A14C2H trainees (c) A14C2H courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure.jpg

Skills, archaeology and economic growth

MOLA team

Next month our CEO Janet Miller is chairing the skills session at the Oxford Cambridge Corridor Economic Growth Conference 2018. A panel of influential speakers is coming together to ask: How do we develop the skills needed to grow the economy? What new skills do we need?

The UK skills shortage presents a huge challenge to the development sector and wider construction industry and if left unchecked will negatively impact our economic growth and development. Skills shortages don’t just affect the construction workforce: they are keenly felt by those in related industries, including archaeology. Here we consider how these shortages might be addressed through collaboration and innovation.

Solving this problem requires a focus on pooling and nurturing expertise from across the UK, Europe and beyond. With infrastructure at the top of the agenda and large road and rail and schemes placing huge demands on the industry we’ve been working with partners across the UK and internationally to combine expertise. On Tideway, the London sewer project, we are working as part of a consortium - MOLA Headland Infrastructure - and have brought together specialists from the leading archaeological organisations nationally and internationally. The importance of local knowledge cannot and has not been overlooked and local experts are integral to the team, helping with everything from project design to the interpretation of the results.

To manage demand for dedicated specialists on these large projects it is also necessary to develop the skills of existing workforces. The scale of research on human remains carried out for Crossrail required a dedicated team of osteologists. To deal with this quantity of work we upskilled and grew our team and these osteologists are now integral to carrying out osteological work on other large infrastructure projects going forward.

Relying on the existing pool of specialists alone does not manage the problem in the long term. Projects like the Oxford-Cambridge corridor have the potential to make a significant contribution to training the next generation and in turn tackling shortages. Training archaeologists is an essential cog in this wheel. Archaeology has traditionally relied upon channelling graduates from academic study of the discipline and this continues to be a vital and robust route into the profession. However, academic study doesn’t necessarily prepare potential archaeologists for the practicalities of field archaeology and we also need to reach out to those who haven’t taken the traditional route into the profession.

The innovative training scheme MOLA Headland Infrastructure devised and rolled out for the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme reached out to graduates, as well as recruiting people with no formal archaeological training. Formal training and on-the-job skills development with mentors from our expert staff made the programmes accessible and provided employment opportunities for local people. It also allowed graduates to gain vital field experience and augmented the considerable team of 250 archaeologists needed to carry out the scheme.

These are just a few of the ways in which we as archaeologists can work and are working with our partners in the development sector to address the skills shortages head-on. If you would like to talk with our team about skills development opportunities then please get in touch with us business@mola.org.uk and we hope to see you at the Oxford Cambridge Corridor Economic Growth Conference 2018 on the 21 June in Milton Keynes.

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