Welcome to the Urban Archaeology blog. Freelance archaeologist Chiz Harward provides a range of on and offsite services to the archaeological profession, including running and working on excavations, post-excavation services, training and development work, and illustration work. This weblog will carry news of projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.

Training Diggers and changing cultures: embedding a ‘Training Hour’ within the working week

My work as an archaeologist has often involved both receiving and giving on-site training, from a brief chat about how to record a context to a structured training session on stratigraphy or Roman building techniques. Training and development is central to every archaeologist; every project is different and there is always something new to learn, and that is one of the things that makes archaeology such a fulfilling and fascinating discipline. Training provision and Continuing Professional Development, although core to the profession, has been neglected and can often be reduced to Health and Safety courses such as First Aid at Work or CAT and Gennie, rather than specific, ongoing training in carrying out the day-to-day role. Over the last few years I've been working on how to change this, to make training available to all staff, at the place of work, and throughout their careers.
Clay tobacco pipe training session at 100 Minories with Chiz Harward
Training site staff: clay tobacco pipes.  photo LP Archaeology

Whilst working at MOLA about ten years ago I independently started developing training materials for site staff -simple one or two page handouts for use in archaeological 'toolbox talks' given to the whole site team, or as the foundation for more focused one-to-one mentoring and training. The materials were made available as free downloads, and later led to work providing training materials and sessions for archaeological companies. My interest in training combined with an involvement in Diggers' Forum (a campaigning group within the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists) and led to research into how we provide, and document, training and CPD for the many, not just the few; something that paralleled and echoed work by several others including the now hugely successful BAJR Skills Passport.

Looking into how archaeologists are trained, it was clear that there were real problems with training provision at all levels, and that these problems had been known for some time; however there had been little work on how to change this situation. At one level there seemed to be a mutual blame game between universities and employers as to who should train new entrants (for example see papers given to the 2012 FAME Forum). Although some university departments, such as Winchester, offer a solution to this conundrum by providing courses designed for those intending a career in professional archaeology.

Several industry schemes offered possible routes out of the training impasse, but nearly all were focussed on the individual, not the team: the IfA developed a series of Workplace Learning Bursaries with its partners, but these largely addressed the needs of a few fortunate individuals, rather than the majority of staff. The bursaries did reportedly change the way the host organisations thought about training, but there is little evidence that they improved training for their rest of staff, and certainly there was no flood of companies stepping forward to fund their own bursaries. The NVQ in Archaeological Practice is another scheme that has so far failed to achieve its potential, although the related development of the National Occupational Standards for archaeology has created a useful framework for archaeological training schemes, especially when seeking to tap into funding sources for apprenticeship schemes from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills. These apprentice schemes have great potential in providing individuals with new ways into the profession, with funded, structured, on-the-job training and the development of apprenticeships has the possibility of helping train existing staff through the development of training materials and techniques.

Individual employers have also developed schemes; Cotswold Archaeology developed a set of 'Designate' schemes, for Supervisors, Project Officers and Project Managers, training and supporting existing staff into new roles. Whilst I worked at Cotswold Archaeology I developed a series of training sessions and materials that were given to all staff, not just designates, part of a commitment to training that went beyond the individual.

More recently I worked with LP Archaeology on their year-long 100 Minories site; there we provided training on a two-prong approach: LP ran a series of pub-based 'Symposium' sessions with speakers on a wide range of topics related to the site, whilst I embedded training into the working day, with inter-active site tours, talks from visiting specialists, discussions on specific artefacts and buildings, as well as more structured training sessions on aspects of site-work ranging from matrices, photography and paperwork checking through to clay pipes and bricks.

Urban Archaeology factsheet on robber cuts; the factsheets are designed for use on site and can provide the basis for discussion and learning, all in a simple format that can be kept for later reference

My research and practice has led to a firm belief that training should be available for all staff, not just the fortunate or pointy-elbowed, that training should be available at the place of work, linked to the work wherever possible, and that training is a mutual commitment that requires work from employer and employee. I developed the idea of a Training Hour, intended to deliver this training on site, at minimal expense or time cost, and to change the training culture into a positive one rather than a tick-box CPD scheme.

The Training Hour is intended to be a mutual commitment to provide/receive roughly an hour a week of work-related training. This can be provided by site colleagues or visiting specialists, by an interactive site tour, by one-to one mentoring or training, or Toolbox Talks. Short, bite-sized chunks of training that can be related to both the site and the team. Once training is embedded into the working week it can finally become a mutually valued and fundamental part of the job, and stop being seen as a chore or irrelevant, but as a way of becoming a better archaeologist.

For more on the Training Hour concept see Training Diggers and Changing Cultures: Embedding a ‘Training Hour’ within the Working Week, published in The Historic Environment, Vol. 6 No. 2, September 2015, 167–76