What Does it Take to Get that Archaeology Job? GIS…?

I love GIS!

I love GIS!

It is indeed interesting that this post on Doug’s Archaeology regarding jobs in archaeology, specifically management jobs in archaeology, mentions GIS. GIS skills/qualifications in archaeology is a particular area of interest of mine.

In the UK, GIS is used for many tasks from resource management (eg Historic Environment Records) to undertaking Desk Based Assessments (DBAs) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). As such, a requirement for GIS appears more and more often on job adverts in the public and commercial sectors, at least for jobs that involve ‘doing’ rather than ‘managing’. True, management jobs typically do not mention GIS unless they are considered ‘technical’ posts. This often means archaeology managers are responsible for staff who use GIS yet may not understand or appreciate what their staff are doing.

However, there is currently no easy way of assessing GIS skills, there being no formal accredited training courses for practical archaeological GIS, tailored to the specific needs of employers and employees. Generic GIS courses such as those run by Esri tend not to cover the full range of skills needed for archaeological use of GIS in a single course and given the price of such courses, an archaeologist would require a number of courses to cover everything they would need to know, costing a considerable amount of money. There are a few specialist post-graduate courses for archaeological GIS but these are generally overkill for most people; there is no way everyone undertaking archaeological GIS work can be expected to have such a qualification. Many universities do not have the staff to teach archaeological GIS and so either a) don’t bother trying, b) get someone who knows something to teach the basics or c) get eg a geography lecturer to teach a generic basic module. None of these solutions are ideal.

Out in the job market, GIS skills vary from ‘can just about turn it on and view some data’ to ‘professional GIS analyst/developer’ and, unfortunately, with managers making decisions about hiring and firing, themselves not necessarily knowing much about GIS, it is pretty easy to add GIS to a CV and apparently meet the job requirements, sailing through the interview to get the job and yet not really being able to effectively use GIS.

So I would say yes, having (or at least claiming to have) GIS skills is good for career prospects but currently less important for management level posts, rightly or wrongly. As GIS becomes more widespread and less technical, general day to day GIS skills will become ubiquitous anyway, as happened with word-processing skills, to the point where a basic level of knowledge is assumed and taken for granted. In the meantime, I would argue there is a need for short archaeological GIS training courses, tailored to the range of tasks archaeologists typically do using GIS and which can be formally recognised and accredited by some representative body. This would allow (non-technical) managers making decisions about hiring and firing to make evidence based decisions, benefiting the employer; proper archaeological GIS qualifications could also form part of archaeologist Continuing Professional Development (CPD), benefiting the employee.

I would welcome other people’s thoughts on this.