AAL: Winners of the Archaeological Training Forum Award!

...and here's what we're doing and why

This week we attended the CIfA Conference in Newcastle where we were proud to win the Archaeology Training Forum (ATF) award for the AAL Commerical Archaeology Trainee Scheme! It’s really fabulous to have everyone’s efforts in passing on their skills and knowledge recognised in this way and massive congratulations are due to our trainers and trainees alike!

ATF award

AAL Senior Manager Natasha Powers collects our award (with congratulations to Worcester Archive and Archaeology Service for their highly commended)

We believe that knowledge and skills are best when shared and that a smaller company can provide a more diverse training experience. We also see it as our responsibility to provide a rounded set of experiences which staff can use to take their career in whichever direction they choose. I said in my acceptance speech (whilst facing a stuffed giraffe) that I hoped we showed that training doesn’t need to be rocket science, and the judges commended our straightforward and pragmatic approach. So what have we done that’s so special?

It’s short – The logic behind this is simple. When recruiting we ask for three months experience of UK commercial archaeology, so rather than relying on finding people who already have this, we offer three months with us to meet that criteria.

It’s affordable – It is important to us that our traineeships are accessible so they are fully paid. The wage enables people who are not in a financial position to volunteer on research excavations to apply for the role. Keeping the timescale short makes this an even more practical option. Overtime and subsistence allowances are available and, Trainees have free transport to and from site and free accommodation if they work away (as do the rest of our staff).

It’s diverse – Trainees are given experience of and support with all the tasks that a Project Archaeologist would do. At AAL this includes survey (GPS and/or TST), GIS and illustration skills, photography and assisting with geophysical survey as well as excavation and recording.

…and so are out trainees – Our trainees have been recent graduates, early career individuals from outside the UK and young people with a genuine interest and aptitude but who have not followed a traditional academic route.

We advertise on our website based on the company workload and, whenever we can we overlap the start of each traineeship with the end of the previous one.

Each trainee is given a written training plan which references CIfA training standards and templates and is linked to NOS. Following feedback from our staff last year, a key set of skills are also evaluated by each Project Supervisor at the end of each site. If a Trainee is not considered to have achieved the required level in skills at the end of the three months, their traineeship is extended and they are given a documented forward plan. In the two instances where traineeships were extended, both staff put in tremendous efforts following feedback and completed their traineeships shortly afterwards. Our aim is that on successful completion of the final review, the Trainee is awarded a permanent contract as Project Archaeologist.

Learning single context recording at Lincoln Transport Hub

Alice learning single context recording at Lincoln Transport Hub

Training on a rural, Roman site

Tae on a rural, Roman site

The positive and constructive feedback from our trainees shows the scheme works and is helping us to improve it further.

“I found my trainee programme very beneficial as I previously had no experience digging – either commercial or academic, so was a great opportunity to get into archaeology and be paid for it.”

“It gave me a proper view of what commercial archaeology really was and I didn’t feel like my lack of experience prevented me from going on any site or prevented any opportunities. The staff at Allen are all very friendly and helpful which made asking questions, help and generally becoming a part of the team so much easier.”

“I’m very grateful the trainee scheme exists as it allowed me to get into commercial archaeology when it might have otherwise been difficult”

“There was a balanced mix of office-based and site-based work that allowed me to develop excavation skills on small to large scale excavations, whilst learning how to make the transition from site material to post-excavation reporting smoother for all involved. All in all, my experience was really quite rounded. I enjoyed it immensely and it gave me the skills to feel confident to work at any site, or in the office”

Recent reports show a 5% drop in university applications, particularly from those aged 19–25 years. In a discipline that currently draws 95% of its staff base from universities, we hope that the this provides a working model for a non-traditional entry route. Supporting and mentoring the Trainees also contributes to staff development and is particularly valuable in enabling newly promoted Project Supervisors to hone their skills. Giving staff the chance to build on and share their experiences is vital (even if it is potentially a little scary for the Management Team) and our ‘AAL Xmas lectures’ ensure that we have at least one day a year when the whole team gets together.

Since March 2015, ten trainees have joined us: both recent graduates and those with no formal qualifications. All but one successfully completed their traineeship and five are currently permanent members of staff.