Internet Archaeol.12 Aitchison. Summary

Training Professional Archaeologists in the UK - meeting the crisis of success

Kenneth Aitchison

Head of Training and Standards, Institute of Field Archaeologists.

Cite this as: Aitchison, K. 2002 Training Professional Archaeologists in the UK - meeting the crisis of success, Internet Archaeology 12.


In the UK, increased levels of developer funding has led to increased demand for archaeological fieldworkers, the producers of the primary data upon which all archaeological work and research depends. But archaeologists entering the profession are underskilled – while increasing numbers of students are receiving archaeological degrees, recent graduates do not have the levels of practical knowledge that are required to work on major projects. This skills shortage is not restricted to junior fieldstaff. Throughout the profession there is a lack of structured vocational learning, and training is undervalued both by organisations and individuals. This article discusses archaeologists' engagement with the challenge of creating a skilled archaeological profession in the UK.

The Institute of Field Archaeologists (IFA), as the professional association for all archaeologists in the UK, advocates the development of a co-ordinated training structure in archaeology which connects skills across a range of disciplines with formally recognised qualifications and defined professional roles. It envisages that this structure should have the potential for a link with pay and conditions and could lead to the development of a stronger career structure in professional archaeology.

The IFA has set out an agenda, identifying that structured training is required in terms of basic training (e.g. for undergraduates); entry-level (equipping graduates for the workplace) and progressive training through continuing professional development (enabling practitioners to progress in their careers by maintaining and updating their skills).

This recognises that it is widely accepted that the status of a professional depends upon his or her skills, and the qualifications that ratify those skills. The mechanism by which a professional is able to maintain and update their skills is continuing professional development; the IFA' s guidance on continuing professional development establishes that it is the professional obligation of an individual archaeologist to maintain and update their skills, but this is anticipated to move towards a system whereby this will become a mandatory requirement for members of the professional institute.

To date, the IFA has launched a series of projects under the auspices of the Archaeology Training Forum (ATF) to address the issue of training in professional archaeology. Potentially the most significant of these is a project to define professional functions and skills. This has identified the specific (archaeological) and generic skills archaeologists need. It has produced an 'occupational map' of archaeology, which will enable people to see where they are on that map (in terms of the role they fulfil and the skills they have) and to identify the role or roles that they want to fulfil in the profession - and the skills that they need to get there. It is anticipated that a structure of formal vocational qualifications, in combination with informal learning frameworks (including opportunities for focused coaching and mentoring) will emerge from this project.

Currently the ATF is endorsing specific courses that aim to meet recognised needs within archaeology, and some of these have then been subsidised by the national heritage agencies, presenting opportunities for archaeologists at all stages of their careers. TORC, a training course web portal, providing information on all archaeological courses running in the UK, has been established by the Council for British Archaeology.

To have a trained and skilled workforce would enhance and guarantee the quality of the work being undertaken by archaeologists, presenting ways that archaeology can be shown to provide better value for the other stakeholders in archaeologists' work. This would also lead to the retention of that workforce, forming a key step on the route to the development of a career structure within professional archaeology.

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Last updated: Tue Sep 10 2002

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