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UK infrastructure projects hindered by archaeological skills shortage

Words: Laura Edgar

An archaeologist has warned that infrastructure projects in the UK could be affected by the current skills shortage in the archaeology industry.

Tim Holden, managing director at Headland Archaeology, an archaeological consultant and contractor, said that although increased construction activity, including in housing and infrastructure, presents an opportunity for the industry there “are not enough professionals in the UK to deal with the current and expected demand in the field”, particularly with work on HS2 and the Thames Tideway Tunnel due to start.

Holden said many archaeologists left the industry during the recession to retrain in other careers. This left a shortage of experienced workers that “are now being sought as the industry experiences an upturn in activity”.

“Archaeology is an integral part of any construction project. HS2 alone, for example, has the potential to stretch 350 miles across the British countryside and will no doubt uncover a number of significant archaeological discoveries.

“Planners look to archaeologists in the early stages of development to ensure that known archaeological sites that cannot be avoided are recorded properly, while measures to identify and record as yet undiscovered finds form an important part of any heritage strategy.

“This is a complex process which requires a skilled workforce to carry out such tasks. As a sector, we will need to think outside the box when it comes to working on major infrastructure projects.”

Holden added that Headland Archaeology has had to reconsider how to recruit its staff and is also focusing on encouraging school leavers to consider a career in archaeology as well as offering apprenticeships.

Image courtesy of HS2