ARA members support new career routes

The next generation of digital professionals need support in today’s competitive job market. Bridging the Digital Gap (BtDG) trainees are encouraged to apply for ARA Professional Registration, which offers a sector-recognised qualification; Candidates enrol onto our professional development programme and developing their online application. ARA has waived all fees involved.

We speak with Zoe Fullard, Archives Cataloguer with Transport for London and Elisabeth Thurlow RMARA, Digital Preservation and Access Manager, University of the Arts London. Zoe and Elisabeth explain how they support BtDG trainees working towards Foundation Membership of the ARA (FMARA).

Q. How did you get involved in supporting BtDG trainees? How many trainees have you helped so far?

“At University of the Arts London we were previously hosts to a Bridging the Digital Gap trainee, and were part of the same active London cohort as Transport for London Corporate Archives,” said Elisabeth.

Zoe and Elisabeth both took on supervisory roles to their trainees, “this involved managing projects to improve in-house digital recordkeeping processes and supporting the trainee’s professional development, assisting them with acquiring new skills which could support the host organisation’s mission and benefit the sector more widely”, says Zoe.  

Q. What  support did you offer the trainees?

“Elisabeth and I were familiar with how the ARA’s professional development programme operates and the benefits of professional registration, we knew that the programme’s structured and reflective approach to skills development would be valuable to the trainees” said Zoe .

Elisabeth discusses the purpose of the workshops as a vehicle to “demystify ARA’s professional development scheme. With the trainees we explored the benefits of the programme with the trainees and the requirements for completing their applications. We then repeated the workshop in May 2021 with the latest trainee cohort.” So far Elisabeth and Zoe have delivered the workshop to 15 BtDG trainees.

“I have also mentored trainees in support of their Foundation Membership applications”, explains Elisabeth, “as a mentor I help them to prepare their written submission, provide feedback during the drafting stages, and write a mentor reference.”

Zoe explains that  “Being a mentor enables you to inspire the candidates and develop their knowledge. We need to be doing this to attract a diverse workforce to archives, advocating the rewards and challenges that a career in recordkeeping brings, particularly in the digital age”.

 Q. What skills and approaches do you think trainees will bring to the sector?

“I’ve been continually impressed by the trainees’ willingness to try new technologies and learn through practice,” says Elisabeth. “The trainees I have mentored have readily embraced emerging areas like web archiving with curiosity and enthusiasm”. Zoe adds that “TfL’s trainee developed a python script to extract metadata from a subset of TfL’s electronic records, which we have been able to transform into descriptive catalogue metadata. This has reduced resources required for cataloguing. Technology has presented many challenges for archivists as we develop ways to preserve fragile digital information, however exploiting technology can help us with this, and the trainees seem to embrace it. But it’s important to remember that soft skills are just as important in digital preservation. The traineeship also builds on and aims to develop communication, advocacy and team working skills”.

Q. Many trainees are using their work experience to qualify for Foundation Membership of the ARA. How do you think this will help them progress in the job market?

“Job adverts often ask applicants to demonstrate their commitment to professional development. ARA professional registration is a clear demonstration of this,” explains Elisabeth. “The process to qualify encourages you to become a reflective practitioner. Being able to clearly reflect on what has gone well, and what has gone less so, will be useful when completing job applications or responding to future interview questions.”

During this year’s workshop, Zoe and Elisabeth were able to use real-life examples where Foundation Membership is specified in job descriptions. This demonstrates the efforts some employers are making to diversify entry routes into the profession. “This has been helpful and encouraging,” says Zoe, “Candidates have the opportunity to start their career using their experiences gained during in the traineeship. They can discuss new approaches and outcomes, and reflect on how they can improve their work in the future. Professional registration also demonstrates a strong commitment and enthusiasm to professional development which is highly valued by potential employers” added Zoe.

Q. What have you learned from supporting the trainees?

“I have learnt that it is important to get them excited about our mission and the challenges we face as archivists,” explained Zoe. “By helping trainees recognise that their skills can benefit the information sector, both within their host organisation and beyond, we can continue to attract individuals from digital and technical backgrounds.”

“Seeing the trainees progress in their applications also helped motivate me when completing my own application” added Elisabeth.

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