BAJR Forum and Facebook discussion of #freearchaeology: clarifications and queries

Posted: 20/08/2013 in free archaeology, News & Analysis
Tags: , , , , ,

Expleting about unpaid labour used to be a handy distraction from life on the dole. And it is even more so now, as I am forced to literally perform ever more futile job searches in order to earn my subsistence. But suddenly the concentrated #freearchaeology conversation, which was started by Emily Johnson (@ejarchaeology), is everywhere – (more) blogs, Twitter, Facebook, professional forums, citizen media (USI Live at 1.30pm GMT on Thursday) – so I’m going to try to make a few key clarifications and queries here.

Lorna Richardson (@lornarichardson) opened the discussion in the BAJR Forum, and British Archaeological Jobs and Resources’ David Connolly (@BAJRjobs) opened a Facebook comment thread. It’s been really good and no-one’s been an arsehole, so any queries are friendly queries rather than spittle-flecked exclamations (which cannot be said of my research into looting and destruction…).

Vocational archaeology training is an apprenticeship

David Connolly said,

You the volunteer will join me, and although it will mean I spend my time going over stuff, training and mentoring, that does mean I won’t pay you, as it is mad to think I will pay you for me to train you…. [T]hat is not using [you] to make a profit from you the intern/volunteer, that is preparing you for a career….

That is an apprenticeship. (A traineeship would be for basic, generic work skills.)

I need to drive to work… do I demand that the driving instructor pays me to learn? should the government pay for my driving licence? same with all the other practical skills…. I am afraid students have to realise that opportunities to get experience are either paid or free. but very very rare will you get paid to learn.

In that analogy, a learner archaeologist would be learning to be a driving instructor for their teacher’s driving school, wouldn’t they? They would be an apprentice and should be paid a(n apprentice’s) wage (as Caoimhin Ó Coileáin, too, argued).

A pay-to-work model is destructively dysfunctional in a precarious economy

I would also ask, if people must now pay to work (and while it may have happened in the past, it’s both more difficult and more common now), how many times must they pay? If they’ve done unpaid archaeological work but remain unemployed (or gain then lose work), give up on their would-be profession and try to retrain, should they pay again? The next time they’re unemployed, should they pay to retrain yet again? (Plus, it’s completely out of our hands, but the dole is now virtually designed to prevent you getting training and/or experience.)

Do not intern if you are dependent upon benefits

Wax is technically right that ‘you can be an intern and still claim benefits as long as you are looking for work and are free to take it up [within a week] if offered’, but the (seemingly massive) majority of internships require minimum commitments of at least a month (and normally two, three or six months; or sometimes eight, nine or twelve months), so if you did them you would lose your benefits.

‘not a lack of experience but a lack of jobs’

There’s a huge amount of material on the profession on Doug’s Archaeology, but he has addressed the specific #freearchaeology discussion as well. He’s highlighted how university education does not provide vocational training; and he’s highlighted how many (or most) entry-level jobs (in terms of jobs that could be performed by entry-level workers) are not advertised and are taken by well-connected, experienced workers.

So, I agree with David that, if I wanted and could realistically expect to get an archaeology job in the commercial sector, ‘I would get a CSCS [Construction Skills Certification Scheme] card… a driving licence and spend time on 3-6 months of training‘ instead of spend three years at university. However, as Doug has commented, the problem ‘is not a lack of experience but a lack of jobs‘; I fear it’s a generational crisis (within the general crisis of the archaeological proletariat/precariat).

  1. bajrblog says:

    To answer her points about apprenticeship/trainee. that is a fair point

    I even have a specific ‘trainee’ position .. which perhaps I should alter to apprenticeship. .. to avoid confusion. so seriously good point… and taken on board.

    As an apprentice, I would expect some sort of capability and it does come down to who pays. As a business – I would have to have a financial incentive to take on an apprentice – and it would be weighed against the commercial imperative. Would it be so much better to have this technical ability prior to entering the job market where there is an entry level archaeologist. and (god forbid) a career structure that rewards time, skills and experience – so that a time served digger is not getting the same as a new one )

    Second. to clarify further the driving licence analogy. yes, it is like you are asking them to pay you to learn to be a driving instructor.

    Thanks for the comments… this is coming out and being discussed, which is what is needed.

    Now.. what I would love to hear… is what – in an ideal world would be the answer. and then ( with a deep breath ) what is a realistic solution.

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