#249 Redefining Job Security

The Myth of Job Security

I just got back from the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings in Seattle and had a few interesting conversations there. One such conversation was with fellow podcaster, blogger, and author, Bill White, and was centered around jobs and job security in archaeology. Essentially, I decided that the term “job security” doesn’t really apply to archaeology as it’s been traditionally defined.

When most people think of “job security” it’s in the Ford (or in the case of someone from Seattle, Boeing) factory worker sense. This is a job you’re going to get when you’re 18 and will have until you retire. That’s ultimate job security.

Sometimes job security includes benefits and retirement plans. In fact, most of the time those things are included.

Traditional Job Security in Archaeology

I’m sure everyone would agree that the most secure position someone thinks about when it comes to archaeology is a tenured archaeology professor. In many ways it still is the most secure archaeology job you can get. However, there seem to be fewer of those jobs available as departments get smaller and the pool of applicants grows.

Is there job security in cultural resource management (CRM)? Some of my friends that just got laid off from a big company here in Reno probably thought so. It seemed like that gravy train was never going to end. But it did. And right before the holidays. So, not so secure.

If you own your own company and can keep your business going for several decades then that’s pretty secure. Many owners from the 70s and 80s likely don’t have a retirement set up, though. They aren’t going to get the benefits that most retiring, unionized, factory workers are going to get. Being an owner might be secure in the sense that you create your own circumstances, but, that’s not really the same thing as the traditional definition of job security.

Profiles in CRM

The weekly podcast, “Profiles in CRM” asks the same eight questions of everyone interviewed on the show. One of the questions asks people what they would change about the practice of CRM. Many interviewees include in their answer some version of the phrase “job security”. It’s clearly something we think we understand and something that we want.

So, what’s the problem with thinking about job security?

Redefining Job Security

Simply put, traditional job security in CRM DOES NOT EXIST. If you’re new in the field and you’re reading this then read that last sentence again. You are NEVER going to find a job in archaeology that you’re going to have for the rest of your life and then retire to someplace where they don’t shovel-test. It’s NEVER going to happen. If you want that, find something else to do with your life. Or, redefine the term and then own it.

I want to define job security this way:

Someone with Job Security in CRM is constantly improving themselves, loves what they do, and will always be the most employable person on a crew.

What does that mean? It means that while you’re working for a company, any company for any length of time, you are always looking to make yourself a better archaeologist. When the project manager says we need someone to run the total station on the next project and asks for volunteers but no one speaks up because they haven’t done that since field school, or ever, be the first to raise your hand. Be honest and say that you’ve never used it before but would like to learn. I took one home for the weekend one time and ended up shooting all the points for a very important site in Washington State.

When that nice little job finally ends, because they all do, you won’t be disheartened or disgruntled (is anyone ever, gruntled?) because you love your job and you expected it to happen. You spent your time improving yourself and building up the skills you already had. You know that there are 20 companies out there just waiting to hire you. During your off time your read books about archaeology from other regions while others were getting drunk in the parking lot. You watched YouTube videos on flintknapping so you could better understand the flakes you find in the field. You’re not worried about finding a job. You’re worried about how many offers you’ll have to turn down because they all want you.

From now on when we talk about job security, take on the definition and empower yourself because no one else is going to do that for you. The big Reno company that laid off most of their staff in mid-December didn’t want to do that. They had no malicious intent. They weren’t thinking of making a ton of money for themselves. The business just wasn’t there and they had no choice. That’s life in CRM. One day you’ve got 10 contracts to service and the next day you’re underbidding on a crappy job just to make payroll.

Once you understand the business of CRM you realize that there will never be traditional job security, but, you don’t care because you are the most employable person in that office. You’ll survive because you created your own job security. At least one person from that Reno company isn’t even doing archaeology anymore. They don’t even know where to start looking for a job. We lose good people that way.

Empower Yourself

So, go to work and volunteer to learn something new. If that’s not an option, then put it on your calendar (it helps when you write stuff down) to read or watch instructional videos for at least an hour after your shift today. Push off going to the bar with the crew for just one hour. It won’t kill you. But, it might give you job security for when the work dries up and 20 people are all looking for work at the same time. Email me and I’ll schedule your daily training time for you. I’ll send out an email, a tweet, and an FB post to keep you on track!

Your fate is in your hands. Don’t count on anyone else to make it for you.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!!


The Archaeology Podcast Network is going strong! We’ve been operating since Dec. 1, 2014 (with some shows starting well before that) and currently have six podcasts. Between those six shows we have about 15 hours of archaeology content every month! Our editing and operating expenses are not high, but, they exist and they’re annoying. They’re almost as annoying as ads in podcasts. To prevent ads, consider giving us a donation! If you donate at least $20.15 before April, I’ll put you in a drawing to pay your SAA2015 conference fees. If you’re not going to the SAAs then we’ll figure something out. $20.15 would be like paying $0.11 per podcast hour, for a year of podcasts. Even someone on a southeastern CRM salary can afford that!