The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Getting Crew

I am currently in the process of trying to assemble a crew.  This is not always an easy task.  Good field technicians are a precious commodity, and tend to be snatched up by companies as soon as they are available, which means that you have to either have eerily good timing to have a crew of entirely good technicians, or else you have to keep tabs on the good technicians that you know so that you know as soon as they are available and can get them in your snares. 

One of the problems with getting good field technicians is that many really good field technicians are older, more experienced, and preparing to go over the edge.  Most of these folks don't have steady jobs, but travel from project-to-project.  They may have a permanent address, but they rarely see their homes, have tenuous family connections and friendships, and, while in the field, drugs and especially alcohol take up a large part of their non-work hours.  As a result, while they are often very good at their jobs, they are also prone to sliding into severe alcoholism* and depression, and this can lead to obvious problems in the field.  I have watched many a middle-aged field technician go, in the space of a year, from being a fantastic worker with an excellent skill set to becoming a depressed, permanently drunk or hung-over, unreliable liability.  It is extremely sad to watch, and it is rare that they get themselves back upright after slipping over.  It should be said that there are some older technicians who manage to remain solid professional workers, and they are usually a pleasure to work with (I learn a good deal just from listening to them talk), but as time goes on, I know fewer and fewer of these folks.

Younger technicians tend to be less likely to slip into depression, and they are better able to physically take the late-nights drinking and still be able to work in the morning.  Moreover, they haven't grown frustrated or disillusioned and tend to view the work as an adventure, improving morale.  However, they also lack the experience and knowledge of their older counterparts, and often have not had to do some of the more onerous tasks of field archaeology (digging in a poison oak thicket, walking through tick-infested grasses, wading through stagnant water and hoping that you don't get leaches on you), and are often less ready to do the work that needs to be done. 

So, the trick is to find someone who is young, but smart enough to learn and willing to do what it takes to get the job done, or else an older technician who has managed to keep their sanity and is not so far in the bottle that they have become unreliable.  It's a tough trick, though my current employer has many people fitting both descriptions in its orbit.  The problem (and I suppose that this falls into the category of "the types of problems you'd like to have") is that we are really damn busy, and as such having the field technicians available is a bit of a problem - the good ones have largely been assigned, and now I am trying to find other good ones who, by some miracle, haven't been picked up by another company yet. 

Still, I have some good leads, and things look promising.

*Drinking is a very large part of the culture of field archaeology.  For most field archaeologists, opening a six-pack or heading to the bar as soon as you get back from the day's work is a huge part of the field experience.  Supervisors, such as myself, may drink, but we usually have more work to do when returning from the field, and as such either forgo drinking or get a later start and stop earlier than the field technicians.  We also tend to have stable jobs and (relatively) stable home lives, which require both our money and our energy, and as a result tend to have less impetus to drink heavily.  Not to say that it doesn't happen, but seeing a hung-over supervisor int he morning is unusual, while seeing hung-over field technicians is not uncommon.

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