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Removing barriers to upward mobility for junior HRM staff

July 12, 2017

By John R. Welch

One need for improvement consistently identified is in the area of graduate training of future practitioners of CRM archaeology – Weisman & White, Antiquity 74: 203 (2000)

This article challenges the CRM industry, respectfully, to put its “money, data, and opportunities” (Whitley, SAA Archaeological Record 4[2]: 25 [2004]), where its mouth has been. I argue that CRM professionals should build upon archaeology’s defining commitment to create and mobilise knowledge about the past by supporting junior staff in obtaining research-focused graduate degrees. I first review calls, predominantly from CRM archaeologists toward universities, to boost the relevance and practicality of graduate training for archaeologists. I then describe how the Professional Graduate Program in Heritage Resource Management in the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University constitutes a direct and innovative response to these calls. I end with suggestions for CRM firm investments in the professional development of BA-holding personnel, especially support for graduate training that does not require major career and personal disruptions. My overall goal is to refresh and advance dialogues among academic and applied archaeologists, including broader discussions about university-industry partnerships that engage legal, practical, business, research issues, as well as CRM industry demands for highly qualified personnel.

CRM Calls for Academic Action

More than a half century ago (1963), in “A Training Program for Salvage Archaeology” (American Antiquity 28[3]: 392), the venerable James Hester wrote: "The study of archaeology is currently in a period of crisis, primarily because large-scale reservoir, pipeline, transmission line, and highway programs on public lands are furnishing rapidly expanding opportunities for archaeological research" and supplies of qualified professional investigators are insufficient.

The academic response in North America and elsewhere, including Britain was less than emphatic, but much more than insouciant. One infallible source of perspective, my friend and mentor, J. Jefferson Reid at the University of Arizona, quipped, “we’re not a vo-tech college.” Still, as CRM proliferated through the 1970s and 1980s, CRM practitioners issued more urgent calls and thought leaders in archaeology entered constructive dialogues. The introduction to Henry Cleere’s path-finding book, Archaeological Heritage Management in the Modern World (1989: 15) called for collaboration among universities, professional organizations, and government agencies toward the “creation of a new profession of archaeological heritage manager.”

Another decade went by. It became clearer than ever that CRM was the new nexus for most archaeological research. CRM emerged as not only the home for the greatest number, diversity, and size of projects, but also as a multiplier for legal, ethical, and management complexity and as the context for new modes and purposes for investigation and analysis. Not your grandfather’s archaeology.

Various public-minded and future-focused universities responded with innovative and successful offerings (Sonoma StateSouth Florida, and Northern Arizona come to mind), but the exploding CRM industry still wanted and needed more personnel outfitted for work on site identification, significance assessment, and data recovery projects. The 1997 report on the Society for American Archaeology's Task Force on Consulting Archaeology (Elston, SAA Bulletin 15[5]), urged efforts to close gaps between CRM and academic archaeologies, including graduate programs designed and implemented to meet the specific demands of CRM firms for highly trained junior professionals. Again, faculties at various universities, in North America including ArizonaGeorgiaCentral Washington, and Western Ontario, leapt into the breach with innovative applied programs.

Simon Fraser University's Response

I stayed arm’s length from these developments (and non-developments) through the first half of my career in consulting, US Federal Government, and tribal (White Mountain Apache) CRM, and even after joining the faculty in SFU’s Department of Archaeology and School of Resource and Environmental Management in 2005. Like most other archaeologists, I was busy with priorities other than graduate training policy and program development. Over the next decade I learned more about the great similarities between CRM in Canada and the US, giving rise to nagging concerns about CRM across the continent and internationally (see chapters with Neal Ferris in Transforming Archaeology, 2014). My cost-benefit analysis (admittedly slapdash) of compliance-driven archaeology concluded that we—meaning all archaeologists and others who value heritage—needed to do more to recognize and act in accord with the full spectrum of cultural heritage affected by land alteration, the full range of values embedded in that heritage—aesthetic, economic, scientific, societal, spiritual…— and the ever-expanding toolkit of conceptual and practical options for avoiding and minimizing those effects (see also our 2017 article, “Full Spectrum Archaeology,” Archaeologies 13[1]). 

Among my Achilles heel weaknesses is an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and a propensity to pursue even ill-defined opportunities to counter what I see as structural injustice. This problematic combination of faults led inexorably to action. As I watched so many of the best and brightest undergraduates from SFU and other universities march off to the CRM front lines, and so few return for graduate degrees, a windmill ripe for tilting came into distant view. What would a professional graduate program for completing the training of established CRM practitioners look like? Would SFU Archaeology be a good place for such a program? Is the number of BA-holding field technicians, crew chiefs, analytic specialists, and junior-level project directors sufficient to sustain a(nother) graduate program? How might a graduate program be structured to attract and support students from ‘demographics’ not adequately represented in CRM archaeology? Would rapid recent increases in the power and beauty of distance education software provide the appropriate platform for such a program and would archaeologists be amenable to and successful in online learning environments? Could recent successes in Indigenous community-CRM archaeologist collaborations help to structure and guide professional graduate training?

In 2015, SFU dangled internal grant funding to jump-start professional online graduate programs. The temptation was great, mercenary instincts converged with missionary inclinations, and our Archaeology faculty rose to take the university’s bait. With help from industry and government colleagues and our business management course designer, Christopher Dore, we built a program upon the following 10 key attributes and comparative advantages:

  1. SFU is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and the only Canadian research university accredited in the United States. QS International Rankings rates SFU Archaeology in the top 10 departments for worldwide citations and, overall, the 13th-ranked archaeology department in the world.
  2. SFU Archaeology is the most successful locus of BA and MA training for C/HRM archaeologists in Western Canada, with over 1,000 BAs, 210 MAs, and 75 PhDs completed.
  3. The HRM Program structure, process, and requirements are transparent and compact, with all coursework purpose-built by and for CRM professionals (not cobbled together from existing offerings) from the US and Canada. The Program features: a 3-day on-campus orientation to set the tone and pace for high-quality communications within the student cohort and among faculty, students, and industry partners; 2 terms of intensive coursework (four courses) dedicated to the 4 essential prerequisites for sustained success in C/HRM: Law and Policy; Ethics and Practice; Business Management; Research Design and Methods.
  4. MA thesis, rigorously defined and expertly guided by a faculty supervisor to meet the standards of the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA), other pertinent jurisdictional criteria, and essential SFU requirements, including an in-person oral defence.
  5. An optional, coursework-only Graduate Certificate in HRM Archaeology.
  6. Coursework focus on North American (US and Canada) that facilitates cross-border comparisons and opens minds and doors to international practice and frontiers.
  7. Opportunities to integrate professional work experiences and case studies into Program coursework and thesis research.
  8. State-of-the-art online learning environments supported by dedicated specialists at SFU’s Centre for Online and Distance Education.
  9. Enrolled cohort members become candidates for the same degree as other SFU Archaeology MA students but receive exclusive access to specialized training and release from on-campus requirements (except the Orientation and their oral thesis defence).
  10. Students join the growing network of Program candidates and partners, furthering their access to professional opportunities and advancement.

SFU Archaeology’s Professional Graduate Program in Heritage Resource Management is both unique and uniquely responsive to the core request from the CRM industry for expert training within the envelope of the CRM profession. At least as importantly, the Program has been well received as a worthy option for BA- or BSc-holding practitioners. CRM colleagues and our first students have found that our Program broadens, deepens, and professionalizes participant capacities to integrate and balance often competing legal, ethical, business, and scientific demands. The intensive, in-person orientation, four online courses with virtual meetings, and thesis requirements expand and enhance credential candidates’ knowledge of contemporary CRM dynamics on regional, national, and global scales.

Time for the CRM Industry to Step Up?

SFU is one of about universities in the US and Canada to hear and heed CRM leaders’ pleas for improved graduate training needed to populate CRM’s human resource pipelines. Faculty members and university administrators have worked hard to create curricular offerings attractive to students, useful to their current and prospective employers, and tailored to meet RPA standards and comparable requirements for student theses.

At SFU, the 2016 student cohort rated their experience highly and demonstrated their learning by placing second in the 2017 SAA Ethics Bowl. MA candidate Whitney Spearing wrote, "The course material is directly relevant to project planning and operations—both high-risk factors in the HRM compliance industry." Another MA candidate, Derek O’Neill, said, "Working in the HRM industry in BC for almost ten years, I would consider myself knowledgeable in many aspects of our industry; however, the coursework has been incredibly enlightening and engaging to problems facing heritage management on a regional, national, and global scale."

SFU has taken further steps to make it as easy and valuable as possible to apply to and attend the HRM Program. The university has relaxed admissions standards to honor experience equivalents from applicants. The response to early feedback from prospective applicants included a tuition decrease to $26,000 CAD (around $19,000 USD). Our faculty has also encouraged MA candidates to engage non-academic senior colleagues as members of thesis committees. The Program website, Twitter feed, and newsletters receive and deliver Program, application, and heritage conservation information around the world.

SFU Archaeology and other faculties have responded constructively and substantively to persistent calls from the CRM industry for special training for their personnel. I’ve had discussions with at least 100 CRM company owners and managers about graduate training since early 2015. These constructive dialogues have made it clear that CRM still needs expertly trained staff. CRM industry leaders are eager to participate in designing and implementing university programs to deliver that training. On the other hand, it is much less clear whether CRM leaders and their companies are ready and able to meet universities half way. In particular, CRM employers appear hesitant to provide financial support or modified duty schedules for employees interested in part-time graduate education. Several expressed concerns with giving access to MA candidates to CRM project data for use in course projects or thesis research (seemingly less true in the US, but considerable resistance in Canada). Despite keen interests in finding and retaining talented and committed staff, CRM has yet to institutionalize access on the part of junior personnel to professional development (see RPA’s Continuing Professional Education initiative).

My suspicion (and hope!) is that these are growing pains. Opportunities abound for further discussions to create industry-university partnerships that address these sorts of concerns and build on fundamental disciplinary mandates for resource conservation, ethical practice, and high-quality knowledge creation and mobilization as a public good. SFU’s Executive MBA in Aboriginal Business and Leadership provides one model for such partnerships, and there are many others. What’s missing so far from the domain of cultural heritage management and CRM archaeology partnerships with universities is real commitments on the part of CRM firms and bigger environmental services and construction support companies.

SFU, and I would wager other universities, are ready and able to collaborate with CRM industry representatives. At the moment SFU is particularly interested in discussions to identify and harmonize diverse interests in advancing the educational careers of junior colleagues who have made commitments to CRM careers, but there is a lot more to talk about. Topics include opening new markets and the internationalization of CRM policy and practice, translating important CRM research results into broadly accessible media, combating looting and other cultural heritage crime, integrating biophysical and sociocultural heritage conservation, etc. Archaeology needs, and our diverse public-government-private clientele deserves, future-focused deliberations focused on how university-industry collaborations can add value and scope to each of the four essential dimensions of CRM—law and policy, ethics and practice, business management, and research design and methods. There will never be a better time to define the desired attributes of future generations of practice, practitioners, public engagements, and research impacts.

In the meantime, at least one opportunity is immediately available at SFU Archaeology. Slots are still open for the 2017 cohort. We have extended the application deadline to early August. We strongly encourage applications from those ready to raise their career ceilings, boost their research capacities, optimize their potential earnings, and learn a lot.