Although 14 sectors were selected, the geospatial industry, biotechnology, and nanotechnology were identified as having the greatest potential impact on the economy.

However, one of the challenges faced by those implementing the initiative and, more important, by educators who will help fill this gap is the lack of general agreement on the definition of both the geospatial industry and the makeup of the geospatial workforce. The famous Greek maxim "know thyself" applies to the geospatial industry. Because it is relatively new and rapidly expanding, there is little agreement on the characteristics of the current workforce. As part of Phase I of the U.S. Department of Labor's High Growth Training Program, a $700,000 grant was made to Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA), Association of American Geographers (AAG), and The Wharton School to perform a study to define the industry and identify its workforce needs.

Understanding the existing industry in terms of its knowledge, tasks, and skill requirements is critical to developing a geospatial curriculum of sufficient breadth and depth to supply not only the quantity but also the quality of workers required for this sector. Education at all levels will be needed—from a foundation in spatial thinking in grades K12 to coursework that supplies both concepts and skills at the college and university level to continuing and in-service education for those in this rapidly changing field.

GIS educators recognized the need to coordinate education activities at least a decade ago. The National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) and the California Geographic Information Association organized the first California GIS Educators' Symposium that brought together educators from the state university system, community colleges, private universities, and public schools. The articles in the Focus section of this issue of ArcUser magazine survey current efforts and future issues regarding development of a comprehensive curricula that addresses all aspects of preparing the geospatial workforce.

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