TRAVERSE CITY — Surveying is a highly technical field where those with the right training can start out making $18 to $22 per hour in the Traverse City area.

Surveyors who work in other areas of the state or country or internationally can make even more, according to a group of employers from around the state who are serving as the advisory committee for a new associate's degree in surveying at Northwestern Michigan College.

The new degree, along with an associate's degree in culinary sales, was approved unanimously by the NMC Board of Trustees on Monday. Both will be in place for the fall 2019 semester.

The culinary sales degree includes courses already offered at NMC and will expand on current restaurant-focused offerings while preparing students to work in food and beverage sales and marketing departments.

The surveying degree also pulls together existing courses.

Marguerite Cotto, vice president for lifelong and professional learning, said that, with the number of surveyors getting set to retire over the next few years, employers are nervous.

"Who is preparing the next generation techs?" Cotto said. "Our degree is the only associate's degree in the state at a community college."

The surveying degree also complements existing programs in marine technology and unmanned aerial systems, with the college now able to offer students degrees in all three — which is unique among community colleges nationally, Cotto said.

The land component is what ties everything together, with engineering companies now using land, sea and air devices to do everything from mapping shorelines, looking at lake bottoms and finding the volume of a pile of aggregate.

"You can do absolutely nothing without a land surveyor," said Richard R. Sauve II of Leica Geosystems of Fenton, who is on the advisory committee. "We need to replace all these technicians so we can go out and make maps, so we can define all these areas."

Sauve spent Tuesday at NMC helping to install equipment that will be used in the program.

Other companies at Monday's meeting included Survey Solutions of Standish, Geodetic Designs of Lansing, Hubbell Roth & Clark of Bloomfield Hills and Holland Engineering of Holland.

Phil Case, of Gourdie Fraser Associates in Traverse City, said surveyors are an aging group, with more of them dying every year than are newly licensed.

Becoming a licensed surveyor is a process that starts with a bachelor's degree. But associate degree technicians, like those who will come from NMC's new program, are needed to run highly technical equipment that has replaced crews that used to include three or four members and a crew leader.

"Now most of our crews are one-man crews," Case said. "We have to have technicians that are very trained and capable."

Someone who has completed a year of the program could also go out and easily get a job for the summer, make enough money to pay for their schooling and graduate debt-free, Sauve said.

Case agreed.

"This is great opportunity for young people," he said.