Archaeology has always been a vocation that offered little in the way of job security. Now, in the wake of the recession and subsequent collapse in new builds and with about a fifth of the archaeological workforce having been laid off in the past year, the outlook is more grim than usual. Exactly how should a graduate proceed into their first position?
I, like many of my peers, assumed my first graduate position would be as a digger, in excavation — where the action is. Modest wages, sure, but plenty of hands-on work. Six months here, six months there, we’re young and eager. However, in today’s market, it seems these jobs no longer exist. With 150 applicants for every one job advertised, many graduates feel gutted at the lack of prospects for our future: friends who have applied for close to 30 jobs are still waiting for that all-important first ‘yes.’
So what’s next, if we can’t find jobs digging? Diarmaid Walsh, director of WKAT (West Kent Archaeological Trust) says: ‘PPG16 is dead. The future of jobs in archaeology is in community archaeology.’ He continues: ‘Local Councils won’t want to fund big digs. They’ll recruit local groups to carry out digs for them.’ So, if the contractors won’t play because the budget is too low, who are you going to call? The local groups that everyone took great pleasure in removing from the equation in the boom years. But, how does this help a graduate get a job? Diarmaid, again: ‘These groups will need training in the proper techniques if they’re going to excavate. There will always be jobs in teaching.’
These days, flexibility should be your byword: there are other paths. Get yourself a PGCE, and you could carve a role as an instructor for amateur groups. Working for the council in a management role, you would co-ordinate instruction for the volunteers. This would ensure a degree of professionalism and a proficiency with modern excavation techniques. Working at the frontline of archaeology, it would be a very busy job, relying on your capacity for self- motivation and willingness to keep updating your skills base.
Then there is straightforward teaching. A PGCE, or ‘working towards’ a PGCE will get you a job at your local college. Teaching offers a means of staying in archaeology full-time, building your profile of practical experience and published reports, but without going bankrupt or having to move back in with your parents.
There is also academia. ‘Now is the time to do a Masters!’ Says Dr Paul Everill, of Winchester University. If there is a subject you’re passionate about and have considered taking to a Masters level, do it — many universities offer a discount on an MA if you took an undergraduate qualification at the same institution.
Most important of all, do not lose hope. Some of the best archaeologists I know took non-related jobs to pay the bills at some point in their career, but they did not give up. They kept their IfA membership going, they volunteered whenever they could, and they did not stop applying for jobs in their chosen field. There is a graduate job out there for you. Never stop chasing your dream. Good luck!
Rebecca Porter, Graduate, Winchester University