Gordon Johnston is a Chartered Land Surveyor, a geospatial and hydrographic surveyor with decades of experience in this field. He is a passionate advocate for geospatial and ocean data, conservation, management and sustainable use of oceans and the marine natural capital.
Gordon’s field of work is fascinating, and in this episode he explains what a geospatial and hydrographic surveyor does for a living, how that industry works today and what education and training paths are available to geospatial surveyors. We also talk about the importance of collecting ocean data and how the work of surveyors can impact the conversation on sustainability and climate change.
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Gordon Johnston 0:00
It's like walking across snow the first time you're the first one was snow Quinn's footprints. So there's something a little bit magical about that. And the kid needs to like that idea that I'm doing something that maybe no one else has really done or not very many. So it makes you feel special. And I think that's quite important. And if you've got a job that allows you to feel just occasionally, wow, that's amazing, or that's weird, or whatever, then I think that's really good. And I've always managed to find not every job for sure. But there are jobs that come and go. And occasionally there isn't. iI there was a good job, and you put up with some of the other ones in order for the next one to come along.
Marion Ellis 0:40
Welcome to the Surveyor Hub Podcast, podcast for surveyors who just love what they do. I'm Marian Ellis and in today's episode, I chat with Gordon Johnston, chartered land surveyor who has worked both as a land surveyor and hydrographic surveyor in many places. Yep, he's one of those cool geospatial is, which will clearly come across in his podcast because I find this kind of work so fascinating, but hard to get my head around, that we actually recorded the podcasts. And then we had to do it again, because I forgot to ask him about what he actually did for a living. So with the magic of podcast editing, we have a slightly longer than usual podcast, which I hope you'll enjoy. Hello, Gordon, welcome to the podcast.
Gordon Johnston 1:31
Thank you for inviting me. Nice to be here.
Marion Ellis 1:34
So for people who have no idea who you are Gordon, and I love guests like this. So my favorites, introduce yourself, give us a bit of your career background.
Gordon Johnston 1:43
So okay, just before I do that, though, I totally get the concept of having these conversations. Because two weeks ago, I was down on the south coast at a meeting. And there were some young severes young career people in the room. And the formal event was over, and we went to the pub as you do. And it was really interesting talking to a guy who had just, he's still at university, but he's an internship in a big company. And he had a really bright brain, obviously, and could articulate all the things he was doing, but had pretty much zero experience outside of going to university, which is when you think that you knew at all, of course, and he wasn't like that at all. But he was really nice, but it just You're absolutely right. It reminded me that evening in particular reminded me that I've got this wealth of knowledge that we often don't impart or pass on, other than in small isolated droplets to whoever happens to be with you at the time when something comes up, usually some money crisis in either work or life.
Gordon Johnston 2:44
So yeah, so I'm geospatial surveyor, or land and hydrographic surveyor, depending on how you want to describe that. And it's something that I've really enjoyed doing and still enjoy doing. I don't always consider myself an expert, though, because I don't really do so every night I talk to people about it. But I don't know, I'm not out there actually collecting data and verifying the data in the field, the way that the traditional surveyor might be thought of. So I started wanting, I think, to be an architect, but not as surveyor. That's the point. I think it was an architect, I had a friend a bit older than me went to university, and he was going to be an architect. He didn't become an architect either. But he did lovely drawings of things that I thought, that's interesting. And that doesn't look like real work. And I wanted to sort of not do any real work. I just wanted to enjoy myself. Without any you know, there's no plan often. So I went to went University went to Glasgow, and I wanted to do astronomy. Now, the thing about astronomy in Scotland is was aware that problem that doesn't always benefit you. And here's why. Because a submarine base in Scotland deals with cloud covers, great. So that tend to be off you, I just thought, Oh, well, that might be an opportunity to get to go to Hawaii or the Canadian east and go to a big telescope. Anyway, the long and short of it was I did astronomy, and I did geology, and I did geography, but didn't do that. Well. And this taught me stuff that was too much about the breadth of stars. And geography I found fairly interesting, but a bit of geography that was really quite fascinating was stuff to do with surveying, which I had no idea. I mean, even existed. I mean, I knew about maps just about as you do some school. So the long and short of it was about halfway through year one, I went to my tutor and said, I'm going to do topographic science, and I'm not going to do geography or astronomy, but I got some backup of his seat and sat him back down and said, No, I'm serious. So this is really what I think I want to do. He went okay, that's fine. But you'll need to do computing. You can't do the course unless you've done computing. So I had to add another course on to my degree, which was kind of not what I had thought intended or knew about when I said what I said. So you can tell I had no plan or no real concept of what was involved. I just knew that it was outdoors doing things that I was quite good at doing. agenda. So the topographic science, because a job in north Wales included, and clendenen with Robertson resells the guys that used to put rocks in the ballast that made the bows for ships. And they had a little survey department because I think someone like Shell, we're putting a pipeline across north Wales at the time, and needed some land survey input. However, that was my first job. My first job was to get on a plane and go to Libya. Alone.
Marion Ellis 5:28
Yeah, this is where my mind just starts to get blown. There. It's like, you started off with astronomy. I just moved to Wales, I just got on a plane to Libya. And I think it's really interesting. So as because I just didn't think any of those those things. And it just goes to show how, when I guess the how were nurtured as kids or, you know, what's, what's important to us and the security that we have, that we have that passion, an open mind to be free and explore. And you said you wanted to do something that you enjoy. Whereas I remember thinking, I need to get a career, and I need to be able to earn so I can keep a roof over my head. And yeah, very, very difficult background. But it just sort of highlights that if we give kids the wide view of what is possible, is the the reassurance that you can earn, you can be safe and have a job and things are gonna be okay, that we want to widen the boundaries of, of what's possible. So I find that that fascinating how, you know, you said you were sort of always like to being outside, were you sort of like like that as a kid? Do you? Were you very aware of your built environment? Or did it just all come together? When you were at uni?
Gordon Johnston 6:52
I suppose the answer to that is probably not really as good question. I don't suppose I've ever really thought too much about that. My childhood. In that sense, we had parts of the family had had fields and farms and outdoor spaces and things, which was nice. So I suppose from that point of view, I was exposed to being outside perhaps more than other kids selling out, you know, I wasn't on, you know, I wasn't as a city dweller in an apartment or in a flat and, you know, garden sort of upbringing in a sort of truly urban sort of sense. So yeah, so definitely got exposure. And I think I just thought that was your kind of what you got exposed to when you're in Scotland, you will, there's lots of space, and you can you can get there usually in some form. But it was never my you know, I never never had that sort of concept or your I must do this. And then that leads to the other thing, and there's a plan, there's no structure, there's no plan, it was really just opportunity came along. And you don't even recognize it at the time that it's either a good or a bad opportunity. I mean, I thought it'd be it was probably the worst place to go. I didn't know anything about it. The reason I went to Milan was because the company at the time had a an insurance limit that it could only put four people in a plane together. Case was a disaster. They couldn't afford five people to sort of have a problem. So I got some of these neiger Yeah, exactly. So I was picked as the fifth. For some of these. You've never been before. The others are don't beat people. Oh, yeah. So they obviously do leave a bit more savvy. But the thing was, at the time, Libya was kind of a distinct state, was Colonel Gaddafi in charge. And the Libyan Arab JAMA, the airline, didn't really, in my view, didn't really observe air traffic control instructions went on the ground. So they saw my flight and my words, went to their to the runway and took off. I mean, it didn't, it didn't queue up and wait for the other one. So the plane that I was meant to be behind when we got to Libya was actually behind me. So I got there first, on my movies, people, but no, there was no plan. And there was no, yeah, I don't know. I just think it's opportunities come along. And if it's something that you're interested in, I suppose that its heart overhead, in that sense. You, you follow that you follow your heart or you follow your head. And maybe maybe you were maybe more headstrong and sensible with I was maybe more impetuous in that sense. But that wasn't, that wasn't. Well, yeah.
Marion Ellis 9:14
But what I've seen, and when I talked to people on the other podcast, and I, you know, I'm really interested in the different types of surveyors that are out there. And a lot of the residential surveyors that I speak to, there's always something in their childhood, that they were just became aware of the built environment where they live their community, you know, Uncle Bob was a builder, surveyor in the family somewhere or aware of their built environments, which is interesting from a geo point of view as to how you get involved in the landscape. How old were you when you went to Libya then?
Gordon Johnston 9:47
I went to university a year early, because they didn't want to do the morning reading at school, which you had to stand up in front of the school and VT yo, whether it was John chapter four. Whoever told him what to do that and I found the way to get over that was to pass the exams and get over here. So that's kind of what I did. So obviously, there was maybe some, there was some sort of determination somewhere within me, but I really hated that kind of public exposure for some reason. And so, hence still doing this thing. Yeah, got it. Thanks. So yeah, you come across these hurdles, you have to deal with them in some form. So I chose to get out, go to university. And so I went a year early to university and in Scotland is a four year the honors course is a four year undergraduate course not three years. So I was out and working just briefly for a couple of months before I went to Libya. And it was over Christmas and New Year. So, you know, that was kind of odd as well. Because, you know, you're not necessarily, if you advertise that job and say, It's okay, we'd like you to go somewhere on your own. I mean, it was never sort of advertised as that in that sense. But if you kind of look back to it and say, yeah, what was I doing? What was I thinking? Why did they do that? But I thought it was great. It was quite, it was quite enlightening, I suppose to be in terms of being aware and doing things and working with other people. And then it's like an adventure at that age. Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I mean, you with other people, you did a team. It's not that you do your acts it on your own on your own. But yeah, lots of things happen. And, yeah, it's all good stuff. But the Christmas and the New Year that the funny thing about that was, I think it was Helen Mullins brother was the British Caledonian Country Manager. And so I asked him, if I could get my kilt flown out for new year. And so he arranged for someone in Glasgow to meet my mom, who was at Tescos bag, got my got my kill along and all the bits. And then it was it was fairly though in the, in the, in the bowels of the cockpit or somewhere, and I got my killer just in time for new year. So that sort of thing you could do let you see there was no sense of Is that Is that dangerous. Is that? Is that okay? Do you just yeah, you just call out somebody that you think? Yeah, they can help. And vice versa?Marion Ellis:
You're wearing quilt in that heat? In the beer? Absolutely. Yeah, Scottish man through and through. So tell me a bit about the you know, what you did in Libya? And then what, what then what you did after?Gordon Johnston:
So Libya, was it a land survey project in Benghazi, places about the size of sterling, or maybe rake, some of you, it was not that big a place a couple of 100,000 people at most town, right. So they were building seven ring roads, someone had sold them this planning concept that it needs seven ring roads. And so our job was to survey, essentially, that the infrastructure that wasn't there was going to be put in place. So we had to survey around the city, the potential areas, that would be the ring road. And once we'd survey that, somebody go and dig it up and leave a cable, and then we go to Serbia again. And then someone go and dig out and lay some water, and we go and survey again. And then someone go along and tarmac it because it hadn't been tarmac to that point. And then suddenly go and put some drains in and you're just mad. They're similar as you you're standing there surveying knowing that someone is going to destroy this for them as a good reason, you know, they were going to put something in like some power or cable, for example. So that was good deal to put that in for the for the, you know, the people in the town. ButMarion Ellis:
so so this is the proper tripod stuff.Gordon Johnston:
Oh, yes, this is field lights, and then status and maybe a total station if you were one of the lucky ones to get on this sort of technical end of the of the equipment that day. Because there weren't any battery charging points out there, you you either took a car battery with you that might last a day, or you didn't have a battery, or you didn't last. So you didn't have the technology around me that easy to fire up things. And I remember, not long after that going for an interview for another job. And it was a seismic job. And it was somewhere in Africa. I just imagined that Oh, being jungle. And the guy said to me, no, no, we don't use any bathroom because there's no power and we can't charge him. And so that's kind of a backward step. I don't know that I really want to do that job. So I didn't do that job. Yeah, I missed out in more jobs and I got and so Libya was really a land survey job. And to structure we went out into the desert a couple of times to do kind of star shots and very traditional sort of geodetic control type work fire to satellites, essentially our satellites were there but they you know, people hadn't bought any of the equipment and it was expensive so it was easier to put a team of people in the ground for six months or something ridiculous so that yeah, there's a couple things there and you just learned about the logistics and the practicality of living in small group so long period of time you're away from home you've induction is a bottle of cool and the hottest chili they can give you and then from there on then you know if you've survived that you're basically you Okay, something but you're right it's an adventure and andGordon Johnston:
the whole of surveying is an adventure or should be looked at as an adventure not because it isn't serious and it doesn't have huge impact but because you've got to enjoy it. You've got to you'll make your own war stories me You wouldn't experiences count and be of some value, if not yourself, at least to some other people as well. So yeah, so that it wasn't that long a stint, I did a couple of stints in Libya. And then I came back. And then I went and joined deca, because it was. So that's the offshore electronics company used to be televisions and records. So DECCA was a big name. At the time, I can't remember who they stood for, someone once knew what DECCA stood for, because it did actually mean something. But that so that that was another land survey job, because an offshore survey company, they wanted to put in control for things like seismic so looking for oil and gas, or looking for minerals, to dredge offshore, or the shingle of all the sound that you use it quite often is brought on onshore from offshore. That was quite interesting. So people asking you to be a land surveyor, when you're in a company that it's not a land surveying company. And I found that they didn't really didn't really have a concept of the sorts of things that I did. So there, you may have already was some sort of separation of knowledge and experience and understanding those people, I guess it'd be the the Navy, the new hydrographic survey sort of back and forward, I didn't really know very much about it. And you do it on the course sort of thing, but I wasn't a practicing surveyor in that sense, it isn't really the wide, it's from Atlanta, we put a few that didn't really need it from a hydrographic point of view. So there, you as a as a residential surveyor, you're probably looking at geomatics, or geospatial and thinking, well, that's that group of guys, the old new, you know, the old know what each other's do. Now, we already don't know who our partners are doing and things like that. And I think that's one of that's a challenge for serving just generally, is to get the some of the common articles across and some of the common concepts, I think,Marion Ellis:
And I think that a lot that will resonate with a lot of surveyors, whatever feel that they're in that sometimes surveyors can be the only surveyor in an organization, you know, or a department. And no one knows what they do. And it's hard to explain, or even, you know, put into context, how we can help each other, you know, and so it sounds like it's the sort of breaking down barriers working together as a team. And that's why I guess we're all the skills, you know, soft skills, if you like, come in.Gordon Johnston:
I think that's right, I think I mean, what I found interesting, sort of moving forward slightly was, you do a bunch of work in the field, and you come back and you realize that there's some people in the office who don't even they don't really know, kind of what you're doing or why you're doing it, or why it was easy or difficult, or why it went wrong, inverted commas. And so you explain it to them. And you can see here he has no, nobody really explained it to them before. Okay, why is that? Why is nobody to I used to talk to sales guys quite a lot who are kind of pariahs a lot of the time, because he goes, Oh, my God, what we sold us now, you know, we have to do this for how much wage for how long? You know, it was all like, you know, everything was fatally wrong with it.Marion Ellis:
Oh, we get that in residential surveying. So yeah, I thinkGordon Johnston:
I think it's a universal sort of approach, you know, if they can make it cheaper to you, but yeah, it's all about making money, I suppose in that sense. And there's a discussion there between commercial and professional probably. But what I found was, if I could get in and talk to the commercial store salespeople early enough, there was half a chance that they might listen to something I said, and there was a better chance that we might avoid the bowling that I've just had to work on, extend learned, wasn't always that simple. I'm sure wasn't alone in trying to do that. But I felt that that was the way to influence them. And then of course, what happened was, they would start to ask you questions after a while, because the year they had someone that you could actually get an answer out of. And I found that it was quite, it was quite useful, because it helped me find out what the hell was happening. And I wanted to know that because I wasn't in control of any of this, I was simply a field surveyor who was about to be sent offshore somewhere. And occasionally, I would be asked, you know, are you okay, going and doing this, but most of the time, it was, okay, we have a job, could you get to such and such a place? Or get on a train tomorrow morning, or whatever, so you're kind of on duty on call. And it was, it was not always great, you know, what's the times you actually want to do something today or tomorrow, and you're gonna go, No, I can't do that I'm gonna have to go to work. So that whole disruption in my life, I felt one way to influence that was to influence what we were selling as jobs. This is the grand scheme for the analyzer. Now, I didn't have this plan at the time. But I think unwittingly, I was trying to influence my own sort of Jeopardy and what jobs I was doing by ensuring that the salespeople had sold nice jobs rather than bad jobs. And if I knew that was a nice job versus a bad job, or you're, I suppose I was hoping that I could influence the operations teams that I'm suitable for the nice job and the end the bad job, my freeze could go to someone else. Again, it's part of an adventure to not know what you're doing next to there's some excitement in that of course, at some people get pigeonholed, so they sort of know the type of jobs are going to get it's not really an adventure in that sense. It's not an unknown adventure at leastGordon Johnston:
For me as a surveyor, I found I was doing quite diverse service support tasks with teams of engineers geoscientists, etc. So I maybe had it more varied because I was willing to do that. There's some types of jobs like positioning a drilling rig is notoriously a not a great sort of profile as a work experience. I mean, don't get me wrong, I mean, going and doing it is this find it satisfying. But the work life balance, as you see for for joblot is you don't really know what's about to happen until someone fills you up. It's short notice, because you can get to a point of departure quite quickly. So even in the UK, if it's you know, East Anglia, or Aberdeen, neither of them are very far away. So within a couple of hours, you can essentially be offshore. And then typically what happens is when the drilling rig is moving is in need you really, really quickly to tell it that it's departing the right place. So all your systems have to be up and running, that you take with you and you mobilize, you'll get the switch anything on, there's nothing they open you before you get there, you have to take your own service system, set up fish on before anything else happens. That's okay. But if we're talking now, eight o'clock on Saturday morning, and someone this evening gets a call, and by this time tomorrow morning, they are off Sure, they wouldn't have done much other than worked all through the night to get that system working so that tomorrow morning, it will be operational, because that's when the rigs going to move in the rig cost so much that you will they would wait or they can't wait. And basically you don't have to do anything until you arrive at new location. So that's great, you can go and sleep for who it's four hours away, oh, it's four days away, oh, it's three weeks away. So you don't necessarily know that until you go offshore well. So that's also quite disruptive. Because let's see, it's just a few days away. So you get a couple of days rest on a personal note, for actually, you having to be sure everything is working all the way through. Because when it comes to that needs to be working. And when you get there, if the weather's not good, then you have another sort of element that disrupts the calendar as it were. And the minute you are in place, they want you off, and then you're traveling home is quite intense at the start. And at the beginning and there's a bit in the in the middle that potentially you don't have to do anything. But that doesn't mean to say that you can really relax. So from a work point of view, you're busy, so you're not really thinking about it. But it can be quite real, really tiring. And over the periods of time that were a few companies that would start to recognize that this is actually dangerous, either for the whole, the whole offshore enterprise, the reg etc. But more personally for the individuals who might might fly home and then drive home,Marion Ellis:
oh, there's a couple of things. Firstly, it's that mental preparation to get ready to do a job and that mental load can be exhausting. Even if you're not ready to actually do the work, I'm really interested in failure, and why people make mistakes. And when I work with surveyors and their businesses, I talk about well being wellbeing sounds a bit fluffy, though, like, I'm gonna tell you to go and do yoga and drink green tea. But if you're not physically and mentally prepared to do a job, then that's when mistakes happen. Not so much because of your lack of technical knowledge. But you know, tiredness is like being drunk, you know, and it affects our decision making and our confidence. And we don't trust our gut instincts as much as we we do, or you know, which we should do. So I'm really, really interested in that. But as you were just talking about what it's like to have that kind of work, the only thing I can relate it to, I guess is people who work in the forces, you know, who might be at home, whether they're called up to go and fight a war or to rescue someone or whatever. And actually, as we and I'll put a link in the show notes, because there's a small group of ex veterans, who are a little LinkedIn group that are raising awareness, because it's a great story. There's a lot of transferable skills that come over from people who can work in that way, have the technical knowledge, and then come over into surveying. So it's quite, quite interesting. I'll put a link in the show notes to, to that. You talked about, you know, we talked about sort of being the only person the only surveyor if you like in these in these situations. From the outside looking in, there seems to be quite a community of geospatial is of people who work in this environment, and they're not all RICS there's lots of different organizations because it's it's global, was that community like?Gordon Johnston:
So we all band together at certain points, totally, because we all feel that we're discriminated in some form. People don't understand this, fix cetera, et cetera. Feels like that. Yeah, no, that's right. That's right. And, and certainly the sales people, as I mentioned earlier, I think, you know, the community is quite strong, partly because of some of those work environments where it is quite intense. You are sort of exposed to, you know, a number of the pressures and so one way to sort of Veterans that is to find someone that understands what you do, and you'll show to them and then they can show back. And so you know, some of the geomatics, geospatial hydrographic societies and in groups are really quite, quite strong in that sense that they do lead. They have a collective understanding of what these things are like, and it is too hard to describe someone you know, to go off Sure, there was a was a television sort of short series back or I don't know, 20 years ago or something. And it's actually quite good about this kind of Jacqueline Hyde environment where you're at home, and everything's normal. But when you offshore, it changes. And it's even changed since then, because it's more inclusive, and it's more diverse now than it was suddenly was then but, but there's still the sense that you know, you're away from home, not everything that you necessarily need or want is there so that you have the pleasure builds on uncertain elements. And I think that the community gets strengthened by that. And then we have all these daft stories about, you know, jobs with Beto and or things have happened to us and, you know, people that are still here, and you sometimes wonder, why are they still here, that's just mad that they've survived all of this. And so these stories are quite the quite interesting. And once you've when you put your young, I suppose, and still open to all this sort of soaking up the knowledge and experience and listening to other people's experiences. These are quite exciting experiences. And you kind of think, yeah, I'll have some of those stories sometimes myself. And we're not that many. So in a way, it doesn't take long before somebody knows of you, or has heard of you, or knows the company that you work for knows a job that you did. So it's a bit like LinkedIn, in its own sense, and as much that that community exists, and you treat it and you you bond with the people that you can relate to, don't you? SoMarion Ellis:
Is there a online platform? Is there a LinkedIn, you know?Gordon Johnston:
What, I think it's, I think it's probably all of the above. And you're probably asking the wrong end of the demographic here. As to where we're always takes place, the best stuff is done face to face. So you know, what, here's the power Baba is, you know, and one of the meeting rooms when they have a meeting. And, you know, it's maybe not the right thing these days, but you know, generally the pub has been a central component to it, which doesn't always translate to other groups in society or in other parts of the world, we are, you know, that's, that's just something that isn't going to happen. But as an example, you know, if we said that there's maybe four or 500, hydrographic, surveyors sort of globally, that are active on a sort of day to day basis, it might be twice that but you know, any one day is probably about that, you could have a society meeting, and you'll have 50 to 100 of them turn up, because they're living, to find out where the other ones are and what they've been doing. And it's partly that lack of communication. And I think it's changed, I think today's digital connected world breaks down some of those barriers for good reason. But it also means some of the reasons why you do say another things don't need to exist. So I think some of those society institutions are probably under pressure. Because what they used to represent, it's harder to differentiate that now to let you say, LinkedIn, or Facebook or WhatsApp, my experience was the face to face stuff was really where you got all the worst stories, you met people in a work environment, you'd never get to talk to them, you know, there has to be levels up until you're long and important people, but you could have a beer with them, or have an orange juice with a society meeting and find the ice there. They're actually normal people. Wow, who knew? We all thought they were weird. So that, you know, and that's, you know, that acute mean, so I think that, that people are people going that sort of community.Marion Ellis:
It's interesting, because, you know, this sort of generational span, you know, at the start you were talking about at the start, you're talking about effectively old school skills, you know, and I resonate with that, you know, at the moment, you know, resi surveys, use the laser disc dos to measure things. I'm, I was very old school with a tape measure. And it's something a bit more tactile for me, you know, I think, from what you've sort of described, I can see how, you know, if you haven't got the battery and haven't got the tech, you need to go back to the pen and paper and the the old school ways of doing things. And so we've got this interesting dynamic, I think, at the moment of people like you and I, who have learned how to do it the hard way, perhaps, or the, the, the, you know, without the tech, and we've got younger generation who have got all the ways tech can use satellites and lasers and things like that. But there's got to be a meeting in the middle hasn't there and breaking down those barriers and an understanding, but no judgments of I know surveyors who still use you know, pen and paper to do their surveys and that works for them and they do a good job, whereas others will do it all on an iPad and take pictures and and it's done. So I think we've got to respect the different ends of The spectrum and know that we can add value for both the battery goes, you can show someone how to do it old school, whereas you've got to learn, you can learn a lot from the whole satellite tech and those things. So it's really, you know, we're talking about sort of being diverse. And I'll ask you about that in a second. But we've got a diverse range of skills in there that we need to nurture. So it's a small community. And you mentioned going to the point of which not everyone can do, what's it like in terms of diversity, range of skills, different people, you know, what's that, like in the, in your area?Gordon Johnston:
It's not great by today's standards. I think it's probably true to say, it's, it's probably terrible. I actually still think, so if I, if I, go back to kind of where I was started going offshore, then I was the normal profile of a person, white male, Caucasian was basically what was happening. And I can remember, it wasn't a talking point. But I remember when I I first met someone who wasn't white, male, Caucasian, offshore, and I thought, wow, other people come here as well. Kind of an odd thing to think. But and why would why would you have those people, but sadly, you, I think the historical sort of reasoning is, in my mind that the large amount and I guess I'm I'm focusing more on oil and gas, because that was one of the bigger entities at the time, the bigger sort of communities of work in a sector, mastered a lot by American companies in America had a feel, as we kind of know, had quite strong views as to who was to do things or not to do things. So thing that really so created that environment start with, it got better over a period of time. So essentially, what happened was, we would see some male and some females offshore for one way or the other terms. What that meant, that was the living arrangements had to change. And so if a company relied on having eight people in the room, they couldn't do that anymore, because they couldn't find a blog, say, girls to do that. They maybe had one girl who was maybe a geologist or a geophysicist on the survey. So that's one of the most qualified people in the vessel would have been a challenge for some vessels, because they just weren't set up properly that is in Norway pioneered, I mean, it's terrible. But you know, they pioneers, single bath cabins, because the Norwegians are quite good at that sort of thing. You know, they, they're more socially aware, they're thick than lots of other countries. So you would start to see a more diverse group of Sure. And that was good, that was nice. And you're still not there yet. And I'm absolutely certain just those the roles that are required and the lifestyle that's expected. And to some extent, the community that surrounds that as well, of all really, they're not easy, if you're from the outside to necessarily sort of be involved in be integrated quite the same way. So that's possibly an extra challenge that some might have to see how to deal with her. And I think there are obviously some companies that are more flexible, that have more ability to change and manipulate sort of the makeup of some of the groups that might go offshore. And I think there are one or two others that are probably, I wouldn't say that necessarily hide behind, Oh, that's too difficult, we can't do it, we can't find a bed for you, or we're going to the Middle East. And there are some cultures who aren't going to accept somebody in charge from a different sort of origin, as it were, I think some of those reasons that did exist and are legitimate, do get used out of context, simply to kind of make life easier. But even before any of that stars, just the people on the course going through university or going to college or doing the apprenticeships, they're massively kind of blokes doing stuff. And then there's a few others that are, you know, sort of around that. And I think that the demographic is not great offshore, but it also is representative a little bit of what, what's the starting pool of people available. And we need to work harder on that. Because it is it's short sighted to think that you're a diverse group of people, and experiences and cultures can contribute. And once you go overseas, I mean, properly overseas, you if you go to parts of Africa, when I first went, there was probably lots of expat people doing things, not know, it's locals. And it's other companies that have been organized and doing heavy work, good Safaris. There's lots of local companies and things. So the culture has changed in that sense. So I don't think my experiences are I kind of hope know that it's actually quite hard to sort of replicate some of my experiences. But that doesn't make it easier because I just don't think we have enough of the general demographic getting into what we generally call surveying or something around that.Marion Ellis:
I guess it's that commitment to inclusion at all levels and, and on a practical,Gordon Johnston:
it's probably that but if you said to some people, we need you to go tomorrow. Well, tomorrow is my birthday. Tough. Okay, well, for some people that won't work, you know, you work in the building, you can have a room with a prayer mat, and you can dedicate some time for people that want to follow their bliss. But you know, you're about to land your 15 billion tons worth of steel somewhere, some people get quite nervous if they think that it may all have to stop. And some of that's legitimate and can be argued for but there's kind of extreme examples being used to sort of avoid the problem in the bigger sense. Yeah. And so I kind of hope that you're right, that, you know, what might have been a challenge can actually be addressed or an inclusion can be sort of incorporated much more openly. I think most people are attempting to do that. I think the the the other element that comes up then isGordon Johnston:
how do operations managers and HR knots much easier, but operations managers and the training, and mentoring, how do they develop the survey teams so that it actually works and those diverse cultures and different groups of people actually work well together? Because I think there's nothing right or wrong. But you know, if you if you if you think of like a bunch of people like me, or going in a job together, you kind of assume that yeah, okay, we all go to the pub, we'll play five aside football. ROBLOX, you'll, it's kind of very cliched, but, you know, you kind of imagine that we will all get on until we get drunk and then fight, or something, especially your Scottish. But if you've got a truly diverse group of six or seven people, what is it that binds them together, that makes them that makes that team stronger as a team, then the balance of the individuals. And if you haven't got common ground and common cultural beliefs, that makes it quite difficult. And some people adapt, and other people, it's less easy for them to adapt. And there's no such thing as a man thing and reserve onus of responsibility, on management for one of the better teams together to ensure that it's not something that doesn't work or causes stress or conflict. But it can be quite important, because you know, some of these some of these jobs in some areas of the world, it is quite critical that you get things right, not just from a commercial when or pesticides fashion. But you know, there are consequences of things go wrong, sometimes that are not necessarily very good. So you have some big things to make sure that you're also covering. And once you get into some of these topics, I thinkMarion Ellis:
This is, again, something that can apply to them across the whole of surveying in that we're trying to do a technical job, but it's then how you apply that skills and that knowledge. And as you go through your university courses, your graduate schemes, you know, and get started, you know, we took I mentioned soft skills earlier on, then there's nothing soft about those skills, they're really hard. But it's putting that emphasis on Yeah, that there's a lot of research on having a diverse team, and the thinking and you know, the great ideas that can come out of that, well, you've got to learn to be part of a diverse team, you've got to learn to manage the diversity. And you've got to learn to bring a diverse team together, so you can get to the goal and where you want to be. Can I ask you about, you know, work for yourself? You know, how did you sort of go from going all over the world being employees being told what to do to then thinking? No, right? I'm going to do this myself.Gordon Johnston:
So I got quite senior in an international sort of organization, doing survey work, and it got purchased by our competition. And they didn't need most office. So that was a lesson. I suppose. If I that was a lesson throughout my life was that each company seemed to work for a seem to be purchased or, or get changed massively badly. The circumstances were not ideal at all for many people on an individual and personal basis. But essentially, I'd had enough of corporate hospitality, corporate infrastructure, politics and people working in a different direction to what II I thought we were a B was actually correct, and what the institution or the organization representative why it's also represented. So I sort of had enough of that, and I thought, you know, so that I couldn't see any other group or company wanting to employ me. So I thought, well, I'll just do something on my own and tell people what it's on to. So we needed to do and was fortunate that I found some work quite early on. So I just kept at it really, and I'm still here. So I did about what I did about 22 years in corporate structures, working as a surveyor in some form or survey management in mottley. And I've probably done nearly the same though in running my own company or being self employed. I found it quite different actually. The I was a member moving from onshore on in To the office and managing, helping to manage various surveys. And the big changes then was instead of being focused on one particular project, doing it from cradle to grave getting things like getting the data make everybody happy. You were suddenly in an office and there were 10 jobs on and you were spinning nine plates and the other, you know, the plate couldn't spin, there was something that you need to really fix, but you can let the other stuff go. And that was a change of dynamics. And reset, for me, has was moving over corporate sort of controlled environment, which was really quite secure in many respects. You know, you have your salary, you have a pension, there's an organization, there's an HR department, you know, there's, there's people you can talk to, and then okay, this is this is me, oh, I need a foreign company, foreign isn't mine anymore, I need to go and get out. I need to get my phone. I need to keep the number because the only people I want to talk to the people that have got my old number. Just little things like that, that you sort of say, Oh, I know, I'm gonna have to deal with all that now. All that. Now stuff isn't really what you thought you were doing.Marion Ellis:
Yeah, it's a change from doing the technical job of being supported to then being surveying business owner, and what that involves and the practicalities and the and the responsibilities. So here's the thing, Gordon, I'd love to know more about geospatial and all that jazz, but otherwise the valuer and so I haven't even prepared any questions other than Please, can you explain Idiot's Guide? Or it's all about? Because I think there's lots of us, surveyors who do, you know, with very different work in very different markets, and yet, we all come under this banner of surveyors. And even, you know, even globally, a surveyor of all countries very, very different to to another. You know, so I'm always interested in what other people do. But I have no idea what it's all about, other than feeling really intimidated, because people who do the do stuff, to me seem really cool. And I don't know if that's true or not. But perhaps you can enlighten me. So, you know, where do we start to understand this whole world,Gordon Johnston:
So I think geospatial we probably want to pull it back a wee bit and start somewhere in the past, not in any specific period or time slot. But essentially, there was a need to understand what people had in terms of assets. So those were the rulers and the Emperor's, and the original sort of bureaucrats. And the required people to a bit like a quantity surveyor, perhaps, to assemble the assets. And part of that was the land. And so there was a measurement requirements of the land and the end of the land that they controlled, or the weekend. And from those very early beginnings, we started to see maps and mapping that introduced the documentation that supported that. So wind on a few of millennia, basically. And we were in a civilized society, hopefully. But it generally requires some sort of location and some sort of context to many of our activities that take place. And so maybe just last century, we were looking at countries and nations and regions and counties, even requiring maps to help them understand what again, what assets they had, how they got from place to place. This sort of start of infrastructure was something that was planned out on maps and charts and plans. So really, the land surveyor, which is the older term, that has become geospatial surveying, if you like, that land surveyor was somebody who was tasked to help construct either a building or a road or a canal. So elec sort of construction related to tasks required some form of mapping or some form of plan. And so they worked quite closely with the architects typically. But more than more, they had their own identity in developing usually quite well, money, people might want a plan of various states and therefore severe would be called upon. And that developed over a period of time, usually sort of 17th 18th century you saw maps developed for the various counties and for various people, tasks. And that land surveying task has really been something that the English used to some extent when they were in Scotland, because they wanted to control Scotland in the sort of 17th and 18th century. So maps were an advantage there. So there was a military component to all of this. And even way back in the early days, some of the, the Ordnance Survey by name ordinance being a military town. So the maps had several functions, both the civil function and the military have a defense function. And it really has grown, what we might know considered to be the geospatial industry, we use positioning and mapping as it was to get from A to B, you know, plan our route, you know, we're going to drive somewhere on holiday. It would be instinct to find out what the would be. It's much easier now of course with location devices, but the underlying Mapping, the underlying measurements were all basically carried out by land surveyors typically. So there's lots of instances and the thing that got me into was looking at things like Swiss mapping of the Alps, because I couldn't figure out how we could possibly survey those peaks these mountains, and then generate something on a piece of paper that gave you some impression of what it looked like. And so that sort of intrigued me. But generally, the land surveyor would support boundaries, demarcation of boundaries, you know, if you wanted to install electricity in a town or in a region, the route to the electric cabling you take that would be something that a severe would would be supportive of the actual map that they would then create would be a very context specific one, one for the electricity company about, here's where you put your poles or your pylons. And he has a route that seems to make sense, talking to an engineer and an engineer, we go in decide if that was appropriate or not. Alongside that, though, the severe was also referencing the actual topographic map, the land survey map of the habitat, the mountains, the rocks, the features, the rivers. And those are some of the maps that were probably more familiar with. If we think of an Ordnance Survey map, it's got the general layout of the land and the ground. So if you're standing on the top of a hill, you've got half a chance of knowing exactly what peak you're looking at, by looking at the Ordnance Survey map and all the integrating it the right way. So all those maps were, to me the foundation of much of the Industrial Revolution, the development of the sort of Western society use maps and coordinates and those reference frames in order to base their decisions and the plans and their developments on. And I suppose you could also look at things like your empire as it was in the Victorian either the number of places that were basically colonized and hot and the fruit of hot behind whoever was colonizing in terms of a regiment, or a period Garrison together, would be some survey company or survey group, who would then map out those lands in those areas, not always, to the best endeavors at the time. But no, it was over a period of time. Was that the best idea? Yeah, these arbitrary lines between certain countries. And you sort of tend to wonder why they were and often it was a relatively possibly looking back at a slightly naive approach to well, we'll just put a line across here. And that's using this as our sort of thing. Yeah, that's,Marion Ellis:
That's really thanks for that. And that's really interesting. What comes to mind for me a couple of many years ago now, actually, it was quite funny, I organized a Woman in Surveying get together at the coal authority Museum in Mansfield. And it was quite funny because there was two women and more men came because they were interested in going to the museum. But that aside at that museum, and I'll put a link in the show notes, they've got all the original paddleboard maps, Oh, yes. You know, the first maps that were, you know, they're made out of material, and then in this, you know, special container with the right temperature and all of that stuff. And it was really fascinating to see how they were first drawn up guesswork to too many degrees in terms of putting things together. And, it's absolutely fascinating to see how it was such a big leap. Now, if you think about all the technology that we've got, what it was like back then, you know, I think you might my kids now, you know, they can use the phone and getting them to use a dial up phone or have no phone, you know, is is huge. But yeah, I don't even think it's such a big leap, isn't it to get if we, if everything stopped, how would we get back to get back to the basics? Yeah, but it's quite fascinating when you see these old maps.Gordon Johnston:
And I think a lot of the skills that actually went into creating these maps have been lost from the measurement process all the way through, if we think of in my either, starting with theodolite levels, total stations, taking angles and measurements and reducing these down, and then plotting them by hand giving them to the my senior person who would then decide whether it was robbery or not, that process is now automated, there's a scan, or there's an automatic tool station, or there's remote sensing, there's theodolite, there's satellites, which will give you very high resolution information very, very quickly. So rather than me going to a park and picking off each tree and symbolizing that on my survey notebook, you're going to get that within seconds for some aerial photography or from satellite imagery. So absolutely right. The technology has moved masses of things along primarily in the data collection and the volumes of data. And I think the availability of that data to the wider public is now suddenly something that has never really been there before. So the idea that if you do have a satellite and you do have imagery, that imagery is going to be available to the public almost immediately. And that's a great resource for many people. But it's also a bit of a conundrum from the severes point of view, because you sometimes don't know who your user is, your client, if you like, was very established when you were the severe go out measure of this field, because that might be a road bypass over a building development. Now, that satellite imagery that's used by the same people to look at the road or the or the building development, but the severe though feels a bit marginalized. Where's my role in that? How do I provide value? How do I allow that to be trusted data, and allow people to make informed decisions. So the day to day job has changed from quite slow land survey techniques to much, much faster data collection, some of it automated, maybe there's a future where everybody's got some form of semi automatic car that is scanning things all the time. And if you harvest that data, you're going to get a lot of information that you would otherwise be sending a survey team out to collect. So you can see how there are some trends and technology that will impact on us for sure. Just as an aside then on the hydrographic side, on the offshore and the ocean side, there wasn't really a lot of technology at all; it was it was lead line, which was basically a way of putting a weight down until it hit the bottom. And you would just shout out the number and then that got recorded. So it's very slow, not very well controlled release, although there was a lot of art to it, and a sextant, which was really for navigation, but then got used for for surveying in the smaller areas. And that technology has only slowly been replaced over the last 4050 years by echo sounders and acoustics multibeam echo sounders are the great thing at the moment because they give you large swaths of data. And then if you couple that with GPS, or GNSS, which gives you essentially an instantaneous position anywhere on Earth to within a kilometer or two anyway, you're suddenly into a digital world where you can collect lots and lots of data, and supply that to users. And now, in this century, the users are maybe those 15 or 20, different stakeholders who would be interested in data from the oceans and the seas were those 100 years ago, it was the Navy, and maybe some maritime users as well as very narrow. And that's why we don't, there are large chunks of oceans that are not well known at all. I mean, we all kind of sadly knew about mh 370, and the loss of the aircraft west of Australia, those areas were just unexplored by any modern technologies or modern means. The first company that went to look in that search site didn't have the technology to go as deep as the water actually was. So they had to sort of abandon their attempt and go away. Again, there's an area in the South Atlantic Southern Ocean, about the size of France, which has got no data in it, no modern data. So if you think about managing our assets and our natural capital, and looking at the Earth, in that sense, in the bigger picture sense, there's large chunks, where we don't really do what we've got, and what should be preserved. And it's staggering. Yeah,Marion Ellis:
This is what I find fascinating, and quite a leap for my brain to get to, because you start off with being curious about a map and a local area. And, you know, you expand out, and, you know, you we think about, oh, how do you map the Swiss Alps. And, you know, you keep building it, and this is, I guess, where, for a lot of people, I you know, I, I come back to my childhood in Wales, and I thought I'd never leave my little village in Wales. It's such a big gap between that, and exploring oceans and seas that have just never been looked at before that, and it just makes me realize how big the world is. And we feel very connected and everything, you know, with the news and technology and internet and everything, and yet, it's so big and so wide, and it's quite hard concept, I think, and hope I'm not alone, in thinking, bad concept for people to bring it into reality, you know,Gordon Johnston:
and that's why I say one of the challenges is to sort of raise the awareness in people's consciousness that there are things to be done that are important, you know, nowadays, we sort of know that the ocean accounted for every second breath that we take, it's coming from the ocean, it's not coming from other sources. So the oceans are actually quite important to maintain for sustainability for an enduring sort of lifecycle. And we've often just seen them as a as a big open canvas just you're paddling on the beach and we go there, there's not much there. There may be the odd little ship or boat but really, it's just a huge piece of water and it doesn't really matter if you you know, if some detritus of some form your, your sandwich, trust goes in the water, whatever, It'll all get consumed or go away. Sadly, that's not always the case. And more and more we hear instances of something happens in one area and that affects another area because So the ocean is interconnecting us all. But it is big. And it's it's fairly resilient. But we just don't know enough about it, I don't think and, and that's the common theme, if you think from me surveying a castle in north Wales, which is one of my first jobs, which is the right pane, because it's good news, three walls that can tell you to, you know, mapping areas of sea bones and Atlantic or whatever, it's about exploring, it's about finding out things that maybe other people don't have. So it's not my first priority. But it's, it's a nice thing that you get along with the other things that you get, it's like walking across snow, the first time you were the first one was snow Cohen's footprints. But you know that there's something a little bit magical about that. And the kid needs to like that idea that I'm doing something that maybe no one else has really done or not very many. So it makes you feel special. And I think that's, that's quite important. And if you've got a job that allows you to feel just occasionally, wow, that's, that's amazing. That's weird. But whatever, then I think that's really good. And I've always managed to find, not every job for sure. But there are jobs that come and go. And occasionally there isn't if there is a good job, and you put up with some of the other ones in order for the next one to come along.Marion Ellis:
So this is why I think people who work in geo and hydro are rock stars, because you're, you've just, you've just summed up that sort of adventurous spirit, being able to go out and do all of these things. It's, you talked about data, and data is where the money is at, the more you collect that. And it can be used for lots of different purposes. It sounds like quite an expensive industry or profession business, however, people like to term it to get into because surely all of this fancy gadget tree you've got is really expensive. Do people sit up and work by themselves? Or do you tend to work for the big firms? Or how what does it all? So who the key players? How does it all work?Gordon Johnston:
Okay? That's a really good question. So it is expensive, so that the capital outlay and the startup is not, it's not cheap. And it's quite competitive once you're there as well. So don't go into lightly. So I would say that there are several layers of companies. So the companies that want the information, and we can think of maybe energy companies like the shale, and BPS from the hydrocarbon either, also known as renewable companies. We have submarine telecoms, and cabling that goes all around the world to keep our internet happy. And we've got maritime transportation, they're probably the main users of data. But that's very context. That's like looking at your roadmap and not knowing where the hills are, because all you need to know is how to get to leads from your Bradford might not be very far, but you just want to know that road is there. And you're not too sure about the mountains either side of it. And so we believe that in the ocean circles and serving at sea, the BPS and shells want information specifically for their infrastructure project related to energy has to renewables and as do the telecom cables, so they're looking for quite specific types of data, small areas, high density, high resolution datasets, if you're in the maritime transportation business, you're more interested in hazards and safety at sea. So you possibly want a more generalized area surveyed, and maybe not to the highest degree, but you just want to know that you've got say, on the hazards, or you don't have any hazards. So that's sort of a validation process. And that's always been quite high. So the company that might think, Oh, we do survey on land, we've got some scanners, it can't be that difficult, we'll stick them on the board and off we go. Acoustics and data does does extra processing involved, you know, the distortion and the signalling needs to be rectified, the motion of the vessels need to be rectified. And it does pay I mean, do the suddenly, you know, to get a land survey of an acre doesn't necessarily cost a huge amount, depending on which technology and what the resolution is. Likewise offshore, you can make a stab at it. But if you really want a similar resolution to that on unsure, if you're thinking of a land surveyor, that sort of scale is going to be quite expensive, if not very expensive, and the tools are available, but there's quite a lot of processing and training to get to that point. So that doesn't stop lots of people trying to do it. But they tend to have economies of scale, or they tend to be doing other things as well. So back when I kind of first got involved, there were companies in the UK that had ships, and they had surveyors. And they had teams and they went off and they did survey work. Most of those companies have gone, gone by the wayside. A few have been purchased and mergers and acquisitions, but most of them have withered essentially, because a ship is very expensive unless you're utilizing all the time. And if you haven't got a survey next week, you still got a ship and all the crew that go with that. And so you know that that's not an easy model to do. To convince people that works, and your oil company as an example, they don't need a survey every day. In fact, they don't really want a survey at all this will build infrastructure and sell oil or gas, but they need a survey in order to comply with the regulations in order to comply with engineering requirements. So you in that sort of marketplace, but that's not to say that they're always looking for teams, it's a team event, you're they need people with a variety of skills, the ships are expensive. So it's a 24 hour operation often. So you need two sets of people, at least if not three sets of people. And the camera that is a that you get is can be quite good as well, I mean, should be the job goes well, if it goes badly. It's not so easy for small companies might get involved in the coastal ports and harbors and the certainly in UK, those are probably we can probably find some links to half a dozen small companies quite quickly. Bigger companies are usually based either Aberdeen or the south coast, because we're looking at more international AI on the marketplaces. SoMarion Ellis:
How does it work? So these firms, do they identify an area that people are interested, they go and survey and then sell the data? Or do they specifically go out? When a client asks for data? And you're nodding your head? So yeah, so you only go out when someone pays you? Or how strategic?Gordon Johnston:
So the survey itself is not of a great deal of interest. And it's got to sell by date because of regulations. So typically, if it's more than six months old, who are problems using the data because it's no longer up to date? What regulations would they be? There are various the management organization typeMarion Ellis:
question now, isn't it? Yes, relations.Gordon Johnston:
So the laws and regulations have been in coastguard agency the concessions by either the crony state or by the marine management organisation in the UK. They are the sorts of organizations that will have specifications and requirements and associates that are some regulations that they basically impose. I mean, it's not all regulations, but essentially, there was a sell by date. And people often think, well, there's nothing happening offshore. But in fact, the southern North Sea from about the Humberside South is a dynamic area. And although there were a few windmills going up for the energy of the Humber and down off the Norfolk coast, a very selected sites with the not expecting the dynamics of the seabed to move and then allow the monopiles all fall over. But the seismic data, so that's data underneath the ground, so geological data, there have been in the past periods when countries announced that they were planning to allow concessions to explore and there will be some survey companies, really seismic companies rather than pure survey companies, they would speculate by going and collecting data and then attempting to sell that, that they were usually sponsored by the nations or the the the organizations that were in control of the concession areasMarion Ellis:
is the data in one data banks away you know, if I think on the residential side, we've got a, you know, a Rightmove and Zoopla and land registry, you know, you don't want to be reinventing the wheel, is it? Is there a go to starting point for people?Gordon Johnston:
That's also a really good question. There's a lot of catch up going on in the ocean space. There's a new a European initiative called Emod Net was essentially a prime mover in bringing organizations, primarily countries but others together to share data and to put onto a unified platform. But outside of that you're looking at Coastal Observatory, which are county council led organizations around our coasts, they have datasets for monitoring the costs of a bit closer to home. And of course, you have the UK Hydrographic Office who have a certain amount of data on site. So if you are, if you are interested, you will be able to find some information. And certainly things like Rex and some of the more common types of interest items, you can find these in some of those websites. Other organizations like oil and gas companies and telecoms companies, they don't like to share too much information about where their assets are, because they're always worried that someone they don't like will come along and want to do them harm as we could all imagine.Marion Ellis:
And it's a bit like you know, buying land here, you know, they have options, no supermarkets, do it have options on land to prevent someone else doing something in case they get a commercial advantage and, and whatnot. fascinate Yeah, IGordon Johnston:
don't I don't think it's as sophisticated as that there's quite a lot of money goes into certain renewables an area will be announced as being available to become a wind farm and then companies will then bid their, their solution to your How do I how do we generate electricity from this area? And those those types of bids will involve some survey work. But then the next stage Even if you're successful with with your concept, the next stage will you will have to do a complete survey of all the data is then brought together. And then that's presented to the authorities so that you can convince them that you've done your, you know, understand what's here, because you're essentially you're bidding in an area that you don't know anything about, before you collect the data. And that's quite an expensive exercise. And there's a couple of examples where wind farms were planned. But because they did the survey, and they discovered what they discovered, they've cancelled it and said, Well, we're not going to do that. No, because they realized the conditions are not going to work for them. So good for the survey company. But in the bigger picture, maybe not so efficient.Marion Ellis:
So high, high risk, I guess. Yeah. You mentioned wind farms and things. And, you know, when I asked you about climate and climate change, because I think if ever there was a surveyor, who had, you know, frontline access to what is going wrong with the world, either thought it would be, you know, this kind of surveying, because you're right there have? Have you seen that change directly? Over the time? How do you feel about the whole climate changeGordon Johnston:
is quite? Yeah, well, no, there's quite frightening. I mean, there's, there's lots of information that is not necessarily as reliable as you'd like. But I think we can't deny there are trends and there are changes. So, you know, I've sat through little conferences and workshops with other severes, where the sea level hasn't been measured to be rising significantly, and they've been another survey that has been, and then you're looking at other factors around the glaciers melt versus, you know, the rebound of the of the F, because it doesn't have the weight of ice on it anymore. So you get, you get these sort of lovely long term slow parameters that are changing. But inevitably, yeah, I've got, I've got numerous examples of areas that I've been changing. Actually, the first one is back to the Swiss Alps, I looked recently going back to where they did some survey work when I was at a university, mapping glaciers. But the glaciers are tiny compared to what we had back, then. That's my lifetime. And we were at the time, we were monitoring their rate of speed, and they were the from memory, they had slowed down, but they hadn't stopped and they weren't retreating. But now they're going back at a huge, huge pace. And, you know, that's it's just at a past level, it's just really sad. But the bigger picture is, is quite scary, because however you try to kind of think of mitigation is, it's not clear of what will actually get us back to an environment that will will endure the changes that we will inevitably do as a society on it. We can't, we can't live and have no impact ill. But can we make the impact minimum? And I think it was explained to me in a really nice way, not that long ago, they talked about the tipping point. And they talked about the tipping point in terms of degrees. And well, if we go past a certain degree, we won't get things back. But actually, I see it on a personal level where what you and I and everyone watches the podcast might think is that what they do by putting that piece of plastic in the recycle bin and not in the bin, or being just a bit more sustainable around there, that choice may be the tipping point to bring us back, rather than to tip us over.Marion Ellis:
So that makes total sense to me. I think sometimes we can think about climate and all the things that we see, I know a few people who actually really struggle with climate anxiety. You know, it's such a big world and such a big place. And what can I do, you know, as a slayer in Margate on a wet Tuesday, you know, as often refers to that for surveyors, you know, what can they do about it, but you're right, it's about that sense of direction that we're heading, and making a better choice. We'll never really know if it's the right choice. And we'll never really know how much of an impact it's going to make. But we know there'll be benefits in no reducing not using resources. And therefore we've we've just got to make the choices that we can. And it's quite disheartening, you know, to see everybody arguing over each other with each other over what's the right thing and one wrong thing to do. But you get a sense of of this is a global issue where we do have to pull together. Do you see as obviously you work more globally or see the world? Do you get a sense of that pulling together and that consistent message? Or is it just as messy as it feels here in the UK?Gordon Johnston:
I think the messaging is getting better and it's more consistent. I don't think it's always at the right volume or the right level that it actually impacts on enough of society. I think we're pretty good in the UK generally with some of the messaging I think YouTube's probably better for some reason. But if I go to somebody, just thinking, you know, if I go to Southeast Asia, there are places in Southeast Asia where as a member, there's this huge piles of plastic beside the river. But there's a community there, that's their job is to sift through that plastic and to sorted. And, and one level, that's sort of an entrepreneur trying to sort of make good out of a certain circumstance. But on the other hand, that's for them, that's, that gives them a kind of a psychological, it's okay to throw plastic in the river, because someone further down the river will scoop it up, and it's their job to then do something with that. And it's, it's trying to break down that kind of assumption that someone else will fix it. And actually, the individual needs to do something at the source sometimes. And I think we're probably a bit better connected and a bit better receivers of that, or receptors of that messaging, then then in some parts of the world, but actually, you know, when I think of the oceans, and they talk about plastic in the oceans, as an example, as a sort of gateway to climate change, and climate action, and just changing some of these things, but the plastic itself is, it's a headline, but but it's not a major, major problem. Because it's manmade, so you can fix it, it's not something that is just, yeah, and I think there's something like 10 Rivers account for 90% of the plastic that's in the oceans. So we could, we could do something with those 10 Rivers if we had some moral authority to and convince those that operate those operate these rivers to actually change their ways. But that's not so easy. So, you know, collectively, we sometimes feel that it is a challenge to get that messaging at that level, and things like cop 26 and Glasgow, you know, they, they do help, I think, to get that messaging where, again, society's making it a political issue that needs to be not a party political tool, but but political as in it, this needs resolved. And, and, you know, it needs to be done from top down, as well as by the individuals.Marion Ellis:
Can I ask you about when I have a look at information out there on how to become a surveyor? It's a mixed bag. Let's, let's face it, I see lots on the construction side. But I do see quite a bit of activity with user likes of, you know, get kids into survey. There's some other ones I can't remember the names of them now drew for you do but you know, just that there seems to be lots of really good useful stuff for kids and for people looking to get into the industry. Do you think there needs to be more? Is it good? Where are the gaps? Yes, do? How do you even get started actually to become you? I mean, I know we've talked about your career. But what other degrees in geospatial? Yes,Gordon Johnston:
yes, yes, no, there are yes, there are several degrees around the UK, that kind of boutique, because there's only usually between about 10 and 20 people on them. And people are usually doing them because they didn't want to do whatever else you were doing. And they and they found it, it wasn't a conscious decision that did I mean, like myself, as we talked before, sort of you fall into it. And then you can let go in some respects. There are some courses at a university level, there are some MSC courses as well, which I mean, they're good and they fill a gap, but they're the no ideal. There's not enough apprenticeship, and on job sort of support and training, I think that there are some field laser apprenticeships around geospatial, really related to construction, as you say. But it's hard to to sort of sell the concepts of of traditional surveying, because it's changing so quickly, because of the technology they talked about. It's, it's actually quite hard, I think, for university to conceive for what they should be giving their students that will be fit for purpose. And three, maybe they'll see that five to 10 years time. And I think that's a big challenge for us generally as a profession. So getting into the profession, if you're at all interested in surveying, exploring maps, even GIS, you know, GIS, those people sit at a desk and do things in GIS, and then local authority or for various companies, as well as the person's right moves, that all requires data. So someone has to collect that data. And if the collection is left on machine, then still someone has to then validate that the machine has done the right thing, and has collected the right piece of information. And it's in the right place. Otherwise, you make all your decisions. And I had this in an oil company that can't mentioned but they did a lot of work. And they look to this cube of F very closely and they were all excited that there was you know, there might be oil or gas there. And yeah, they didn't know they were about 400 miles from where they should have been when they said right let's base go find this stuff. And then unfortunately, they well we caught it in the boat and sort of said to that I say you're not gonna go there. That's the wrong place to go. So the severe still involved but It's sometimes hard to articulate where and how that all works from, from a student per se, though, someone who's not.Marion Ellis:
I think I think that's, that's a real challenge. I think that whole sort of context, different industry, but I was talking to someone not too long ago who's involved in transport planning, so design of roads and that kind of thing. And there's a lot of graduates, newly qualified. I don't know what degree professionals they were, but they're in this job of, you know, designing the roads. And yet, like, don't drive, because in London, you don't need to drive you can get the tube everywhere or a camp, or whatever. And so they're designing roads that turn with no idea of actually how darn scary it might be. If you're on a double decker bus to do that, you know that not right to? So it's great. All the technology takes us so far. But we've got to bring it back to the humanize it, you know, the experience of what it's like to do that. And it's must be so hard, I think for for people coming through not to have that, that experience that balance, isn't it of old enough old school, to know, who's who, and enough technology to be able to at the phone?Gordon Johnston:
Yeah, I think I think it's a mix of things. I think if you were lucky enough to be on a geospatial course, part of that course, would introduce you to some of the market some of the potential customers be the the stakeholders who might be interested in a surveyor on their team. Or it might be some of the contracting companies who need surveyors as part of their team. So if we think of HS TOS as a massive infrastructure project, there's lots and lots of surveyors required to ensure that whatever the plan is, it goes as efficiently as possible that surveyors don't necessarily judge, whether it's the right plan, whether it's politically correct, or socially collected, those are other things to be debated. But if the task is to survey to help the planning of a route, then you want that done as efficiently as possible so that they don't mess up the ground the long way. And, you know, the tolerances are sometimes quite tight. And some of those things where we don't tend to go up and down mountains, they like to go either through them or round them. So the tunnel surveyors, you know, they have a challenge, because they don't have GTL surveyors there's, yes, yeah. Yeah. I mean, unlike the mining, like you mentioned, right at the start, you know, you've got to, you've got to be able to survey down the shaft and along the various seams and mining surveys and know where that is. And so why would you bother do that? Well, because someone else might think another shaft and you don't necessarily want them to collide. And I have a very famous example from the Southern Mississippi I think it is where a lake called Lake Penny was was a basically a very shallow lake that was being drilled. And by the the drill, and the whale that they were sinking, hit a salt mine. And the soul mine was nuts next door, and salt water don't go very well, the whole thing collapsed. And the lake basically went down the plug hole literally took all the barges to everything else. If you Google Lake Pena, you'll see a video of it. And it's still there, no, but it's now 800 feet deep instead of 50. And for a while the Mississippi was and the Gulf of Mexico was sort of the water was flowing north into this hole, until all bounced out. But that was a case of the well being drilled in a position where the main shaft was essential, you're one of the seams so you know, if they if we'd known where we really were relative to each other accurately, then they would have avoided that that disaster. Nobody was was killed. It wasn't that was sort of a good example of position sensitivity. But you know, the the land surveyors today and the geospatial surveyors today they have these have multifaceted things to think about, you know, you've got scanners that can be at the top of the car going around like a Google kind of street car type thing. But you've got the tunnel or you've got the under London Underground, needing monitored so that you want to build the Elizabeth line? Gosh, how do you put a new whole new underground through London, you know, these are these are big challenges to the engineers, but also to the surveyors who have been supporting the engineers by having that data, accurate, trusted and in time, so the commitment decisions were next piece, you don't hold them up. So it can be quite challenging, but it's quite exciting as well, because you know, who else gets to tunnel through London? You know,Marion Ellis:
when I think about my sector of surveying profession, you know, there are role models, there are places to go people to hang out with, you know, to feel part of that community. What's it like on your side of the fence? I mean, I know about the Geoholics podcast, and Peta Cox Defining Boundaries and I'll put links to those in the in the podcast, but is there like a place But you will go and hang out, although, you know, other people to follow on LinkedIn or, you know, written the books, you know, that everybody's learned from or any off the top of your head that for people interested.Gordon Johnston:
So I don't add is a very good question and I don't think that there is a single go to I think there's a series of go twos, in part, RICS, actually with its land and resources group, and then Geomatics, as they call it. Underneath that, you've also got the Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering surveyors. And they have a similar sort of UK centric land geospatial sort of element to them. The Survey Association is a trade association of the surveying companies that sign up to that kind of charter. So they are another group. But for the individual, it's not so easy, there isn't, I don't think a collective kind of go to group, the offshore site has got the hydrographic society, which is more of a society more of a club more of a, you know, networking element, but is that I think that is something that we're possibly missing and geospatial that, I would say, partly because we are flying around the world, and we never, you know, the course I went on, I never worked for the people I was on the course with after that, because we would all the surveyors the same to another group. And when I joined the first company, I was in a small survey team and got sent abroad, we talked about that. But then when I first went offshore, again, I was the only surveyor in the team with engineers and geologists, etc. So you have experiences accumulate, but you can always instantly find people that you can talk to and share that with sometimes. So it can take a bit of time. But I think, in the UK, we're lucky we've got geo business as well, which is a big, relatively big show down in excel in London, which is really manufacturers, users, stakeholders, educational groups, just all that touch and geospatial and geomatics come together for a conference site shows talks, that work events, and that that that's great. But as a community, it's not so easy to identify and get a tab one on one. So maybe there's a gap in the market.Marion Ellis:
Yeah, well, I'm really big Whatsapp group.Gordon Johnston:
So you need Yeah, there might beMarion Ellis:
I thought there was I asked asked that as of late. So we've had a few inquiries about people who are ex military, and you only talked about maps at the start and the purpose of them. And so there seems to be really good crossover of skills for someone who's leaving the military? And is that where do they where do you go? Where do you get started, as someone who's not just coming from school, but it's got that life experience some of the skills that are needed. And it's quite hard as a mature student, if you'd like anyway, to get that that first break the middle and assign them to so?Gordon Johnston:
Well, yeah, I mean, I think it becomes a network of people that you know, rather than institutions or organizations sometimes, you know, the military guys of whatever type be it, he she Navy, whatever, or Army or Air Force, even, they're great because they bring certain skills with them and experiences, not specific surveying experiences, but they've worked in, they've lived usually away from home for a period of time, that's often what a land surveyor or geospatial surveyor will have to do at some point. Often the ones that leave it's a lifestyle choice, do they suddenly find they've got responsibilities at home, so they need to be at home and not overseas, on a on a job. And the military also has a certain discipline around it in terms of identifying and delivering, sometimes under adverse conditions. But you know, usually, that kind of work around mentality, you know, if something's broken, then okay, that doesn't stop us. It just means we've got to fix that as well as the other things that we're trying to do. So I think the the sort of the attitude is probably with a capital A is probably one of the prime elements that geospatial severes actually have in their portfolio that they can offer teams and customers and clients and their own sort of organization.Marion Ellis:
Yeah, and if there's anybody listening to this, who is ex military or or veteran, and apologies from using the wrong technical terms, there are two players, two things I would recommend, actually one is a born organization called Building people, which looks to join all the dots of all the different organizations and groups and I know they've done some work with veterans. And also there's a little LinkedIn group that's been set up by one of our survey hub members, just to bring his ex ex military just to bring veterans together and help each other out. And I think that community is so powerfully needed, and you just demonstrated that there's clearly a gap somewhere, but that's the kind of thing that makes a difference, isn't it that encouragement that support thought that attitude and way of thinking?Gordon Johnston:
Well, it does. And I think, you know, as you say, for someone listening and thinking, Well, how do I, you know, was one of my first steps getting contact you, whether it's someone via your podcast and the link, or whether it's someone that you meet or go to one of the Society events or the institution events, you know, we sounds like we know what we're talking about. Often we don't, we're just blathering on because, you know, it's fun. But we like meeting new people, that's also part of that part of the whole thing as well. And people that are interested and are willing to turn up are usually valuable assets to be able to be chatted to and to, not to sort of sell them anything necessarily, but to help them understand for what things might really be like. I mean, part of my interview T technique for the people I used to recruit was, you know, are you scared of heights? And anyone that said, yes, he's gay? Well, you need to think twice about coming in the offshore business, because you're going to be the helicopter, probably. And if you're not, you'll probably be working at somewhere at some time at height thing. Is this. Is this really what you want to do? And it's surprising how many people went, actually, I'm not really scared of heights. Okay, that's fine. BecauseMarion Ellis:
it's the kind of thing that you'd want to know. Before you got to. Yeah,Gordon Johnston:
yeah. Some of these things you can overcome. But who anyone that, like my mother used to be absolutely petrified of heights? So different school? Yeah, no, I think I think it's all about communication. And it's all about a bit of networking. But it's not, it's not a big heavy sales thing. And he had his last visited probably look a bit ancient and wrinkled, but we're quite young at heart, I would say generally, and the geospatial. So I think most people are open minded about talking to people who have any sorts of questions. There's no as you say, there's no, there's no stupid question.Marion Ellis:
There is. I think, when I talk to people who are wanting to come into our profession, or are newly qualified, or just in what I just love is their enthusiasm, and their fears for how exciting everything is. And you forget that when you get as you say, you get a bit old and wrinkly and a bit long in the to sort of realize how far you've come and how things have changed. And I think we can be ever threatened by any of that, but harness it and, you know, help them to take the next leap of faith in our work forward really?Gordon Johnston:
Well, I can only sort of see it when I was sort of young and overly keen on things. I definitely found people that would listen to me who I did think were old and wrinkly. But they usually had a bit of advice and that advice actually stood its time and served well as well. So in a way a combination of your your that eagerness of youth and the other more kind of salita, they look at things occasionally, there's probably quite a good combination. And surveyors should always be open to someone else checking or not challenging, but kind of checking what the what they do or what they see or what they measure or provide. So, you know, I think those types of conversations, it's great. And I get a lot of, you get a lot of things out of young surveyors networks and groups who fit RFTs, RICS, Geographic society, it's often where the most interesting discussions are, because people don't have the, you know, this sort of idea that it has to be done this way. Because why? Because there's this new technique that you don't know about that we do, and it's gonna be really good to go, Oh, okay. And then 10 years later, some of them will become new and whiz bang and others. Now it's just like, a Tomorrow's World episode where nothing actually ever made it. Yeah, yeah. Oh, good fun.Marion Ellis:
It's been fantastic to talk to you today. Thank you ever so much.Gordon Johnston:
My pleasure.Marion Ellis:
Thanks for listening. Don't forget to take a look at the show notes when you get a chance, the resources and the links we mentioned in the conversation. I'd really appreciate it if you could leave a review on my love surveying Google page or on Apple iTunes because every time you do you'll also be helping make a difference in the world. Live surveying is a global partner with B one G one and you can find out more information about our impact of the love surveying website. Oh, and don't forget, you can watch our free community webinars and find out more about becoming a survey hub supporter by visiting live surveying.com forward slash the surveyor hub. I'll see you next time.