According to ESRI, a leading provider of GIS technology, five million people in the United States use geospatial services regularly at work and the median salary for a GIS professional is $74,000.
GIS professionals often find work with federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. State and local agencies—including law enforcement, water and sewer agencies, tax assessors, planning and zoning departments, emergency bureaus, and homeland security—also require GIS professionals.
The vast majority of available jobs are with scientific (including medical fields), engineering, architectural, and technology firms. The private sector also employs GIS professionals in specialty mapping firms, surveying and land companies, oil, electric, and gas utilities, real estate agencies, banks and insurance companies, construction companies, and national businesses that regularly seek new franchise locations.
Nonprofit organizations such as environmental groups also need GIS professionals on a regular or consulting basis. Increasingly, private foundations use GIS as their main tool; examples include Conservation International which uses GIS as their method for identifying threatened habitats, and the Keoge Foundation which uses GIS extensively for climate modeling.
According to one report, the global geographic information system market is expected to increase in value from $10.8 billion in 2018 to $19.7 billion in 2024. More and more cities around the world are using GIS to convert two-dimensional city maps to more comprehensive, three-dimensional formats. Demand for GIS is also increasing in transportation planning offices to better model accident and traffic patterns and manage highway maintenance.
In 2020, faculty in the University of Southern California’s Spatial Sciences Institute discussed a number of trends in the GIS industry. Of note are improvements in GIS software that greatly increase data collection, analysis, and visualization abilities; interest from businesses and government agencies in remote sensing to produce comprehensive 3D maps; and increased public availability of spatial location data via online cloud services.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the following growth projections for GIS-related occupations between 2018 and 2028:
- urban and regional planners – 11% increase (much faster than average)
- surveying and mapping technicians – 5% increase
- cartographers and photogrammetrists – 15% increase (much faster than average)
Research conducted among businesses and state and federal agencies showed overwhelming support and a strong need for professionals who can use GIS skills to assess real-world problems and provide solutions.
Money Magazine reported that GIS analysis is one of the top 100 best jobs in America, and ranks number five on the list of top 10 low-stress jobs in America. Science Magazine notes that the use of geospatial technology is changing the way business is conducted throughout the world.
GISGeography breaks the GIS profession into several tiers of expertise and responsibility:
GIS Analysts and Cartographers
The GIS Certificate of Advanced Study is an excellent foundation for those interested in becoming GIS Analysts. These are entry- and mid-level professionals who collect data—often by digitizing existing materials—and maintain it within the information system. GIS analysts are capable of creating, maintaining, and analyzing location data. The work required is diverse and dependent on the requirements of each employer. Many GIS specialists cross-train in related fields, such as remote sensing, CAD programming, and database management.
Cartographers are a subset of GIS professionals who design the maps used to communicate data to the public and decision makers. Cartographers must balance analytical and artistic skills; they are expected to be able to communicate data in a concise and compelling manner.
CAD analysts and designers, cartographic technicians, land survey technicians, LiDAR analysts, and many others also utilize GIS technology.
Developers are highly skilled individuals who have expertise in programming languages and geographic information systems. Developers create software applications for use on the web (e.g. for distribution of public data) or in the field (e.g. software packages for drones or gear used by GIS technicians). Like many programmers, GIS Developers are in high demand.
The GIS Certificate of Advanced Study may be of use to trained programmers who are seeking to specialize in GIS applications.
Senior administrators are responsible for overseeing GIS-related projects and advocating for them within and outside of their organizations. GIS Managers have years of experience and are skilled in budgeting, cost and project management, workplace communication, and conflict resolution. GIS Managers are in high demand and command some of the highest salaries in the GIS industry.
Managers responsible for GIS projects will find the GIS Certificate valuable if they have not previously utilized GIS technology during their careers.
GIS Career Resources
- MyGisJobs is a board with postings for positions across the U.S., filterable by position and responsibilities.
- GISGeography's job page includes guides for the various GIS positions, education requirements, salary expectations, and links to a variety of job boards.
- URISA and GISCorps (see "Professional Organizations and Associations" below) offer industry-specific training and volunteer opportunities to GIS professionals.
Professional Organizations and Associations
American Association of Geographers (AAG)
From the website: AAG members are geographers and related professionals who work in the public, private, and academic sectors. They work in a wide range of careers, as community college instructors, federal, state and local government employees, planners, cartographers, scientists, non-profit workers, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, elementary and secondary educators, graduate students, retirees, university administrators, and so on from all over the world.
Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA)
From the website: GITA’s objectives include providing members with high quality, industry-specific educational opportunities and networking engagements; advancing the usage and understanding of geospatial technologies; and growing their involvement within and beyond the infrastructure and utilities markets.
Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA)
From the website: URISA is a multi-disciplinary geospatial organization that provides professional education and training, a vibrant and connected community, advocacy for geospatial challenges and issues, and essential resources. URISA fosters excellence in GIS and engages geospatial professionals throughout their careers.
From the website: Operating under the auspices of URISA, GISCorps coordinates short-term, volunteer-based GIS services to communities in need worldwide.