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Careers and Employability Service

 

I Want to Work In … the Heritage Sector

 

Introduction

What is heritage? At one time, it was purely thought of as historic monuments and artefacts. Today we recognise that buildings and objects need not be ancient or monumental to be valuable — small, everyday buildings and items can also tell an important story or hold major significance.

A broad definition is: Those things from the past which are valued enough today to save for the people of tomorrow.

The “heritage sector” covers museums, historic buildings, archaeology, archives and conservation. Archaeology and archives have separate sections on this site.

A degree in a subject, such as History or Classics and Archaeology can be useful but is by no means essential. Museum collections cover everything from militaria to medicine, from rock music to rowing and from fashion to freemasonry, so there is scope for using a wide range of interests and qualifications. There is a shortage of science graduates in this sector, especially those with a knowledge of the history of science and technology.

The key to getting into this sector – museums, art galleries, historic buildings and conservation – is to gain relevant experience. This must usually be through volunteering, but there are some paid posts available for students and graduates – English Heritage, for example, regularly recruits Seasonal Custodians to work at sites including Dover Castle and St Augustine’s Abbey. See our page on heritage volunteering opportunities

Job roles

Museum curator is the role that many students will think of first when planning a museum career. Curators acquire, care for, develop, display and interpret objects and collections of historic interest.
Job profile of a museum curator from the Prospects website
Job profile of a museum exhibition officer from the TARGET Jobs website

Other job roles include Heritage Manager, Museum Education Officer, Conservator, Historic Buildings Inspector/Conservation Officer

However, job roles in heritage go far beyond these: museums look for many transferable skills and large museums employ a wide variety of other professionals, including craftspeople, designers, technicians, fundraisers and business people (although in small museums, the curator is also responsible for managing the collection, operations, staff and volunteers and all staff need to be very flexible).

Further information on job roles and careers in museums

Getting In

While a degree is an essential first step to a museum or heritage career, this is not a field where you are likely to find “graduate training schemes”, and there is no one set career path. Getting experience through volunteering and internships is the key to establishing a career in this sector – see below for advice on finding this experience. Other tips include:

(Based on presentations by the Community Engagement Curator at Reading Museum and the Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at Royal Collection Trust)

Getting Experience

This is usually through volunteering, but there are some paid posts and internships available for students and graduates – English Heritage, for example, regularly recruits Seasonal Visitor Assistants to work at sites including Dover Castle and St Augustine’s Abbey

"Get a foot in the door, even working in museum coffee shops - you will see opportunities in staff rooms and if you work well in a volunteer or junior role you will be in with a chance. This will help when you are up against 200 other candidates with similar qualifications."

"Once you're in a property you can connect with other people, there and in other regions. The bigger the property the better for volunteering as it will have more roles. Only about half of National Trust volunteers are room stewards, others do conservation, cleaning, retail, catering, grounds, etc”


Modules in some Academic Schools at Kent include internship opportunities in the heritage sector. If you are unable to undertake one of these modules, your School may also help to arrange informal work experience placements.

Make speculative applications to museums – you can use the Museum Association’s “Find a Museum” database to find museums in your local area, or which have a theme that fits in with your degree or your interests. Other useful resources include:

Some postgraduate courses in Heritage Management and Museum Work

A postgraduate degree in these areas will improve your chances of entry but will by no means guarantee you a job in the heritage sector.
The postgraduate courses at Leicester and UCL are both highly regarded, but generally where you did your MA is less important than your practical experience of museums and working with the public.
Few, if any, bursaries are available, so it is likely that you will have to be prepared to self-fund the course.

See our postgraduate study pages for help on how to find other postgraduate courses and to apply for these courses.

Job vacancies

Museums and other employers in the heritage sector

Other useful websites and resources

 

The Museum Services directory contains over 500 companies and consultants, plus over 1,200 entries in 120 different product and service categories from Audioguides to Visitor Studies Consultants. A copy of the 2016 edition is available in the Careers Resources Room

 

Last fully updated August 2016

 

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