Geographical information systems officers carry out the collection and analysis of geographical data generated by geographical information systems (GIS). GIS data has multiple applications in various areas, such as defence, meteorology, oil, gas, telecommunications and transport.
Examples of geographical information systems include global positioning systems, radar, sonar and various other types of sensor equipment. Information collected from these sources is studied and analysed with the help of I.T. systems and applications.
Essentially, geographical information systems officers collect physical and numerical data using various tools and pieces of equipment, such as global positioning systems (GPS) and depth sensors.
They then convert this information into digitised datasets and analyse the stored information with the help of computer applications and statistical models. This allows them to generate meaningful and relevant conclusions that can influence all kinds of major decisions.
Salary & benefits
Salaries for geographical information systems officers in the early stages of their careers range between £18,000 and £25,000, while more experienced professionals can around £23,000 to £30,000.
Senior professionals with more than five years of work experience can expect salaries of up to £50,000 per annum.
Geographical information systems officers frequently switch between field-based and office-based work. Fieldwork often involves working long and irregular hours.
Extra travel, i.e. in addition to working on field-based assignments, depends on the amount of client and multidisciplinary interaction required.
Since this is a highly-technical and challenging area of work you will need a degree to become a geographical information systems officer.
Theoretically you can enter this profession with a degree in any discipline. However, candidates with an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in geographical information systems, geography, surveying, computer science, maths, operational research, or statistics are preferred by many employers.
Prior work experience will provide you with an additional advantage over other candidates, especially given the increasing popularity of this profession.
Training & progression
Training in the initial period of employment is mainly provided through hands-on assignments carried out under the supervision of experienced colleagues. However, a few larger employers in the public sector provide structured training schemes.
Additional on-the-job training will predominantly focus on familiarising yourself with new software applications. However, you may also be required to take part in additional training sessions offered by external training providers. These will focus on project management, programming and general business skills.
The Association for Geographic Information (AGI) and the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) collectively offer a scheme which allows professionals in this line of work to become chartered geographers (CGeog).
To apply for ‘chartered’ status, you’ll need to have at least six years of work experience in a GIS-specific role or fifteen years of other relevant work experience.
In terms of career progression, you could focus your efforts on the full-time design and development of geographical information systems. Some people also become freelance consultants, while others move into team leader or GIS manager roles.
Alternatively, you could become an academic and teach subjects such as spatial analysis to the next generation of geographical information systems officers.