IAI (un)employment survey
The results of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland’s (IAI) recent employment survey are now online here. And, although not unexpected, it makes for a very sobering read. Although not necessarily definitive, given that the survey numbers account for only 27% of the total estimated amount of archaeologist employed in 2007 (459 of an estimated 1709), it indicates a reduction in employment of contract archaeologists of 82%, and a reduction in full-time archaeologists of 26%; in numbers – from a total amount employed of 516 as of June 2008, there are now only 248 still in employment (as of January 2009). In Britain, recent news indicates a 20% reduction in employment in the sector (for more see here).
The archaeology industry in Ireland demonstrated huge growth (clearly it was unsustainable growth) over the past twenty years, in terms of excavation work and numbers employed, largely through private sector property development, roads and other private development activity, and the sudden, sharp drop in employment obviously reflects the current economic ‘difficulties’. Given commercial archaeology’s dependence on the private development sector and State infrastructure, it’s difficult to see any improvement in the short to medium term.
Archaeology as a profession and how we deal with our cultural heritage resource has changed dramatically over the period (mostly for the good), but this collapse is very worrying, not just for those who are now unemployed or facing unemployment but also for the profession as a whole. It represents a huge ‘brain drain’ as the demand for qualified field workers falls and people are forced to look at other professions. But it also represents a threat in terms of good practice, with competition among the surviving consultancies and sole traders leading to severely reduced margins and cash pressures. Price based competition, reduced order books in the commercial sector and the vagaries of being under contract to construction companies (under recent procurement and contract arrangements, professional consultants such as archaeologists employed on public sector/local authority infrastructure cannot be appointed directly by the consulting engineers or the Council and must be appointed by the contractor) will almost certainly lead to short cuts being taken and incidents of bad practise. It’s also clearly of concern that when the upturn comes, there may be a shortfall of qualified, experienced practitioners.
The IAI have elected to address and discuss the issue, and how to adapt to these challenges at the forthcoming conference in July.