Towards a National Training Scheme for England and the United Kingdom

By Collis, John | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Towards a National Training Scheme for England and the United Kingdom


Collis, John, Antiquity


Key-words: Britain, post-graduate training, profession, universities

Archaeology in Britain is going through one of its periodic 'crises', but for once it is not a crisis of funding, but one rather brought on by success, with more money, more posts and more archaeology. Much of the new money emanates from Developer Funding; PPG-16 (DoE 1990), brought out by the Department of the Environment in the wake of a European Directive on the need to conserve the historic environment, requires developers, where possible, to preserve archaeological sites, and where not, to preserve by record, i.e. to excavate. Roles were split with, on the one side, local government having 'curatorial responsibility' to maintain Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs) and to advise on planning and development; and on the other, independent 'archaeological units' to carry out the work. At the same time competition was introduced; developers began to exercise their freedom to choose their own archaeological 'contractors', who would respond to a brief produced by the 'curators', to carry out field survey and excavation. In addition developers also often employ independent consultants to advise them. The result is more archaeologists engaged in more specialist activities.

The problems

The advocates of an unregulated competitive market argue that competition will drive out the inefficient and reward the innovative and hard-working; the detractors say that in attempts to undercut competitors the first casualties will be salaries, training and quality. In England there is anecdotal evidence for both processes at work, though quality is supposedly monitored by the 'curators' rather than being left purely to the market. Much commercial archaeology, it is claimed, is governed by short-term contracts, poor working conditions and poor pay, leading to poor retention of the labour force. Some employers are complaining about the lack of experienced site supervisors and directors due to this early drop-out of individuals who leave soon after acquiring the necessary skills because of a lack of career prospects, though market forces may solve this in the longer term by pushing up pay (Aitchison 1999; see Turner 1999 for recent trends).

There have always been complaints from the 'profession' that graduates from our universities do not have the necessary skills required to enter the work place. The universities counter that the majority of students who study archaeology in Britain have no intention of entering the profession, and in any case undergraduate courses should concentrate on aspects which will not be encountered in the work place: 'transferable skills' such as writing, research, computing, statistics, teamwork, archaeological theory and field and laboratory experience (FIGURE 1) rather than more specialist aspects such as artefact typology and identification, the legal framework or health and safety. The problems have been exacerbated by the appearance of the new specialisms mentioned above, alongside the more traditional career routes (academic, administrative, museums), and more scientific careers such as environmental studies, artefact analysis, prospection, etc. It is simply not possible at the undergraduate level to provide a basis for entry into all these specialisms; a general grounding in aims and methods, coupled with a general outline of the results (prehistory, Roman and medieval archaeology, etc.) are all that can be achieved in three years (Barker forthcoming). A gap thus exists between the skills of the graduate, and those required for entry into the profession (Fraser 1990; Moloney 1998).

[FIGURE 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For most branches of the profession, there is no clear career structure; the level of skills required to carry out a particular job is often poorly defined, not only the specialist skills, but also the more generic ones such a personnel management, time management, report writing, etc. …

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