It’s not just archaeology. Most students don’t learn what they need in college.

How can universities prepare students for cultural resource management archaeology careers?A few months ago, I penned a (un)popular blog post titled “When archaeology field techs have to teach PhDs how to do archaeology”. Some people thought it was great. Many did not. Fortunately, I haven’t been kicked out of graduate school over it.

The basic premise was: Universities are not teaching archaeology students the skills they need to survive in cultural resource management or for careers as academicians. I’ve discussed the matter with current university professors since the blog post was published and they agree that the traditional anthro degree, even a graduate degree, does not prepare graduates for the job market, especially for CRM careers.

Universities are increasingly aware of this blind spot in their programs. One professor I spoke with said the problem isn’t that profs don’t want to teach CRM. They know students need to know how to become CRMers and want to teach those skills. Many professors did CRM before becoming profs and continue to work on CRM projects. He said the problem is the curriculum requirements. Anthro programs have proscribed plans of study that, for the most part, do not adequately expose students to CRM concepts. Professors have to follow the curriculum in order to graduate students.

In sum, it is the university administrations not the professors that are not listening to the business community and are not serving college students.

A recent study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows that universities are failing at teaching workplace skills for almost all majors. The study titled “It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success” is summarized on the AACU website. The study was based on a survey given to employers and civic leaders across the country. Here are some of the high points from the website’s overview:

1)  Ninety-three percent said that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, clearly communicate, and solve complex problems was more important than undergraduate major. Basically, for archaeologists, projects are the new resume. This is one of the reasons why a capstone undergraduate thesis is so important, not only for getting in grad school. It demonstrates your ability to complete complicated projects.

2)  Over 90 percent said they look to hire people that have ethical integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity to continue learning. Those attributes are central to anthropology degrees, so I wonder if these managers are looking at anth majors.

3)  Employers want universities to emphasize research and evidence-based analysis, in-depth knowledge of analytical problem solving, and opportunities to apply their education in real-world settings. THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN ‘BOUT! Those are the skills CRM hiring managers want in their new hires, which are, coincidentally, what employers want in every field.

4)  Employers want to hire T-people: Folks with a breadth of knowledge as well as intimate knowledge of a specific field. Surprise.

5)  Four in five employers would like for job applicants to have an electronic portfolio (i.e. website, LinkedIn profile, ect.). This is especially important for CRMers who are trying to break into the market. The world is going digital, including your resume. You still need to know how to write a good one, but you’re also going to need to create a robust online platform to showcase your work. Want to know more? Check out the article “Online Personal Branding for Archaeologists” on the SHA Blog.

6)  Employers are interested in partnering with universities to help smooth the transition from school to work. This is important for CRMers because the college-industry dialogue pretty much isn’t happening right now.

7)  MOST IMPORTANTLY: Nearly 2/3 of employers thought a liberal arts degree was the kind of education is the best way to prepare for success in the 21st century. Take that U.S. News and World Report!

How can we include CRM basic skills in anthropology programs?

What can we do if anthro departments aren’t covering CRM skills in their programs? One solution is to change the curriculum to emphasize CRM archaeology along the lines of Central Washington University’s Resource Management graduate degree or the Cultural Resource Management MA at Sonoma State (you can listen to an interview with Steve Hackenberger as he explains the program at CWU or hear Adrian Praetzellis describe the CRM MA at Sonoma State). These programs are highly sought after by CRMers that are looking to shatter the glass ceiling in CRM by getting their Master’s, which fulfills the Secretary of Interior’s standards for archaeology that helps determine who can and who cannot supervise a CRM project in many jurisdictions.

Another strategy is creating online training programs that help teach skills that aren’t learned in college. Informative blogs like this one are one small piece of the puzzle. Training programs along the lines of the ACHP Section 106 trainings are another partial solution. I’m still in the process of working on a CRM MOOC that will also help close the gap between college and the workplace. Stay tuned.

The best way to solve this conundrum is to convince existing anthro programs to allow students to minor or major in cultural resource management. The Applied Anthropology MA at the University of Arizona is among several programs that are attempting to round the bend and incorporate CRM skills into their existing program. The UAZ program could be drastically improved if it merged with the Heritage Conservation Certificate program administered by the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (CALA).

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am currently a graduate student at the University of Arizona and am working on completing the Heritage Conservation Certificate. I’m biased because, in the over 8 years of higher education I’ve experienced, the heritage conservation certificate classes are the only ones I’ve ever taken that, I feel, can prepare students for a career in CRM.)

As it stands, the heritage conservation is a non-degree minor but it could be added as a concentration/minor to existing anthro, history, and geography MA programs just like it is for architecture, sustainability, and planning students. This would give anthro grad students an opportunity to move beyond theory, and “Archaeology of the…” classes and into real-world applications of historic preservation regulations along the lines as will be expected in a CRM career.

Anthropology, archaeology, and cultural resource management are just the tips of the iceberg. It seems like most college majors are not preparing students for the skills they’re going to need in the workplace. Let’s do something to change that.

What do you think? How can we better prepare college students for the workplace?

What do you think anthro departments can do to prepare their graduates for careers in cultural resource management archaeology?

Write a comment below or send me an email.

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