by Sarah Gore
Forging a career in the museums and heritage sector has always been a bit of a tricky prospect. Jobs, particularly early career jobs, are always over-subscribed because it seems that lots of people think it would be lovely to work at a museum.
A culture developed where applicants were expected to have a Master’s degree in museum studies as well as plenty of voluntary experience. Often those who had the freedom to volunteer were able to do so until a paid job came along, for which they had an advantage over other candidates. What this model delivers is almost a self-selecting workforce which is unlikely to reflect the society that museums would ideally represent and a sector which is missing out on a pool of potential talent.
So it was high time that museums, who have been doing very good work to broaden their appeal to visitors, started taking a similar approach to the workforce. Norfolk Museum Service’s (NMS), Arts Council funded, Teaching Museum aims to broaden entry routes to a career in museums and is expressly committed to encouraging on-going learning. NMS were therefore delighted and gratified to win the employer award in the recent round of Festival of Learning awards.
Successful applicants to the Teaching Museum need to demonstrate their love of learning. Trainees spend a year learning on the job, but the great thing about the Teaching Museum is the fact that it involves the wider workforce at NMS who deliver training and in doing so, they reflect on their own learning and practice. In this way, the benefits of learning spread well beyond the cohort of trainees.
The Development Programme which delivers learning to trainees, is at the heart of the programme and is a popular and vital strand. It means that trainees complete their year having engaged in such a breadth of learning that their eyes are opened to possible new career goals and new areas of history, art, archaeology, textiles and the natural world. It is a golden rule that each of the trainees have to do all the training whether or not it appears to be relevant to their particular role. The sessions are also open to colleagues from other parts of the service who are able to join in and get a learning boost themselves.
Unlike many traineeships, Norfolk Teaching Museum does not have a maximum age limit. It is important to open up opportunities in the sector to people who have pursued other careers. Recruiting a cohort of trainees of mixed ages and from a variety of backgrounds makes for a healthy group who complement, rather than compete with each other. It also promotes the message that you are never too old to learn – which after all is what museums are all about.
On-going learning both formal and informal is precisely what museums offer. Learning is firmly part of the museum culture and this award acknowledges how it is being encouraged throughout the workforce too.
Teaching Museum – Norfolk Museums Service won the Festival of Learning 2016 Central England Employer of the Year award. Watch their story here.