Benchmarking Competency in Maritime Archaeology

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What is competence?

The Nautical Archaeology Society has now published its study into what makes someone a competent maritime archaeologist and has made recommendations for how to make competency of skills the key for future participation in maritime archaeology in the UK.

Two years in the making, and commissioned by English Heritage, the project has been undertaken to relate archaeological skills training to standards. The research was designed to identify the range and level of skills required in maritime archaeology, define competencies, identify and define how ‘fit-for-purpose’ training is developed in order to meet those standards, and to determine how sufficient opportunities can be provided to both gain and maintain competencies.

Input into the study was sought from a variety of individuals and key stakeholder organisations interested in maritime archaeology, education, training and standards, with workshops held in Edinburgh, London and Plymouth in 2008.  The consultation focused on the needs of employers’ and the public interest for specific competencies. The study also used four practitioner case studies to assess whether the UK National Occupational Standards for Archaeology and the National Vocational Qualification in Archaeological Practice are appropriate mechanisms for validation of practitioner competency in maritime archaeology.  Finally the study was supplemented by an online survey questionnaire designed to inform the consultation.

The recommendations in the report include:

  • Promotion and support for UK National Occupational Standards for Archaeology
  • Encouraging the use of the National Vocational Qualification in Archaeological Practice
  • Creation of a competency scheme to allow verification of practitioners abilities
  • Creation of standards for peer reviewing of archaeological work
  • Future use of the European Qualification Framework to harmonise training standards
  • Need to increase practitioners abilities to work on and understand submerged landscapes and industrial archaeological remains
  • A training strategy that incorporates skills acquisition via short course attendance and increasing opportunities for experience and mentoring for practitioners through collaborative long term research driven training projects to help bridge the gap between academic education and vocational skills training.

Mark Beattie-Edwards, Programme Director with the Nautical Archaeology Society says that “It is great to be able to release the results of the benchmarking study, which we hope will contribute to the development of coordinated training provision for maritime archaeologists, encompassing the aspirations and needs of both professional and avocational archaeologist.  However the important next step is to act swiftly and put forward proposals to the government’s heritage agencies to act on these recommendations”.

Ian Oxley, Head of Maritime Archaeology at English Heritage has said “This innovative project has helped to define the training and knowledge requirements of a maritime archaeologist, building on earlier work commissioned by English Heritage. With this information, we shall be able to devise training strategies to ensure the development and continuation of appropriate expertise for the future, particularly with respect to continued exploitation and interest in our seas.”

The full report can be downloaded from the link below.

Benchmarking Competency Final Report (pdf)


Project Recommendations (taken from page 48-51)

Recommendations for further work following the “Benchmarking Competency” study are:    Promotion and support for UK National Occupational Standards for Archaeology

  •     Using the new National Vocational Qualification in Archaeology
  •     Creation of a competency scheme to allow verification of practitioners abilities
  •     Creation of standards for peer reviewing of work
  •     Use of the European Qualification Framework to harmonise training standards
  •     Increasing opportunities for practitioners to work on and understand submerged landscapes and industrial archaeological remains including 20th century shipwrecks
  •     Support for courses that specially target gaps in current provision
  •     Support for opportunities for knowledge acquisition and skills training

1. Promotion and support for UK National Occupational Standards for Archaeology
As has already been stated in Section 5.2 the National Occupational Standards (NOS) in Archaeological Practice were first prepared in 2002 and subsequently restructured (although their content has not been changed) by the Creative and Cultural Skills Council in 2006. These NOS were created to be the benchmarks of performance, setting out what tasks skilled practitioners need to be able to undertake in order to demonstrate their competence in the workplace.  These skills include technical and archaeological skills as well as the other, generic, workplace skills that are needed by archaeologists. In the 21st century world driven by standards and efficiency the NOS should provide the required objective measures of performance.

However at present the NOS are little used and little understood by most archaeological practitioners. The reason being that few are even aware of their existence and the role that the NOS can play in their workplace or their career development.  It recommended therefore that more work be done to proliferate the NOS into archaeology.  All training providers including universities and the NAS should ensure that their short courses and their academic programmes are easily measured against the NOS units to demonstrate that courses are “fit for purpose”.  Since January 2009 the NAS has undertaken this on all its NAS Part 3 short courses delivered in the UK.  Other organisations such as the Archaeology Training Forum and the Institute for Archaeologists Professional Training Committee have a crucial role to play in the promotion of the NOS within the sector.

The acceptance of the standards, the process of benchmarking archaeological work and archaeological training against these, will support those with the power to authorise work in ensuring that competent “archaeologists” can and do deliver quality work, of good (objective) measure, and published accordingly.  It is believed that standards will also help new entrants to the discipline, as they can provide a framework for education and training agencies to develop “fit for purpose” syllabi and assist individuals in their personal competence development and career progression.

2. Using the new National Vocational Qualification in Archaeology
Following on from the acceptance and proliferation of the NOS, a recommendation of the “Benchmarking” study is the use of the competency units of the NVQ in Archaeological Practice as a method to provide the benchmark of competence; the benchmark which the profession currently lacks.

Although still in its infancy, the Qualification is generating interest amongst both career and avocational archaeologists.  Naturally all new NVQ’s will take time to embed within a sector and will evolve as candidates begin to undertake the qualification (Trevor Meakin, EDI, pers. comm.), but in order for the qualification to become embedded in the discipline it needs to be fully supported and promoted.  For maritime archaeology it is recommended that training providers undertake the necessary procedures to become NVQ Assessment Centres who would then be able to assess NVQ candidates whose “workplace” (whether paid or voluntary) was within the maritime archaeological sphere.

As stated in the report, the NVQ Level 3 and 4 frameworks have been used to define the competence levels in the “Benchmarking” study.  The absence of a Level 2 standard has meant that using the NVQ framework for the study leaves a gap at the lower end of the competence scales and that this has affected both assessment of competence of individuals and of training provision.  Some of the existing training is not targeted at Level 3 or 4 but rather at a Level 2 standard.  Many Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for example simply aim to give an awareness of issues in a new technology or a specialised archaeological domain.

It is recommended that the development of a Level 2 NVQ in Archaeological Practice be considered and pursued. Both EDI (the accrediting body who submitted the Vocational Qualification in Archaeological Practice to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) and the IfA have indicated their interest in this recommendation.

3. Creation of a competency scheme to allow verification of practitioner’s abilities
In the report it was stated that a “candidate’s portfolio of evidence of competence” was viewed by consultees and training providers as an appropriate measure of evaluating the abilities of an archaeological practitioner. This has implications for competence management strategies, in that respondents indicate that a portfolio of evidence is more important in verifying competency, rather than any specific qualification.

It is therefore a recommendation of this study that archaeologists, both professional and avocational could be encouraged to keep such a portfolio, irrespective of whether they are engaged on a formal qualification process and that a freely available template be formulated to allow maritime archaeologists to illustrate skills in appropriate competency areas. Downloadable templates would help people understand what to record, how to record it and would help to encourage consistent recording.

Candidates pursuing an NVQ, and those applying for professional membership of IfA are already required to assemble a portfolio, but archaeologists should be encouraged not just to see this as a one off, and training providers of all forms need to be ensuring (and explaining how at enrolment), their students develop good habits in keeping such a portfolio or competency record – with the actual evidence (witness statements), and an indexed log.  It is envisaged that such a portfolio of evidence could be used for licence applications for protected wrecks under the 1973 Act and for professional membership of the IfA.  It is believed that this would be an inexpensive way to demonstrate competence.

The study has suggested that a similar scheme could also be appropriate when work is carried out by avocational teams, where the individual qualifications or CVs of team members is not thought to be as good a guide to competence of the team as the previous experience of the team.  This suggests that strategies should be followed that sustain, encourage and support teams to work together over a long period of time.

4. Creation of standards for peer reviewing of work
The consultation carried out as part of this study has demonstrated that a popular method of competency assessment by the academic sector is the process of peer review.  In fact, within most heritage agency funded work peer review is already commonplace.  Within English Heritage commissioned work, peer review is applied to the Project Design, to progress reports as well as publication.  Peer review, if managed well, is a good way to transfer skills (as commented by consultees), and feedback from peer review was favoured by consultees as a choice of assessment.  It is therefore a recommendation of this study that maritime archaeologists are  encouraged to seek peer review (even where not mandatory), and it is recommended that public funds be used to supporting a framework for providing positively critical mentors to undertake such peer review.

Section 7.3 of the report proposes the development and implementation of peer reviewed national standards that support the objectivity of the peer review system; such a system has worked well in the Netherlands, and may find acceptance in the UK.  It is therefore a recommendation that UK archaeological bodies consider a similar approach to support the peer review system.

5. Use of the European Qualification Framework to harmonise training standards
This study has for the first time attempted to establish whether it is possible to achieve an international consensus on what constitute the core skills of a maritime archaeologist.  Many of the individuals consulted on this issue raised doubts about the achievability, whilst the majority felt it desirable in order to support free movement of people between countries and to enable knowledge to be derived to consistent standards throughout the world.  The report states that the introduction of the European Qualification Framework, should mean that in the future there will be much more harmonisation of skill requirements and training standards across Europe.  This report recommends further work be undertaken to try to gain international consensus and that training providers use the European Qualification Framework to benchmark their courses.

6. Increasing practitioners abilities to work on and understand submerged landscapes and industrial archaeological remains
The consultation exercise has illustrated that for many practitioners the level of understanding and knowledge of submerged landscapes is low.  Many have had no experience of working on submerged landscape sites and therefore it is recommended that a programme be instigated to increase practical competence of working on these sites.

Equally, with the increasing interest in industrial archaeology, it seems that there is a potential resource in inland waterways and man-made lakes that is not being explored by maritime archaeologists.

7. Supporting opportunities for knowledge acquisition and skills training
One of the key conclusions of the research undertaken as part of the “Benchmarking” study has been that “qualified does not equal competent”.  Whilst this simple statement might sound obvious it has been backed by English Heritage (Roberts & Trow 2002) and the Archaeology Training Forum (2003) and supported by input by consultees. These ranged from qualified archaeologists for whom their lack of practical skills has hindered their careers and also from avocational practitioners who have felt their practical experience and skills did not give them a theoretical grounding in archaeology. It is therefore the recommendation of this study that various measures be supported that would help address the weaknesses in the system.

The report has suggested that a range of measures should include:

  • Short course topics that address gaps in knowledge and skills for intrusive investigative techniques, historical research and desk based assessment, on seaplanes / crashed aircraft, inland waterways, submerged landscapes and industrial archaeology including the significance of 20th century shipwrecks.
  • Support for groups undertaking work on nationally protected sites following assessment of training needs and skills gaps.
  • Support for long-term research based training field schools that should be tied into local or national research frameworks or potentially to the “Heritage at Risk Register” (English Heritage 2008) that maximise learning opportunities and are accredited by a recognised UK body.