Cartographer: job description

Cartographers study, design, produce and distribute digital and conventional maps, charts, spreadsheets and diagrams for public sector and commercial customers.

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The term 'cartography' emerged during the nineteenth century, by which time people had been making maps for more than 5,000 years.

What does a cartographer do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Cartographers are concerned with all aspects of map-making (scientific, technological and artistic). They are responsible for:

  • researching, collecting, storing, retrieving, evaluating and manipulating data
  • designing maps
  • checking the accuracy of maps
  • liaising with information providers, clients and external contacts
  • accessing and using aerial photographs and satellite images

Information technology plays an important role within the profession, and has dramatically changed the nature of the work. Traditional scribing, tracing and lettering map-making processes have been replaced with remote sensing, computerised mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) packages. Data is collected, stored and transferred electronically, and computers are used to design, create and produce maps.

Typical employers of cartographers

Cartographers are employed by government organisations such as the MET Office, Ordnance Survey, and the Hydrographic Office. Other employers include:

  • local authorities
  • utilities companies
  • service agencies, such as The AA
  • private consultancies
  • commercial map publishers

Qualifications and training required

To become a cartographer you will usually need a degree in a relevant subject, although school leavers can enter the profession by gaining experience in the Royal Air Force (RAF) or the Army.

For graduates, a variety of degree subjects are acceptable for entry into the profession. These include geology, earth sciences, civil/structural engineering, surveying, geography, geophysics/geochemistry, marine sciences, oceanography, computer science and software engineering. Graduates who hold a postgraduate qualification in a subject such as GIS, cartography, photogrammetry, surveying or remote sensing will normally be at an advantage.

School leavers can apply to the Royal Air Force (RAF) as an air cartographer or to the British Army as a geographic technician. To find out more about school leaver careers in the armed forces, see the armed forces section of TARGETcareers , our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for cartographers

Would-be cartographers must be able to demonstrate a genuine interest in the work, and must have meticulous attention to detail and good IT and design skills.

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