Entering the GIS Profession: Education and Competencies

As an organization, Geospatial @ UCLA has several primary objectives, among which are (1) fostering the advancement of geographic information science (GIScience) through research, development, and scientific education, and (2) offering educational programs that prepare participants for professional success in the expanding market of jobs focused upon the use and development of geographic information systems (GIS).  The former objective focuses upon the development and application of spatial science research methods to better understanding phenomena in the world around us, and the latter emphasizes the use of recognized industry-standard GIS software platforms and techniques in varying professional contexts.  While GIScience and professional GIS are inextricably linked, it is important to draw a distinction between the two when it comes to understanding the educational backgrounds and competencies commonly associated with entry into and advancement within each field.  This short post focuses particularly upon the professional GIS space and what educational background and skills are most helpful for anybody looking to establish a GIS-focused career.

Many entry-level professional GIS positions are advertised with titles such as GIS Technician and GIS Analyst.  These positions typically require completion of a Bachelor's (four-year) college/university degree, and in most cases it is assumed and expected that substantive GIS coursework was completed either in the process of earning the degree or in a distinct GIS-specific program, such as an undergraduate-level certificate.  Directions Magazine points to a general up-scaling of educational requirements in the geospatial technology industry, noting that more positions are expecting job-seekers to hold graduate degrees and/or background in GIS, cartography, computer science, engineering rather than geography or the social sciences.  Despite that trend, entry-level positions seldom require educational experience beyond a four-year degree plus domain-specific education in GIS and geospatial technology.

Industry standards documents, including the U.S. Department of Labor's Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM), identify core employee competencies that have emerged as consensus standards for GIS-related jobs.  In addition to a set of core GIS-specific subject matter expertise (labeled "Crosscutting Geospatial Abilities and Knowledge" in the GCTM), professionalism, problem solving and critical thinking, and interpersonal skills are emphasized as essential competencies for GIS employees given the collaborative nature of enterprise GIS work.

Those looking to get started with a professional GIS career have several options for obtaining the requisite educational background:  first, many colleges and universities worldwide offer undergraduate certificates and minors that can be completed concurrently with an undergraduate degree.  Undergraduate majors in GIS are less common and are found primarily at universities that emphasize degree programs with direct technical and vocational applications.  For potential GIS job-seekers who have completed an undergraduate degree without formally studying GIS, part-time professional GIS certificate programs such as the GIS and Geospatial Technology certificate offered by Geospatial @ UCLA in partnership with UCLA Extension offer an opportunity to acquire the domain-specific expertise outlined in the GTCM that is required for most entry-level GIS jobs.

Are you looking to get started with a career involving GIS, geospatial technology, or cartography?

Geospatial @ UCLA, in partnership with UCLA Extension, offers a fully online certificate program in geographic information systems (GIS) and technology.  This fully online certificate program provides a comprehensive introduction to state-of-the-art methods and techniques within the field of geographic information systems (GIS) and geospatial technology. All courses are designed to accommodate the schedules of working professionals. and no prior GIS experience is required or assumed. Participants who complete the program can expect to be sufficiently prepared for an entry-level job in GIS and/or related geospatial industries.