In the past few days there have been two articles presenting diametrically opposed views of the job prospects for US archaeologists. One article by Miranda Willson, “An Archaeologist Shortage Could Stifle the Climate Law,” in Energywire, a publication of Politico’s E&E News, outlines the shortage of qualified archaeologists in CRM and how this might affect the administration’s clean energy agenda. Willson argues that archaeologists, along with specialists in other fields required to comply with components of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), are in critically short supply. Jamie Pleune of the University of Utah captures the dire nature in which many project proponents find themselves: “The problem I encountered was when you don’t have enough archaeologists, you’re just waiting in line to get that one archaeologist—waiting for them to be available.” But it’s not just field workers that are in demand. Willson notes that according to Erik Hein, Executive Director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, “about 30 percent of positions at historic preservation offices in some states are now vacant.” Without these positions, the regulatory process breaks down, leading to project delays and increased project costs. These delays and cost increases are not lost on Congress. Currently, there are numerous bills to further restrict the time allocated to complete NEPA compliance as well as the reach of the law for entire classes of projects.
The second, published two days later by Anemona Hartocollis in the New York Times, is entitled “Can Humanities Survive the Budget Cuts?” The article begins with a report from the state auditor of Mississippi, Shad White, which questions the degree programs offered by state universities. According to Hartocoliis, White argued that “state appropriations should focus more on engineering and business programs. . . and less on liberal art majors like anthropology, women’s studies and German language and literature.” Speaking specifically of anthropology, White stated that “more than 60 percent of anthropology graduates leave to find work.” Mississippi is not alone. Other institutions announcing cuts to humanities include the University of Alaska, Eastern Kentucky University, North Dakota State University, Iowa State University, and the University of Kansas. At Miami University, which is reappraising 18 undergraduate majors, Provost Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix is quoted as lamenting, “It’s an existential crisis . . . There’s so much pressure about return on investment.” A related, and perhaps more serious, problem, is that even when the existence of the department is not threatened, numbers of relevant faculty are being reduced when faculty positions are simply eliminated with retirements rather than being rehired.
It may be true that some anthropology majors have a difficult time entering the labor force in jobs remotely related to their field of study. But that is not the case for archaeologists! Two of us (Altschul and Klein) have forecasted that the current shortage of CRM archaeologists will continue for at least a decade. As archaeologists make the case to expand programs to train CRM professionals, we need to mindful that CRM is not encapsulated in a single discipline but a field that includes archaeology, architecture, cultural anthropology, curation, history, historical architecture, museums and public interpretation, collections management, law, and planning. Further, CRM professionals not only need technical skills of their professional specialization but also the social skills needed to engage and consult with tribes and descendent communities, work with stakeholders and the general public, and much more.
Clearly, if we are to maintain the legal and regulatory requirements to consider and address the effects of government actions on cultural resources, the industry will have to have the capacity to accomplish the needed work and the government will have to have officials to manage and review this work. However, we know that, as things stand, the number of new professionals entering the CRM workforce is nowhere near current or projected demands. So, what can be done? Of course, there are no easy answers, but we can begin to outline some of the challenges and pose a number of questions that need to be answered. We don’t have good answers to these questions, but we invite your comments and discussion on this blog. We will focus on mainly the archaeology component of CRM but similar problems apply to other CRM specializations.
Meeting the demands for new professionals will require both an adequate supply of individuals who are interested in CRM employment and an increased capacity to properly train and credential them. Solving the first of those problems will require having well-paid jobs with attractive benefits and job security. As has been argued previously in the CfAS blog, entry-level pay for archaeological technicians has been, and continues to be, significantly lower than similar jobs in the construction and environmental industries. Certainly, all sectors of CRM (professional societies, trade associations, government agencies, etc.) need to work together to raise entry-level pay rates and benefits. We also need to make the career path in CRM more attractive. Simply put, we need to shorten the time spent between working as an archaeological technician and the next rung of the career ladder: crew chief, a position that generally is permanent (i.e., staff position with benefits) and paid reasonably well. The second problem—credentialing CRM professionals with the proper skills and in a timely manner—has to be solved within the training infrastructure provided by educational institutions and the industry itself (e.g., via internships and on-the-job training).
So, how do we get the word out to prospective CRM practitioners that there are jobs and rewarding careers in this field? The word needs to get out, likely in different ways, to several audiences: high school students looking to go to college, students in community colleges, students in colleges and universities, and current majors in anthropology or archaeology departments. The job is easiest for the existing majors, and the major conduit would be archaeology faculty, and mainly the US-focused faculty. For all the potential audiences, professional societies can conceivably play a role, but it will need to be greatly expanded from what they have been doing. TwinCairns and other archaeology job web sites provide some key information on jobs available, pay, and benefits by region—but that information is probably not reaching those who are not already in the field.
How do we then train the prospective practitioners? For decades, the CRM industry has been pointing out that universities are not providing the training that CRM professionals need. Yet with few exceptions, not much has changed. ACRA has recently begun a University Partnership Program that recognizes colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning that prepare their students for a career in CRM. As of this writing ACRA lists 15 programs with their program foci.
Achieving the needed changes in the educational infrastructure will require that the demand for the CRM training is recognized by the key University officials, from department chairs on up. University resources, including faculty lines, are often allocated based on the charmingly labeled metric, butts-in-seats (in classrooms of offered classes). If we are to get increases in the numbers of relevant faculty or investments in new degree and certificate programs, Liberal Arts and Sciences deans will need either to see opportunities or to feel pressures that warrants a response. It will be in the interests of department chairs—especially in potentially threatened programs—to create and staff course offerings that attract students to their classes and enable them to make the case to university administrators to further enhance CRM training.
There is probably no single best model for the needed training—what will work will depend on the university structure and existing staffing as well as the local context of CRM. On the university side, certificate programs, which can be at an undergraduate or graduate level, are easier to establish than degree program and have the potential to certify different levels of expertise and sorts of specializations within an overall CRM certificate. A certificate program might span several disciplines (e.g., archaeology, public history, historic architecture, and historic preservation) and share some courses, such as in cultural resource law. Professional master’s degree programs (e.g. MBA) are explicitly designed to move graduates from the academy into professional jobs. They are attractive to universities because students are expected to pay full tuition (and not be supported by the university, e.g. through teaching assistantships) but are not attractive to students who are not in a position to pay for them.
Field schools and other field training opportunities in colleges and universities are becoming much less common. Where they exist, they often do not involve what is the bulk of CRM archaeological investigations (i.e., survey and assessing site significance) and are rarely equipped with the technology commonly employed in the industry. It seems clear that both industry and agency internships will be one essential tool to provide key training for new professionals. An incentive for companies and agencies to offer internships is that they create a pipeline to, at graduation, move promising interns into professional positions in their organization. ACRA will soon be issuing internship guidelines for industry.
The problems are daunting, and they are immediate. Even if CRM–focused programs were already in place (which they mostly are not) the university supply chain has a lag measured in the years it takes for a student to complete a program. Much worse, is likely to take several years in order for the demand to be felt by university administrators, for the completion of the academic bureaucracy needed to create certificate or degree programs, for schools to staff the programs, and for substantial numbers of students enroll and graduate. Employing part-time CRM industry professionals as professors of practice would both benefit quality of the programs and speed and ease the process (given that hiring regular faculty is often contested and typically takes a year after approval of the position).
The problems we face will not be remedied by universities, by the CRM industry, by government agencies, or by professional societies alone. It will require major efforts by all of them that are both quick and sustained. And even then, we’ll need to figure out how to best face the shortages in the meantime.