Last edited 29 Nov 2021

Interview with Elly Ball, co-founder, Get Kids into Survey

Elly Ball Headshot.jpg

Elly Ball is a woman of many talents. She is a commercial photographer of interiors and products as well as being a 3D modeller and co-founder of Studio Edit. Ball is also co-founder of Get Kids into Survey, an ambitious undertaking that began in 2017.

Designing Buildings Wiki caught up with Ball to get her views on some of the wide-ranging issues influencing her organisation's goals and her thoughts about the importance of engaging young people in order to move the construction profession forward.

DBW: What does your role involve day to day?

Elly Ball (EB):

I run the day to day of Get Kids into Survey (GKiS). This includes working with our amazing team who run the marketing, sales and creative side.

I work on the strategy where we liaise with the industry to understand what we need to cover from their perspective, and then we also work with our teacher and writer, Mat, who gives us guidance from the teaching perspective.

I get involved in regular online events and conferences, podcasts and webinars. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I also attended in person events - both industry and educational.

DBW: How and where did your career begin?


My background is in interior and architectural photography. I later got into 3D modelling.

It is my family business where there is a surveying background. My dad was a mine surveyor and then a hydrographer. Following that, he designed and manufactured surveying equipment specifically for these areas of surveying. In fact, both my sister Elaine and brother worked for my dad and the family business for many years.

Elly (left) and her sister Elaine (right) are the co-founders of Get Kids into Survey.

In 2013, my sister started a geospatial marketing consultancy, and this is where I came in - working on marketing contracts with the industry. In 2017, Elaine and I came up with the idea for the first Get Kids into Survey poster. We thought it would be something to give back to the industry and help with the skills shortage and ageing population of the surveying professionals. The average age of a surveyor globally is 55.

DBW: What has been your career highlight so far?


I love attending the industry shows. I love meeting people and networking on a global level. I enjoyed having our first GKiS booth where I did my first public presentation.

Another great event was at the TopoDOT User Conference in Orlando, Florida. Here we invited 40 kids to enjoy a lunch, presentation from one of the surveyors and a fun activity where the kids and teachers got to interact with industry.

Pictured at Survey Fest, a GKiS event, this photo includes Ball with Leica Geosystems, Stuart Edwards of the University of Newcastle and Katie Holt of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES).

We also hosted our own event called Survey Fest in a school in Manchester in 2019 in partnership with Alison Watson of Class of Your Own. We invited industry professionals to run workshops with the kids. This is something we would like to do again once we are back to doing events after COVID.

One of the key things I feel that is lacking in schools is the connection between a subject you're being taught and what careers you can do with it. For me at school, doing maths meant you would become a maths teacher; geography, a geography teacher. There were never any real life associations.

To see kids make the link between a subject in school and how it can be used in the real world in different careers is pretty exciting.

DBW: What would you most like to change about the architecture, engineering and construction sector?


I would like it to be more inclusive and more open to change. I think these sectors - and surveying as a whole - are very old fashioned in their views and have an attitude that’s very much "this is how we've always done it" and so remain quite behind the times. This is one of the biggest problems and reasons why young people don’t know about the different careers in these areas.

In 2019, Ball made her first public presentation at Geobusiness, which was the first public conference for GKiS.

I also think gender is a problem in these areas. As our ambassador at SheMaps in Australia says, "Gender bias begins in Primary School, including girls’ perceptions around their future in a STEM career." I think things like STEM initiatives have helped a ton, but I think we need to keep on pushing and from a younger level. This means not just looking to the high school level, but capturing kids’ imaginations when they're still in primary school.

DBW: Which news related event (or events) has had the greatest impact on your career and why?


The latest technology and new equipment for surveyors, such as drones, AR/ VR and autonomous vehicles, has definitely made the surveying and geospatial industry much more appealing and exciting. This takes it to that next level. This is also a great way to get kids excited about the industry. They already know about drones and AR/VR and self-driving cars, for example, and so when talking about these "cool" areas of tech, we can then go on to teach them how surveyors use this technology in their day to day.

Climate change is also a big topic in schools and education; it’s one way to get kids excited about careers where they can help make change happen in the world. It has been super important to me to not only showcase what surveyors and geospatial experts do as their job but actually, how very important it is in our world.

As my dad, Steve Ball (surveyor-come-entrepreneur and manufacturer of survey equipment) puts it. "I often used to use the phrase, ‘People worry about problems in the world - but unless you measure the size of the problem, the problem may not be as big as you think it is. On the other hand, you may think you only have a small problem, but when you actually measure it, you may find it’s a very big problem that is about to overwhelm you! So, measuring things regularly helps the world to monitor its environment so that timely repairs, interventions and repairs can be made to best effect. That’s what surveyors do!"

I would say with COVID, it really highlighted key workers and the surveying industry being essential not only in the workforce, but also essential for our world.

This is one example of the GKiS London poster, a standalone resource that comes with a downloadable Q&A.

In our recently launched comic book, we tell a story about a world without surveyors, and what that world looks like. As you can imagine, it is not great, and we wrote a story about four school kids who become heroes of the story by using surveying technology to save the world. It is quite powerful, and I'm so proud of the comic, our team for putting it together and the 10 industry sponsors who backed it.

DBW: What are your go to sources of knowledge when you research subjects that are new to you? Can you share your recommendations?


Both my sister and I are very lucky in the fact that our dad has been in the industry for a long time and has many different perspectives of it. With that, we have not only experienced different sides of the industry, but we also have an incredible global community that helps guide us with important topics and areas that we need to be focusing on for our material.

It is so important to GKiS that the material works for both industry and education. It’s essential that the material can be used in schools by teachers but also by surveyors with their own kids or even colleagues who may not fully understand the industry.

DBW: What is the most valuable professional advice you’ve received? What advice would you give?


I think the most valuable thing in life and the world is to never get too comfortable, to always be curious and to keep educating yourself. Simply - keep learning and growing.

DBW: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?


The heart of why Get Kids into Survey started was to really tell the world about surveying. "What is it and why should people care?" Surveyors and the industry in general need to voice the answer to this question. It’s essential to be heard and build the momentum of this movement.

I want to see a thriving industry with lots of young surveyors in the future, and that can't happen if universities cut courses, schools don't know about the industry etc. Surveyors need to be coming together, going into schools, telling everyone about what it is they do. That's what our free posters and lesson plans are for. They are tools to communicate to the next generation of surveyors. Let's get them out there!

This article is based on Elly Ball's written responses submitted on 2 June 2021. Ball can be reached via email.

To be interviewed for Designing Buildings, please send the editor an email.

--Heidi Schwartz

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