What is a GIS Consultant & How to Become One

What is a GIS Consultant & How to Become One

A GIS consultant is a professional who specializes in geographic information systems (GIS). They assist organizations in using this technology to address location-based issues, such as optimizing delivery routes, managing natural resources, planning urban development, tracking environmental changes, and improving emergency response strategies. 

Their work involves collecting, analyzing, and visualizing spatial data to offer insights and aid in decision-making. GIS consultants are employed in a wide range of industries, such as government, urban planning, transportation, and environmental management.

Job Overview

GIS Consultant job overview

The field of GIS consulting is experiencing strong growth, with a projected 9% increase in jobs from 2018 to 2028, according to Zippia. This translates to roughly 56,000 new positions expected over the next decade. This positive outlook is reflected in salaries as well, with GIS consultants seeing a 10% increase in compensation over the past five years. Currently, the average GIS consultant earns $94,013 annually.

Contrary to the common myth that GIS consultants spend most of their time in the field collecting data, the reality is that much of their work is computer-based. They primarily focus on analyzing data, creating maps, and communicating with clients. While some fieldwork may be involved, particularly in industries like forestry or environmental protection, GIS consultants often rely on data collected by others.

While every organization might have its own unique set of requirements and job responsibilities associated with a GIS consultant role, but generally speaking, this is what you can expect:

  • Key Responsibilities
    • Collecting and analyzing spatial data to identify patterns and trends
    • Designing digital maps using geographic and other data sources
    • Developing mapping applications and tools
    • Managing a digital library of geographic maps in various formats
    • Conducting data analysis and creating specialized maps to support decision-making
    • Producing high-quality code deliverables and leading validation for testing
    • Communicating geographic trends and analysis findings to clients
  • Required Skills
    • Proficiency with GIS software
    • Strong data analysis and problem-solving abilities
    • Expertise in manipulating complex databases and performing spatial analysis
    • Programming skills in languages such as Python, SQL, and JavaScript
    • Excellent written and verbal communication skills for explaining findings to clients
    • Attention to detail and strong organizational skills
  • Education and Experience
    • Bachelor’s degree in GIS, computer science, engineering, or a related field
    • 3-5 years of experience in managing and analyzing GIS data
    • A Master’s degree in GIS or a related field is preferred for some roles
    • GISP (GIS Professional) certification is an advantage in some cases

Why Are GIS Jobs in Demand?

Why Are GIS Jobs in Demand

GIS jobs are in high demand for several reasons, the most influential being the growing reliance on data for decision-making–especially given that much of that data includes a spatial component. As GIS consultants are able to analyze spatial data, they have become essential in providing insights that businesses can rely on for strategic direction. For instance, a retail company might use GIS professionals to determine the locations of their customers and strategically target their advertising efforts.

On the public side of the spectrum, governments are increasingly investing in GIS technology to enhance infrastructure, manage resources, and monitor environmental changes. Their investment has created a higher demand for GIS professionals to work on key public projects, analyzing spatial data and providing insights that guide public spending and conservation projects, especially when dealing with increased risk or natural disasters. Plus, GIS consultants can also help agencies comply with relevant regulations.

The tech sector has also been expanding its footprint on software, apps, and plugins that rely on geolocation–just think of everything from delivery apps and ride-sharing services to location-based games and even fitness trackers. GIS consultants can help guide the creation of these custom tools to address specific needs or these evolving technologies.

Overall, working with GIS technology is an exciting and dynamic field with the potential to make a positive impact on the world. If you’re struggling to understand just how varied jobs in GIS might be, this Reddit thread might give you some ideas, spanning from someone who helped NASA decide where to land the Mars rovers to ensure a safe landing; to a GIS consultant for a vineyard who analyzed soils, temperature, nutrients, yield, and microclimates; to someone who used their GIS skills to scan old Soviet maps of landmined areas and documenting what areas their teams had cleared of mines so they could be farmed.

Real Life GIS Scenarios

Real Life GIS Scenarios

To work as a GIS consultant means leveraging spatial data, analysis, and modeling to help organizations across industries make data-driven decisions, optimize operations, and solve complex geographic problems. All industries, from transportation to utilities to natural resources and technlogy employ GIS consultants to solve complex geographic problems:

Automating Workflows for Processing GPS Data

Terralab GIS, a geospatial consultancy, assisted a client needing detailed data collection on infrastructure features and path quality/type for a specific city. The client initially faced challenges due to manual data handling and a poorly designed database. 

A GIS consultant worked closely with the client to develop a standardized schema for their data. They efficiently transferred existing data into a new database and created automated processing models to clean, organize, and generate final products from the field data. This streamlined approach reduced the overall project delivery time by 30% and cut processing costs by 70%.

Identifying Conservation Opportunities Using Threatened Species Data

The same agency was also tasked with developing a conservation plan for a site using spatial analysis of threatened species data. They gathered and consolidated spatial data on the threatened species into a geodatabase, identified key ecological variables, and obtained relevant spatial layers. 

Using this data, they performed spatial analysis to create species preference models, which were then combined and weighted to produce a comprehensive conservation model. The results were compared with existing vegetation to pinpoint priority conservation areas and locations needing improvement. The final plan included a series of raster and vector layers, which were published in maps and accompanied by a report interpreting the findings.

Developing a Delivery App

Riseup Labs, another agency offering GIS services, built an eCommerce platform to buy food and other household necessities using a web and mobile-based shopping service–a vry convenient way for busy families to get groceries, but also an essential service for the elderly and others with limited mobility or a lack of transportation. 

Part of the challenge for this project was building their delivery app and the backend for Red Grocer, which required GIS work to allow users to track the location of their product using real-time GPS, which is one of the essential features of the delivery app.

Mapping Customer Locations and Optimizing Vehicle Routes

GIS consultants use cloud-based platforms like Maptive to optimize delivery routes and analyze customer distribution patterns. This helps businesses identify ideal store locations, ensure convenient access for customers, and plan delivery schedules that minimize travel time and fuel costs.

GIS professionals can also streamline operations by optimizing delivery routes through data-driven analysis, minimizing travel time and fuel costs while reducing emissions. This approach not only improves efficiency but also supports environmental sustainability goals. 

Assessing Connectivity Between Potential Habitat Patches

An intriguing case study from GIS in ecology illustrates how a GIS consultant employed spatial analysis to evaluate habitat connectivity among potential lynx patches in Scotland. This analysis was pivotal in assessing Scotland’s ability to sustain a viable lynx population in the event of reintroduction.

Another project examined the cetacean community around St. Helena Island, using GIS to map the distribution of cetacean species in the eastern tropical Atlantic, with the aim of supporting local conservation and management efforts. Although the project did not entail intricate GIS analysis, it exemplifies a common use of GIS: plotting data and generating maps for inclusion in publications, reports, and presentations.

Modeling Scenarios for Renewable Energy and Green Infrastructure

GIS consultants are instrumental in tackling the energy crisis through their expertise in renewable energy, green infrastructure, and sustainable development. 

They can leverage spatial analysis and real-time data to model scenarios and optimize site selection so that large infrastructure projects like wind farms can be planned through data-driven decision-making. 

By identifying optimal project sites across wind, solar, and geothermal sectors, GIS consultants play a key role in expanding the footprint of the renewable energy sector, helping safeguard ecosystems, and alleviating the environmental crisis.

Becoming a GIS Consultant

Becoming a GIS Consultant

If you are passionate about using data to solve real-world problems, becoming a GIS professional can be an great career path. Whether you are planning your future career path as a young graduate, or already have some work experience and want to switch careers, entering the GIS field requires a few key elements.


  • GIS Degree: A bachelor’s degree in Geography, Environmental Science, or a related field with a strong focus on GIS is a great starting point. These programs will provide a solid foundation in geospatial concepts, data analysis, and GIS software.
  • Focus Areas: Look for programs that offer coursework in cartography, remote sensing, spatial statistics, and GIS programming languages like Python. Many universities also offer GIS certificates or minors that can supplement a non-GIS degree.
  • GISP Certification: Consider pursuing the Certified GIS Professional (GISP) designation. This demonstrates your commitment to the field and validates your knowledge and skills.
  • Consider a master’s degree or graduate certificate in GIS for more advanced positions

Gain Relevant Experience

Building a strong foundation in GIS experience is key to becoming a successful consultant. Here are some ways to gain valuable skills and showcase your abilities:

  • Get hands-on experience: Look for internships or entry-level GIS positions. This is your chance to dive into real-world projects and develop practical skills in data management, analysis, and map creation.
  • Master the tools: Become proficient with popular GIS software. Many companies offer free trials or online tutorials to help you get started. For example, Maptive is a user-friendly platform ideal for gaining experience with route optimization and location intelligence for small to medium-sized businesses.
  • Practice makes perfect: Gain experience managing and analyzing GIS data. Practice creating clear and informative maps, and performing spatial analyses to extract valuable insights.
  • Find your niche: Explore different areas within GIS and consider developing a specialty.  This could involve focusing on a specific industry (e.g., environmental consulting) or a particular type of GIS application (e.g., remote sensing analysis).
  • Showcase your work: Build a portfolio that highlights your best GIS projects and demonstrates your skills.
  • Network and stay connected: Connect with other GIS professionals through online platforms and industry events. This is a great way to learn from others, stay up-to-date on industry trends, and build valuable relationships.
  • Consider freelance work: Starting as a GIS freelancer can be a great way to gain consulting experience while building your portfolio and client base.
  • Develop “soft” skills: Consulting success goes beyond technical expertise. Hone your communication skills to explain complex GIS concepts clearly to diverse audiences. Learn how to write compelling proposals and estimates, and develop strong project management skills to deliver results on time and within budget.

Transferrable Skills for Career Changers

If you’re coming from a different field, don’t worry! Many transferable skills can be valuable assets in a GIS career, including:

  • Data Analysis: Experience working with data in any field is a plus. You’ll already have a strong understanding of data analysis principles and how to interpret results.
  • Problem-Solving: The ability to identify problems, analyze data, and develop solutions is essential for any GIS consultant.
  • Communication: Regardless of your background, honing your communication skills is crucial for success as a GIS consultant. You’ll need to be able to explain complex geospatial concepts to clients from diverse backgrounds and translate technical data into clear and actionable insights.

Building Your GIS Skillset

  • GIS Software: Learn popular GIS software programs like Maptive, Esri ArcGIS, QGIS, and MapInfo Pro. Many of these companies offer free trials or online tutorials.
  • Coding Skills: While not always mandatory, proficiency in coding languages like Python can give you a significant edge in the job market. Python is widely used in GIS for data analysis, automation, and scripting.
  • Industry Experience: Look for internship or volunteer opportunities with environmental organizations, government agencies, or GIS consulting firms. This will give you practical experience working with GIS and applying it to real-world projects.

By following these steps and leveraging your existing skills, you can position yourself for a rewarding career as a GIS consultant and make a real difference in addressing the energy crisis through sustainable practices.


Becoming a GIS consultant offers a dynamic and impactful career path, leveraging geographic information systems to solve real-world problems across various industries.  

If you want to get started, Maptive is a user-friendly platform that allows you to begin learning GIS and build valuable mapping experience.  Explore spatial data, create maps, and gain hands-on practice to see if a GIS career is right for you.  

Try Maptive today and unlock the power of GIS!

Learn More About Our Features

Find out why Maptive is the most powerful mapping tool on the market.

Learn More

Read Testimonials

See what Maptive users have to say about our software.

Get Started

Start Your Free, No Risk, 10 Day Trial

No credit card required.
No surprises.
Just Results.


Related Articles