Be aware that there may be a huge gap between your university training and what you are expected to do in your job; it is a continuous complaint of employers that new university graduates are inadequately trained and prepared for the world of work. Good employers are aware of this and will organize training for new recruits, some of which may be legally required, such as in health and safety. In Britain we are in the early stages of developing ‘graduate apprenticeships’ to provide specialist training for new entrants, including a range of work experience, not only fieldwork but also the administrative organization of archaeology; at the time of writing (2006) the first pilot schemes are underway.
Major institutions such as universities, national and local government, museums or state field units like Institut national de recherches archiiologiques preventives (INRAP) in France will have clearly defined career structures, but this is less true for commercial organizations. Field archaeologists typically tend to be poorly paid (though there are exceptions, such as Australia), due in part to the oversupply of people looking for jobs, but also because digging has in the past been considered unskilled work which can be carried out by laborers or volunteers. In fact I would argue that digging requires considerable skill, to make academic judgments about what is or is not important, and how to retrieve the maximum amount of information. But there are similar problems further up the hierarchy where more generic skills like IT expertise, personnel management, project budgeting and project organization are increasingly important. In an attempt to overcome problems of career development and the perceived low status of archaeologists in Britain, the Archaeology Training Forum (ATF) has been formed, a committee which consists of representatives of the major organizations involved in national and local government, commercial employers, professional bodies like the IFA, training providers such as universities, trades unions, etc., and from this a number of initiatives have emerged that will develop ideas which can be applied worldwide.
One of ATF’s earliest projects, recently repeated, was to find out how many archaeologists there are in Britain, who they are, what they do, and what they are paid. This has helped identify areas where there are shortages in expertise; ATF has also sponsored an attempt to define what skills are needed for a large range of archaeological roles. The next stage, at present underway in 2006, is to link National Occupational Standards (NOS) with the jobs that archaeologists actually do within their organization, and also to link training, especially university degrees, with these skills. We can thus start to define what skills are not at present being provided for both those entering the profession, and also for people moving up the career ladder, and ways in which this training can be provided and funded. A similar survey of archaeologists is taking place in other European countries (‘Finding the Archaeologists of Europe’) as well. In the USA the Society for American Archaeology Curriculum Committee has taken on a similar role, defining the skills needed by archaeologists.
At the same time individuals need to be empowered to make the most of these opportunities to enhance their own skills and career prospects. In the universities this takes the form of ‘student centered learning’, but this continues into the profession as ‘lifelong learning’ via ‘continuing professional development’ (CPD). This requires each individual to make informed decisions about what both their short-term and long-term aims are and how these can be achieved, though it needs continual revision, preferably every year; NOS are important in helping to define the long-term aims. Out of this process, there has emerged a number of documents which are of use to both the individual and the employer:
1. The curriculum vitae (CV) lists personal details, formal qualifications, positions of responsibility, publications, grants received, lectures given, etc.
2. The personal development plan (PDP) in which you decide over the short term (usually twelve months) what skills and training you need to acquire and how to acquire them (from formal courses, reading, attending conferences, and especially the more informal expertise we pick up from colleagues in the workplace).
3. A skills log: this lists the skills and knowledge that you have already acquired with an honest estimate of your level of expertise, from beginner to world expert!
4. A portfolio: examples of your work, which may include essays, reports, publications, drawings, etc. to show potential employers what you can do (for senior academic posts in Scandinavia you are expected to produce a complete set of your publications for an external adjudicator to peruse).
Good employers will help you in the preparation of the documents and provide opportunities for training and career development, though remember that these are your personal documents, and the PDP may include plans to get a better job with another employer! In some countries the provision of training for staff is a legal requirement with several days put aside each year, but bad employers cut their costs by cutting training (and usually employees’ salaries too!).
In some countries, in an attempt to improve standards, archaeologists have formed professional institutes, though archaeology is a long way behind professions such as law, medicine, engineering, architecture, etc. In Europe the most developed is the Institute of Field Archaeologists (IFA) whose members are mainly, though not exclusively, based in Britain, and similar organizations have recently been founded in Ireland and the Netherlands; in the USA the Register of Professional Archaeologists (ROPA) provides some of the functions of a professional institute. Membership is becoming increasingly important in Britain for many archaeological posts, though it is not legally enforceable, and students and young professionals are encouraged to join at an early stage of their careers. Professional institutes are not to be confused with trade unions; the institutes are mainly concerned with professional standards and so providing guarantees to organizations that employ archaeologists of standards of both individuals and organizations, and some sort of redress if those standards are not met. Trade unions, in contrast, are mainly concerned with protecting the individual, from exploitation or wrongful dismissal, while negotiating general terms and conditions of employment; as in the rest of the workforce, British archaeologists tend to be more unionized than in many other countries (though still a minority), from university staff to the lowest-paid diggers. However, the most successful strikes by archaeologists have been in France, once over the reorganization of rescue archaeology and the establishment of INRAP (generally the archaeologists were in favor of a centralized state organization as opposed to a commercialization of archaeology such as has occurred in Britain and the USA), and a second time against the open flouting of the planning laws by politicians involving the destruction of part of the Roman and medieval defenses of the city of Rodez (the archaeologists won!).