#freearchaeology- unpaid internships are worse than you thought

Posted on August 22, 2013


Over the last week I have been trying to show new graduates that they do not need to undertake #freearchaeology to get a job. I have tried to show numbers that indicate that experience is not really what is required for entry level work. Unfortunately, I have had to show that there are not enough jobs for people who want them in archaeology. Finally, I have shared reasons why I undertake #freearchaeology and have tried to encourage others to not disregard volunteering, even as an unpaid intern.

That being said there are many examples of people being taken advantage of/screwed.  Personally, I believe that better education of new graduates is the best defense against being taken advantage of. Each person should be able to decided if it is in their interest to undertake free or paid work. I don’t want this to be misinterpreted as a bash against Donna and her shaming of people who offer unpaid internships or of Sam’s work at (Un)Free Archaeology. I think they have done a tremendous job educating people about legalities, under handed practices, and the general situation of #freearchaeology. To add to their work and to educate people about what to do in bad situations I would like to share with you this example.

A few years ago my wife switched careers and moved into heritage management. This of course happened right after the recession so finding a job was difficult and she only had part-time work. She saw an opportunity for an internship in grant writing. They would individual train an intern to write grants if they would write grants for them. For those not familiar with the non-profit sector, writing grants is a huge career asset. Forgive the pun, if you can write grants you can write your own ticket. So she jumped at the opportunity and of course it was complete and utter shit. (she has asked me not to name anyone, so no names)

Her personal training was a two hour lunch with other members of staff. They treating her like she was an employee and had a set schedule. Working two part-time jobs and receiving no actual training she quite the internship. She felt bad about it because she felt she was letting them down, until she went to tell them about her need to quite. They were mad at her for quitting. Turns out they had paid £1000 to another agency to recruit an intern. So instead of paying her a stipend and/or actual training they had spent a grand getting free labor. I hope the irony is not missed on you.

Just when you thought free work could not be any worse you find out some unpaid internships involve paying headhunters to find free labor.

I will let that fact sink in for a moment….. Now on to how to deal with this. You will run into people who will take advantage of you and you need to know when to walk away. Moreover, you need to know that there are not going to be repercussions for doing so. I will use myself as an example (with names). When I was undertaking my Masters I undertook work for Opus Art Gallery. It was paid work through a program were the university paid half the wages and the company the other half for a set period of time. I eventually went on to work for them another month beyond this because I need the money but I knew they were … (hmmm choice words with UK anti-free speech libel laws)… not the most trustworthy of people. I ended up having to threaten to take them to a labor board to get my last pay check. I knew that was going to happen from conversations I had with other employees. They, the other employees, told me they would go home and cry everyday for six months. This was mainly because each day they would get calls from artists asking why they had not got paid, some in tears themselves over the lack of payment. There were many other things wrong with this place but I don’t have time to go into it all. The most important detail was that they had gone through a huge number of employees and had a reputation among other galleries in the area. EVERYONE knew they were not the best of people. Moreover, other employers still employed their former gallery managers, of which there were many.

The thing about working for assholes is that your not the only one who knows they are assholes. A brief caveat to this- if everyone you work for is an asshole, maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s you. People will know that you left a bad situation and understand, most will at least. You can walk away from bad situations and it won’t hurt your chances of getting job- if you do it soon enough it might help you. As I and other people have pointed out, volunteer experience is not what will get you an entry level position in archaeology.

Volunteer, do  #freearchaeology, but recognize a bad situation and know leaving it will not hurt you.