Gemma Dhami (left); Kate Brindley (right)

The conversation

Gemma Dhami; Kate Brindley, Issue 114/02, p17, 01.02.2014
Are short-term contracts bad for the sector?
Gemma Dhami is the museum development officer for Worcestershire; Kate Brindley is the director of the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Dear Kate:

It is a difficult debate as there are positives and negatives, although I would argue that the negatives outweigh the positives. Short-term contracts have been an ongoing area of debate in museums, but we must remember that our sector is not special when it comes to this issue, and we need to learn from other sectors.

I think that when it comes to a specialised profession such as ours, these short contracts can cause some big issues in terms of retention of skills and knowledge that have had a lot of time and monetary investment.

Best wishes,
Gemma


Dear Gemma:

I think it is right to see the growth in fixed-term contracts and the use of freelance and contractors to deliver services in museums as part of a wider societal change.

The way in which people work and choose to work at the beginning of the 21st century does reflect a changing and more “portfolio”-based approach to work. This can work in both parties’ favour, as it brings flexibility and freshness, as well as providing opportunities at an entry level.

Best wishes,
Kate


Dear Kate:

There are opportunities. My first job out of university was on a zero-hours contract – and that was before the recession. The sector has certainly been practising this recruitment method for quite a while now, but at that time in my life, it was actually very beneficial.

Without these initial short-term contracts, I would not have got to experience the variety of roles that I did, and I certainly would not have ended up in the role in which I find myself today.

Best wishes,
Gemma


Dear Gemma:

There is clearly a risk that a depth of knowledge afforded through the longevity and consistency of a longer-term contract is lost. So as managers and leaders in our sector, it is important that we consider that need in the way in which we contract and configure roles.

There are models that we could consider in other sectors, where retaining expertise and knowledge is dealt with in more flexible ways and by balancing this set of requirements. I would say that short-term funding is the biggest issue to continuity, so that is what we need to address.

Best wishes,
Kate


Dear Kate:

I agree with you on the current trend towards short-term investment. In my opinion, there is too much reliance on the idea that museum professionals will work for the passion they have for the sector, and that any old contract and wage will do.

It’s a risky way to employ people, and we risk losing some excellent people from the sector. In my time, I have seen experienced people leave museums because of this lack of job security, which has left organisations in a difficult position.

Best Wishes,
Gemma


Dear Gemma:

I agree. Just because people in the cultural sector generally have a real sense of vocation, it is no excuse for exploitation, or down-grading their value in building excellent museums. We all have a role to play in robustly demonstrating how vital a vibrant, professional and diverse workforce is critical at this time.

Best wishes,
Kate


Moving On Up: The secrets of a successful museum career takes place at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on 6 February


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