Compare and Contrast

Kenneth Aitchison has recently had an article published simultaneously in Icon News and The Archaeologist, examining the comparable professions of archaeology and conservation through the labour market intelligence produced in the Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2012-13 and Conservation Labour Market Intelligence reports.


Kenneth Aitchison examines the similarities and differences between professional archaeology and professional conservation

In 2012-13, research was carried out into the UK’s professional labour markets of both archaeology and conservation, two similarly sized and comparable parts of the wider cultural heritage sector. The archaeological research was undertaken by Landward Research Ltd and the conservation study was undertaken by Icon, the Institute of Conservation. Both research projects were led by me.

How many people
The first point of reference for these studies was the estimated head-counts: how many people worked in these sectors. There were estimated to be 4,792 people working as professional archaeologists in the UK in 2012-13 and 3,175 conservators. Of course, some of these people will have been counted by both surveys – at least eighty eight people are archaeological conservators.

Changes over time
The way the data on archaeologists were gathered was consistent with the three previous Profiling the Profession surveys, and so reliable time-series datasets allow us to see real changes over time. From the first Profiling the Profession snapshot in 1997-98, archaeology grew and grew until the 2007-08 survey captured data at the peak of the economic boom – and by 2012-13, the economic impacts of the post-2008 changes meant that archaeology as a profession had shrunk considerably, having reduced to being smaller than it was even ten years previously.

Some previous work had been done estimating the size of professional conservation, but the way those numbers had been gathered – and the target populations they covered – varied. There had been no data collection exercise since 1998, and the estimated total population presented then was comparable with 2012-13, perhaps suggesting that conservation was a slightly smaller profession than it had been fifteen years before.

Professional association memberships
In June 2013, the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) had 2,151 corporate members (plus 908 non-accredited Student or Affiliate members), representing 44.9% of the profession. 2,051 conservators were full members of Icon – so Icon members make up 66.7% of professional conservation (in March 2013, the total membership of Icon was 2,357, including 306 student or trainee members).

So the majority of working conservators were members of their professional association, and very nearly half of archaeologists were members of their professional association.

The median salary (50% of individuals were paid more than this and 50% less) for archaeologists was £26,000 – and remarkably, that was exactly the same figure that was calculated as the median salary for conservators. By comparison, £26,500 was the median figure for the UK workforce as a whole – and the median for all professional occupations was £36,359.

So archaeologists and conservators are rewarded very similarly, and slightly less well than the whole UK working population – and far less than the professional occupations which both sectors would like to be compared with.

Gender and age
The ‘average’ archaeologist was aged 42 in 2012-13; five years previously, the average age of a working archaeologist was 38. This suggests that the workforce, while much smaller in number, had not been refreshed in terms of who worked in the sector – people leaving archaeology at the end of their careers had, by and large, not been replaced by young people coming in at the start of their working lives. Most (54%) archaeologists are men, but over time, the percentage of archaeological jobs that have been held by women has been increasing (fifteen years before, 65% of archaeologists were men). Most archaeologists under the age of 30 are women. By contrast, 65% of conservators in 2012-13 are women – and this profession is also becoming ‘more female’ – forty years ago, in 1973, 62% of conservators were men; in 1987, only 40% were. And by comparison, the average age of conservators is 43.

In both professions, it is normal to be a graduate. 78% of conservators hold at least one degree, as do 93% of archaeologists. Indeed, it is increasingly normal for archaeologists to hold post-graduate qualifications, with 47% holding a Masters degree or higher.

Attitudes to training
While individuals are highly qualified, organisational approaches to training are patchy.
In conservation, the overwhelming majority of organisations identify training needs for individual members of staff, with nearly as many identifying organisational needs. But most organisations in conservation do not have a training plan or a training budget. Only a minority record how much time is spent in training or evaluate the impact of training on individuals, and even fewer evaluate the impact of training upon the organisation. The overwhelming majority encourage individuals to engage in their own continuing professional development.

In archaeology, organisations typically identify training needs for individual members of staff and for the organisation as a whole and they also encourage individuals to engage in continuing professional development. They are likely to have a training budget but they do not normally have a formal training plan. While they will normally record the amount of time employees spend on training activities, they then do not typically evaluate the impact of that training on either the individual or the organisation as a whole.

So – in both sectors, employers recognise that there are needs; in archaeology there will normally be a budget to help address these needs, although that is not the case in conservation – and in neither sector is it normal for there to be a training plan. So money is spent in an unplanned way, and then the impact of that spend is not then evaluated, so organisations cannot tell whether this expenditure has represented value for money or not.

Attitudes to business
While there are many similarities between the two sectors, attitudes to business is one where there are real differences. 59% of archaeologists work in the private sector, as do 38% of conservators, but the degree of engagement with the market, together with the understanding and attitudes that accompany that differ significantly. A telling comment from a respondent to the Conservation LMI survey showed confusion over what is income, what is profit (and no doubt what is cashflow) ‘We are a non-profit organization. We don’t have “income” as such.’

A revealing figure – not reported in either report – is that of the 241 practices (organisations or individual conservators) listed on the Conservation Register maintained by Icon, approximately 75% do not present website addresses. By contrast, only one of the 73 IfA Registered Organisations listed on the IfA’s Directory does not have a website (and that is because that organisation has been recently incorporated into another business on the Register). Unlike archaeological practice, conservation has a limited engagement with technology and its use as a promotional tool, which must hamper opportunities for business development.

The future
Slowly and unsteadily, a post-crash rebound is underway. Both archaeology and conservation collectively and cautiously expect to grow over the next three to five years – but there is not a sense of this taking place in the context of these being high-growth industries. Business models in both sectors are changing in line with expectations of low levels of growth – such as commercial practices delivering increasing numbers of ‘community’ projects to ensure turnover rather than surplus, alongside an increase (or return) of social enterprises as a commonly adopted model for new practices.

The bigger picture
Many of the issues identified in archaeology and conservation are shared by professions across all of ‘cultural heritage’ but collective work across the entire sector would be difficult, as individual professionals do not typically associate themselves with such a broader ‘cultural heritage sector’. Instead they strongly identify themselves with their own individual profession, which they do not see as a subsector of a greater whole. If pan-sectoral work is a non-starter, then joint working between closely related professions – such as archaeology and conservation – could strengthen these areas. It might also support skills development overall if means were found for specialists to share their expertise – but this is going to be hampered by the problems in the ways that training is planned, budgeted and delivered in both sectors.

There are still real opportunities – qualifications can be aligned. If comparable vocational qualifications are placed on the Qualifications and Credit Framework – such as the EDI Level 3 NVQ Certificate in Archaeological Practice, which is on the QCF, and the Conservation Technician Qualification, which is currently not – then there would be potential for new entrants to the cultural heritage professions to go through workplace learning experiences that would first introduce them to the broader experience of working in cultural heritage and then to specialise in specific, technical routes. These learning and skills accreditation experiences could then potentially be formalised as Apprenticeships

Shared training opportunities and communication activities can enhance understanding between the professions; and archaeology and conservation can lead the way across cultural heritage, as we already have the extremely unusual crossover of some people – archaeological conservators – who have shown that they understand and appreciate the needs and approaches of working embedded within two professions.

Kenneth Aitchison is Icon’s Skills Strategy Manager and Executive Director of Landward Research Ltd

Published in Icon News 49, 8-9 and The Archaeologist 90, 28-30

Aitchison, K. 2013. Conservation Labour Market Intelligence 2012-13. Icon – the Institute of Conservation.

Aitchison, K & Rocks-Macqueen, D. 2013. Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2012-13. Landward Research Ltd.

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