In the UK, despite a report on Practice in Comparable Professions (Stevens 1999) identifying that archaeology is a relatively small profession, with high levels of job insecurity and relatively low salaries, archaeology, as an industry, is booming. It has been calculated that over £115 million was spent funding archaeological practice in 2000, with the bulk of that (over £67 million) coming from the private sector (Aitchison 2001, 25).
A survey (Aitchison 1999) calculated that there were over 4500 professional archaeologists in the UK in 1998; this may have been an underestimate, and anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that the number of people working in archaeology has increased since that survey was undertaken. Furthermore, it has been estimated that, of 1100 archaeology graduates every year (Collis forthcoming), approximately 300 then seek employment within the profession (Collis and Hinton 1998, 15).
And there are jobs for these people - in the summers of 1999 and 2000, archaeological contractors were urgently recruiting junior field staff. This was largely caused by major infrastructure projects in the south of England - Perry Oaks (Heathrow Terminal 5) and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link – and the knock-on effects their demands for staff were having elsewhere across the country. In 2001, even after a lull caused by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the spring of that year, the demand for excavation staff returned to extremely high levels again, with the driving force being the Birmingham Northern Relief Road project.
"Across Europe, employment in professional archaeology has grown rapidly, but this expansion has led to a widespread training deficit as it has occurred without due consideration for the vocational development of the practitioners involved"
This issue is not confined to the UK; across Europe, employment in professional archaeology has grown rapidly as frameworks have been established to allow for the consideration and recording of archaeological remains before land is developed (Evans and Williams 2001). This rapid expansion has led to a widespread training deficit, as it has occurred without due consideration for the vocational development of the practitioners involved (Bishop et al. 1999; Stephenson 2001; Demoule 2002). Furthermore, it can be argued that within archaeology, a knowledge-based profession, vocational training has low status (Sommer 2000).
This rapid expansion has caused what has been described as a 'crisis brought on by success' (Collis 2000, 208). While recent graduates are delighted to find themselves in demand, employers are finding that these staff do not have the levels of practical experience that are required to work on major projects. There is a skills gap in archaeology today, which the archaeological profession is endeavouring to address.
Last updated: Tue Sep 10 2002