Approaching the Heritage Sector as a First-Year University Student
I am a first-year university student studying Liberal Arts with a focus on Philosophy and Art History and I have recently had the opportunity to complete a work placement with Culture Syndicates. I have a particular interest in the conservation of paintings, which turns out to be a rather niche section of the job market, and one which requires an awful lot of training and experience.
Before this I hadn’t spent much time looking into the realities of a career in the heritage sector, but my mind was filled with dreamy images of being surrounded by beautiful historical artefacts and doing my part to conserve and restore them. As I began to research art and museum conservation master’s degrees, I realised that it would be a slightly more complicated process to get my dream job than I had imagined. Masters courses are few and far between and the thought of spending another year or two in education following my bachelor’s degree just doesn’t seem feasible from a practical or financial point of view. And even supposing I had a relevant master’s degree, the more research I did, I found that “relevant experience” is held as equally or even more important than a degree when applying for jobs. This leads to the circle of horror that many graduates find themselves in, particularly those going into the heritage sector: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. And so, it goes on and on in what feels like a hopeless, never-ending loop.
The issues faced by everyone entering the job market are particularly prevalent for those of us studying the arts and looking to get into the heritage sector. Should I aim for financial security? Or should I aim for happiness and contentment? Although of course I am aware that I am in an incredibly privileged position of having a choice. I want to use that choice to do something I’m passionate about, to make the world a little bit more wonderful. For me that means working in the heritage sector, specifically in the conservation and restoration of artworks. I believe that works of art can be an incredible source of inspiration and education, and it is so important to protect and conserve them, and make sure they are available for as many people as possible to see. There are so many paintings which have been beloved for hundreds of years, and I love the idea that I could help to conserve them and ensure that they can continue to inspire and educate for many generations to come. Art tells us so much about its historical context – the politics, philosophy and sociology of that moment in time. That is what makes it so valuable in our society. Unfortunately for me, its going to be quite difficult to get into a position in that industry.
It is important to note that the world of culture and heritage is one of passion and excitement, meaning it is full of wonderful people who have a lot of love and dedication towards their profession. The sector can be more to make the sector inclusive of others who are dedicated to the sector but who cannot afford higher education and extensive volunteering, or who prefer to learn in non-academic settings. Organisations within the sector therefore need to rethink their recruitment approaches and the training that they offer potential employees. Rather than relying on university courses to equip graduates with skills, employers should consider and offer a range of other learning opportunities for potential sector entrants.
Individuals and organisations within the sector have identified the issue that so many people face and are putting a great deal of effort into researching the specifics of the issues. Culture Syndicates aim to add to this research by finding out more about the current status of sector entry, including the cost and availability of training and unrealistic job requirements for entry-level roles. From there we can begin to consider how the industry can be revolutionised to make it open to the diverse group of people who already have so much passion and love for heritage. We need affordable training, opportunities for paid experience and help available for people trying to get entry-level positions.
As a student in the current climate, the prospect of finding a job at the end of my studies is daunting at best, and at worst it is completely terrifying. But just knowing that organisations like Culture Syndicates are working towards making entry to the heritage sector more equal and straight-forward brings me peace of mind. There’s a long way to go, but organisations like Culture Syndicates have made a vital step forward, and that is extremely exciting.
By Zoe Jenkins, first-year Liberal Arts student at the University of Nottingham
Find out more about training and employment opportunities at Culture Syndicates here.