The conversation

Alex Bird, Charlotte Pratley, Issue 117/09, p17, 01.09.2017
How should the sector respond to Arts Council England's call for 'T-shaped workers?'
Dear Charlie: When I read Arts Council England’s Character Matters Report calling for the sector’s workforce to be what it termed “T-shaped” individuals [expertise in a single field represented by the vertical; the ability to collaborate across many as the horizontal], I was pleased to see the call for more diversity. With the way the sector is moving forward, there is an increased need for multi-skilled people from more diverse backgrounds. But I’m disheartened to see the call for entry-level job applicants to have at least a relevant master’s qualification, which makes the sector impenetrable for many people. How should the sector embed multi-skilled individuals in the workforce? Best wishes, Alex

Dear Alex: I agree with the call for workers to be more entrepreneurial. The integration of the report findings into the Museums Association’s (MA) work via Mentoring for All [a pilot scheme to develop a new mentoring model for the sector], is also extremely positive, but there is a gulf between outdated and dynamic organisations. Our work with museums has found institutional barriers to reducing qualification criteria linked to protecting pay scales. There are also preconceptions among staff regarding opportunities for people without a master’s that need to be explored. Forward- thinking individuals need support to drive change and take risks. Best wishes, Charlie

Dear Charlie: I’d be interested to know more about these preconceptions. While working for Museum Development, I have seen a shift in the type of training requested. But I’m still concerned about the lack of sector-wide recognition and appreciation of these diverse skills. There is a risk of the sector becoming stagnant. Saying that, the sector does have wonderful programmes that are pushing what can be done and encouraging innovative practice and risk-taking. But is this enough? How can we get the sector to embrace new ways of working and to be less risk-averse? Best wishes, Alex

Dear Alex: Instead of the usual diversity debates at conferences, it would be useful to have workshops equipping innovative staff with ways to push back against organisational barriers. Creating a network of forward thinkers, such as Transformers [the MA’s scheme to encourage mid-career professionals to make a radical change], feels instrumental here. Celebrating best practice and innovative case studies from a variety of relatable organisations at regular events is crucial to encourage our next top performers to develop. Best wishes, Charlie

Dear Charlie: I like the idea of supporting people to push back against organisational barriers. I think we can encourage more people to question established thinking and the idea that “this is the way we’ve always done things”. Shaking things up is something I’ve strived to do throughout my life and I’m excited to see how Transformers goes about doing this, particularly when it comes to the MA Conference. Best wishes, Alex

Dear Alex: ACE has highlighted digital engagement, talent development and reporting as important issues. This may create expectations for more tech-savvy, outward-looking staff. At Culture Syndicates, we see part of our role as creating equal access to growth opportunities – digital engagement can be possible for all size of organisation with the right support and planning. The key is getting those boundary-pushers in post and supported to make changes. This is no small feat given the continuing work on governance, but the policy-makers are leading bold moves that I hope will encourage us all to be braver and more innovative. Best wishes, Charlie

Alex Bird is the sector development officer at Museum Development North West

Charlotte Pratley is a director at Culture Syndicates

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