So, a few years ago I had an idea to create what would amount to a temp agency for field techs. It would be a company that is solely devoted to supplying field technicians to other companies for their projects. I didn’t feel I had the credentials or experience to start such a company at the time.
Well, after hearing about a similar company started by a former project roommate of mine, and, after talking to a few CRM friends, I think the time has come for a venture like this.
Why would someone want to be a part of this as a field tech? First, the pay and benefits, yes I said benefits, would be consistent and better than most of what anyone can get from a company. We would try to offer consistent pay for work around the United States and we would offer a comprehensive benefits package that includes holiday pay and vacation pay. Health and Dental insurance would be a part of the package but I’m not sure how it would work once the Affordable Care Act gets into full swing. I’ll talk about that when I figure it out.
Second: training. Constant online training would be a regular part of the job. If you want to work in the Great Basin, for example, you would take online courses and tests that prepare you for work in that region. I’m thinking there would be tests on recognizing mining features, identifying common historic artifacts including tin cans, glass bottles and jars, and ceramics. There would be courses on identifying mining equipment, historic ranching, and historic roads. Prehistoric courses would include lithic material identification, projectile point morphology, projectile point types, and flake morphology. Other courses would be included as well but this is just a sampling. We would also provide training on sub-meter GPS systems, mapping, photography, and how to fill out site forms.
Employees would receive certificates for completed training modules. It’s up to the employee to stay current and they would have to re-take the courses every six months. This is necessary to build a level of trust between FTI and the companies we would be contracting with.
Benefits to CRM Firms
When a CRM Firm needs to hire field techs for a new project and have exhausted all of their local resources they put out a call on either Shovelbums or Arch Fieldwork. Some companies are also using LinkedIn and Facebook for this. When the 10s to 100s of CVs and resumes come in it’s usually the project manager that has to sift through all of them. It can take hours to go through a stack of CVs before you get down to the ones you want to call references on. When you start to call and weed out the ones that have bad references, or, references that aren’t current many more, hours have passed.
Now, consider the fact that many Project Managers, at least out here in the West, are billed at over $80 an hour! If it takes them four days (and that’s conservative) to go through 150 resumes, call references, call potential employees, and possibly do interviews, the project has already been charged at least $2560! The project hasn't even started yet!
Now consider this...the project manager gets the go ahead from the PI to start the project. The PM calls FTI and says that he/she needs seven people for certain dates that are certified to work with historic mining sites, can operate a Trimble, and can take photographs. The FTI representative consults the database to see who’s available and schedules the techs. Done. FTI takes care of payroll, per diem, and human resources. The CRM Firm would be responsible for anything that their insurance requires them to be responsible for, such as field transportation and tailgate safety meetings.
At agreed upon intervals FTI would invoice the firm for the hours worked and the CRM firm would cut one check. That’s it. Done.
Great Idea! But, Why Won’t It Work?
The biggest problem that I can see is that CRM Firms make most of their profit from the billable rate of field technicians. There are more field techs on a project than anyone else so it makes sense that most of the profit is coming out of their billable rate. We, here at FTI, need to find that sweet spot where the Firm is still making an acceptable profit but where we can afford to cover our costs as well. Let’s start with an example.
Say a CRM firm bills it’s techs out at $60 an hour. Not unheard of. Now say that the field tech is going to make $20 an hour from FTI. Our billable rate needs to come in somewhere around $30-$35 an hour so the CRM firm can still cover their costs and make a profit. At about $35 an hour FTI would be able to pay the field tech and cover benefits at the same time. Of course, these numbers are hypothetical and no research has been put into actual numbers. That’s the next step.
Another reason this might fail comes down to trust. Everyone knows that when they go to a new job with a new company they are treated like they just got out of college and don’t know a thing about archaeology. That’s where our extensive training comes in. It’s the training that will help companies trust that they are getting a knowledgeable employee that will need virtually no training on the job. This increases efficiency and creates an atmosphere of respect all around.
To increase the likelihood that employers would trust the training I’d like to create a board of advisors composed of company presidents and PIs that would guide us in creating the necessary training for different regions. They would meet probably once or twice a year, virtually of course, and tell us what they’d like to see people trained in. All the training could take place on the internet training site, Landward.
There are other ways to do this but this is just off the top of my head and I’m trying to throw the idea around to see if anyone likes it.
Please comment below or wherever you saw this so I can get some constructive feedback. Tell me what you like, what you don’t like, and how crazy this is!
The goal is to increase the quality of life for field technicians and to bring a higher standard to CRM field archaeology.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!