USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

4 Reasons GIS Careers May be the Best Careers

Geographic information science (GIS) is a dynamic, ever-evolving field with possibilities that increase as the world becomes more connected. Advancements like crowd-sourced location data and drone technology have paved the way for incredible nuance and specificity in spatial analyses, providing easier and more comprehensive solutions in areas like city planning, conservation, transportation and much more. GIS can also help address some of the most urgent challenges emerging now, such as the increase in extreme weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic.

With so much potential, GIS is a field with great opportunities in terms of both societal benefits and individual careers. Here are four reasons GIS careers may be the best:

  1. GIS is a growing market
  2. GIS jobs come with competitive salaries
  3. There are GIS career opportunities to suit all types
  4. GIS offers a chance to make a difference

Reason No. 1: GIS is a growing market

Person using computer to search for GIS Salary
The GIS market is projected to reach $25.6 billion by 2030, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 12.1 percent between 2020 and 2030, per Prescient & Strategic Intelligence. The consulting firm attributed much of this growth to the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of GIS to track the spread of the original virus, its variants, and vaccination distribution.

Several trends will ensure that GIS professionals and technology continue to benefit from increased demand. The emerging market for self-driving cars, increasing adoption of smart home technology and widespread availability of sophisticated drone technology will all contribute to push GIS forward.

The GIS field has already seen considerable growth in spatial knowledge and data-sharing. The increased availability of tools like open-source mapping and geospatial analytics allow professionals to tackle complex issues by drawing on the work of numerous experts across countless disciplines. Open-source mapping, for example, can provide real-time traffic data, which self-driving automobile developers and manufacturers use to improve their vehicles’ responses to daily situations.

Businesses also use GIS to make strategic decisions that increase operational efficiency and revenue. Walmart, for instance, incorporates GIS technology to manage its supply chain. Since online shopping and global supply chain networks are key components of our worldwide economy, GIS is certain to remain a crucial investment for businesses, nonprofit organizations, government, research and academic institutions alike.

Reason No. 2: GIS jobs come with competitive salaries

Given the many ways we use GIS technology to solve problems, it’s no surprise that labor insight tool Burning Glass projects the demand for GIS analysts, technicians and similar jobs will increase 9.3 percent over the next 10 years. In addition to these roles, many other careers rely on foundational GIS skills. For example:

  • According to Burning Glass, the median salary for professionals with skills in geographic information systems and technology is $60,158. Knowledge of this discipline can be valuable in positions as varied as Field Biologist, Transportation Planner and Water Engineer.
  • The median salary for professionals with skills in geospatial information systems is $80,925. Having a master’s degree can take you far, increasing your eligibility for jobs like Technical Project Manager (median salary $104,908) and Technical Director (median salary $124,200).
  • Professionals with skills in geospatial intelligence earn a median salary of $89,139. Burning Glass labels this a distinguishing skill, meaning it can set you apart from the competition and increase your salary for positions like GIS Analyst and Security/Defense Intelligence Analyst.

Ready to build your GIST expertise? Our GIS master’s degrees and certificates let you gain practical experience with GIS technologies and analysis.

Reason No. 3: There are GIS career opportunities to suit all types

GIS has a long history in urban planning, the earth and environmental sciences and defense, but its use has grown to include numerous other fields and subfields. GIS careers can also accommodate both those who like the structured setting of an office and others who prefer the outdoors.

Some of the unique applications of GIS technology showcase how such expertise can be utilized in a variety of industries:

  • Gaming: Combining crowdsourced location data and a nostalgic, never-ending franchise led to one of the biggest mobile app launches of 2016. “Pokemon Go” incorporated GIS technology into a gaming experience unlike any other of the time.
  • Nonprofits: Often operating with narrow margins, nonprofits need reliable ways of identifying need, improving resource allocation, tracking donor relationships and charting the progress of campaigns. GIS can help with each of these initiatives.
  • Real estate: Thousands of people used GIS technology to view a new home virtually amid the social-distancing measures enacted during the pandemic. Though the scale is new, the application isn’t; GIS tech has been used since at least the mid-1990s for virtual viewings, property appraisal and portfolio management for realtors.
  • Public health: We’ve seen GIS in action in tracking the COVID-19 virus, but scientists, doctors and public officials have used geographic data to track health concerns — from disease spread to drug crises — since at least 1854.
  • Climate: Extreme weather events are increasing in number and severity. GIS technology helps public officials react to such occurrences quickly and comprehensively by making it easier to collect and share data for strategic response and public safety initiatives.

Reason No. 4: GIS offers a chance to make a difference

With GIS technology capable of processing and analyzing increasingly sophisticated data sets, societies can address challenging problems of both small and large scales more effectively. The geographic data collected today provides a comprehensive perspective and shines light on solutions.

Consider an issue that plagued essential workers during the pandemic: childcare. Many families struggled to find alternative solutions when schools went remote. In the state of Washington, after-school programs fell by two-thirds, and availability at the remaining facilities fluctuated at a moment’s notice. To help, the state used GIS technology to create an online, interactive dashboard showing open childcare facilities within a school district. A team built the map based on geographic data provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and included important details from the State Emergency Operations Center such as facility addresses, hours of operation, contact information and alternative sites.

Getting started in GIS

GIS has a growing potential for shaping the future of countless other fields, from gaming to social services and beyond. Spatial science is a technical discipline, but some of the most important qualities for success are soft skills: Do you have the curiosity to keep asking questions and really dig into a problem? Do you like communicating a lot of complex information to others and making it more digestible? If you’re used to solving those kinds of challenges, the same skills will help you to excel in the spatial sciences and give you an excellent starting point for learning the field’s technical aspects.

About USC’s Online GIS Graduate Programs

The University of Southern California offers a comprehensive selection of online GIS programs, including GIS master’s degrees and GIS graduate certificates. This gives our students the ultimate flexibility in tailoring their education for their career goals. Click on the programs below to learn about our leading geographic information science education.

Online GIS Master’s Degrees

Online GIS Graduate Certificates

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