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The Future of the Museum Workforce: What Should it Look Like?

Male Culture Syndicates employee looking at an historical document

The Future of the Museum Workforce: What Should it Look Like?

Male Culture Syndicates employee looking at an historical document

Our team of Freelance Heritage Assistants working at Corby Cube, 2018.


It’s the beginning of a new decade and we at Culture Syndicates have been thinking about what the museum sector workforce might be like by 2030. Our vision for 2030 is that entry into the museum sector will be fairer, leading to a diverse and resilient workforce. The industry will be open to people from a range of backgrounds; a candidate’s personal qualities and transferable skills will be more important than their qualifications; an array of high-quality training opportunities will be available to sector entrants; a clear entry-level structure will exist within museum careers; and volunteering will not be a prerequisite to paid employment in museums. (If you are doubting that our cash poor sector can achieve this vision then please bear with us and read on).

We would argue that the current state of sector entry in museums is at best disorganised, at worst unethical. All too often, entry-level jobs go to a candidate with a postgraduate qualification in Museum Studies and extensive volunteer experience. I sit here writing this post with an undergraduate degree in History from a prestigious university, having completed multiple volunteer roles, and a dissertation crisis as I reach the final stages of a part-time Museum Studies MA (which I began two years ago because I thought I would never get a paid role in museums without one). Chances are that you have had a similar pathway into your career.


However, initiatives are being taken within the sector to change linear career paths in museums and open the sector up to a broader range of people. I hope that you are reading this blog having completed a high-quality apprenticeship or a traineeship in a museum, such as those offered by Norfolk Museums Teaching Museum. And if you have done an apprenticeship or traineeship, I hope that you are now working in a museum job that you enjoy. You might be reading this as an employer who does not list a postgraduate qualification as essential or desirable in person specifications. Perhaps you have subscribed to Fair Museum Jobs’ Manifesto, which is highlighting bad practice and championing positive work in museum recruitment.

Image of two young women. One is working on a laptop and one is taking a photograph of a rock from a museum geology collection

Two of our Freelance Heritage Assistants training on a collections project at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council in 2019.

There are so many complex issues that need to be tackled to create a supportive and healthy entry into museum careers. One issue that concerns us and needs to be addressed is the uncertainty as to what an “entry-level” job in museums really is. Maurice Davies highlighted this issue in his 2007 report on sector entry, The Tomorrow People: Entry to the Museum Workforce. We think that this problem still exists, as even “assistant” roles demand months or years of experience that entry-level candidates, by definition, do not have.

Culture Syndicates are trying to grapple with is the lack of understanding as to what a truly entry-level job in museums is. “Assistant” roles in museums seem to require enough experience that they are not properly entry-level. We would love to hear your thoughts on this and similar issues. For that reason, we have put together a short survey for current museum sector employers (https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/BCXG88V) and those who would define themselves as sector entrants (https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/PMTP5HV). Please share these links within your networks and social media channels – we want to get a broad range of responses to inform our research and share meaningful data with the sector.


A bit about Culture Syndicates…

We are passionate about making routes into the museum workforce fairer and more sustainable. Culture Syndicates was founded in 2014 with the aim of building employability. We exist to create paid developmental opportunities for emerging professionals and champion sustainable workforce development in the heritage and arts sector. Over the past six years, we have employed and trained over fifty sector entrants, who have gone on to secure employment or pursue further study in the museum sector.

Suggested further reading

There are so many complexities to this topic, which cannot be covered in sufficient detail in one blog post. Here is a list of suggested further reading if you are interested in understanding sector entry further:

BOP Consulting. 2016. Character Matters: Attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK Museum Workforce. Available at: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Museums%20Workforce%20ABS%20BOP%20Final%20Report.pdf 

Thorough research into the museum workforce as a whole, which identified attitudes, behaviours and skills needed by the museum workforce and what the sector should do to recruit and support staff to develop them. 

Creative and Cultural Skills. Available at: https://ccskills.org.uk/ 

CCS is opening up creative careers to young people by supporting organisations to offer apprenticeships, offering careers advice, and running the National Skills Academy network. Their work is helping to open up vocational routes into the creative sector.

Fair Museum Jobs. Available at: https://fairmuseumjobs.wordpress.com/about-us/ 

Fair Museum Jobs is run by museum professionals and it seeks to address bad practice and champion positive work in museum recruitment.

Maurice Davies. 2007. The Tomorrow People: Entry to the Museum Workforce. Available at: https://www.museumsassociation.org/download?id=13718

Thirteen years on, many of the issues identified by Davies persist and a satisfactory resolution is yet to be found. His is the most comprehensive report addressing entry to the workforce. 

Museums Association. Workforce. Available at: https://www.museumsassociation.org/workforce 

Neil Mendoza. 2017. The Mendoza Review: An Independent Review of Museums in England. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/673935/The_Mendoza_Review_an_independent_review_of_museums_in_England.pdf 

The Mendoza Review covers all aspects of national, local and regional museums, including issues pertaining to the workforce.

By Natasha Clegg, Projects Officer and Head of Workforce Futures

Find out more about training and employment opportunities at Culture Syndicates here.

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