Engaging and enabling front-of-house staff

Nicholas Kay, 16.07.2018
Case study from Brighton Museum
I worked in the frontline in front-of-house (FoH) at the Royal Pavilion and Museums in Brighton for a long time before taking on the role of the workforce development officer for the service.

Museums are never a single unified organisation – for staff in FoH, it can often feel like we work at a different organisation entirely to those behind-the-scenes.

I think Brighton’s head of service understood this when she implemented an Arts Council England-funded project designed to give opportunities to a pool of staff who were stagnating in their roles and in danger of drifting irrevocably away from the rest of the workplace.

Initially, the Frontline Workforce Development Programme passed me by, but as the museum’s trade union representative I started to see some of the benefits many of my colleagues were deriving from their participation. The project actively encourages and enables staff to step out of their regular roles and experience the mysterious inner workings of the operation.

YouTube film about workforce development at the Royal Pavilion & Museums

So, when the conservation team were looking for a couple of FoH staff to join them for one day a week, I decided to put myself forward. I’m still working with conservation now in what’s become a permanent part-time job.

I also undertook a second placement working as part of the project team that put together a 2016 conference on workforce development. This in turn led me to towards the Museums Association’s career-development programme, Transformers, and to eventually apply for the role of running our organisation’s workforce development programme. That’s what I do now – I work with people to create opportunities for staff.

There’s still an enormous sense of division in our workplace, just as there probably are in many museums. But our workforce development programme has a proven track record of success: it’s broken down entrenched barriers and given fresh impetus to people’s working life; provided fresh ideas; and re-energised parts of the workforce.

New careers have been forged and the organisation has been stimulated by innovations and enthusiasm from a section of its workforce that is historically overlooked. 

My advice to museums is not to neglect any section of the workforce. Many of the challenges faced by the museum sector in the years ahead will be insurmountable without the invention, creativity and dedication of all staff – including “frontliners” who can make an incredible contribution to the service, given the right opportunity.

Nicholas Kay is the workforce development officer at Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton