Q&A with Shirley Jones, ARA CPD working group and Head of Conservation at WYAS

Get your questions answered by key people in the information management profession.

This time: Shirley Jones, ARA Continuing Professional Development (CPD) working group and Head of Conservation at West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS).

Q: Newly qualified professionals usually work in fixed-term contracts for a few years after qualification. These contracts do not usually have a budget for training and professionals have to self-fund. Has the ARA addressed this?

A: ARA’s training events are calculated to break even to keep the costs as low as possible. For example, an Accreditation workshop being held in Sheffield next month is not providing lunch or coffee (there are facilities in the building) to avoid passing this cost on to members. Many regional groups combine meetings with training elements in the form of short talks or themed discussion – the Northern region is a good example of a group generating imaginative and appealing sessions at minimal cost.

There are also ARA bursaries available, for example at conference so I would encourage all new professionals to not be shy and apply, don’t assume the competition will not give you a chance, sometimes these are under subscribed. In addition, for those on the Registration scheme currently, there are training bursaries linked to this scheme too.

The new centralised training scheme is also helping address the need for repeated themes in training sessions across the country on a rolling programme. So new professionals unable to take advantage of a session near them while on one contract, may be able to catch it somewhere else at a later date.

There is also the Research and Development fund which enables applicants to fund a short term piece of work, which could of course include training. New last year is the Leadership bursary – you don’t have to have years of experience necessarily to consider something like this.

My top tip though is – offer to speak at a session! You will be able to claim travel, listen to the other talks and network as well as gain valuable experience and CPD points.

Q: How do you think the competencies framework will affect early career development?

A: I hope one of its chief affects will be to help illustrate and facilitate pathways for members, especially newly qualified ones along their career path in archives. At a bewildering time, it will help with focus and planning next steps – as well as a tool to monitor and communicate progress. If we can achieve a “critical mass” of participants within peer groups engaged in the scheme, I hope it will help foster a more self-developmental atmosphere. But like any tool, it is how you use it that counts.

Q: What options are available for those unable to afford postgraduate study? Are the ARA looking at making alternative routes into the profession available?

A: The ARA’s Conservation course is available either as a full course or in a modular format. This is usually paid for by employers but increasingly, some self funded or grant funded students are doing the course.

A diversity report has just been undertaken by ARA, looking at how it can better serve harder to reach groups. Some more initiatives may well come out of this if financial hardship is identified as a key factor.

Q: You have served the ARA for so many years and are still sitting on the Professional Development Committee, what would you say the benefits are for those professionals wanting to get involved?

A: I originally got involved with the then Society of Archivists to “give something back”, initially to the conservation course I completed, subsequently became an instructor to teach others, something I still do and enjoy. I learn as much from trainees I think as they do from me! Sitting on the Board for PDC was a real step change and I learned a great deal about how the organisation works and got to know some great people. Working on the CPD project was something new for me too and I am really pleased to have helped steer that. I stepped down in May actually, but Jess Carlson and Wesley Geddis are continuing with all PD’s good work.

I would say meeting new people, especially across disciplines and peer groups is a key benefit; also you may well confront challenges and new things in the comfort that it is voluntary if it all gets too much and you have the support of others. When you use these skills at work later on, it is a great confidence booster to have done something before. Great CV material too.

Q: You have witnessed the creation of the ARA through the merging of other groups. What are the key changes in your opinion?

A: There is now less hierarchy, more collaboration and a higher profile as well as being more inclusive. Perhaps there is also more thinking about what we “do” in the archives sector, rather than just what we are.

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