Icon report highlights gaps in conservation skills - Museums Association

Icon report highlights gaps in conservation skills

Research to inform Icon's education and skills strategy
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
A new report by the Institute of Conservation (Icon) has revealed skills shortages in several areas of the conservation workforce, including “serious gaps” in transferable professional skills.

The Conservation Labour Market 2012-13 report was undertaken to address a lack of up-to-date evidence about the training and skills requirements of the conservation sector across the UK.

It surveyed conservators working in publicly-funded institutions (including museums), private practices and charities like the National Trust for Scotland.

The report identified shortages of specialist conservation skills in several areas, including digital media, clocks and watches, scientific instruments, furniture and woodwork, and modern materials.

More significant gaps were revealed in transferable skills, with 99 organisations out of 209 reporting a lack of skills in areas like leadership, business, project management and IT.

The findings also showed that median wage of the conservation workforce is far lower than comparable figures for professional occupations.

The report found that the median salary for a professional conservator is £26,000, compared to the £36,359 median for professional occupations. That figure is also marginally lower than the national median for all occupations, which stands at £26,500.

In addition, one fifth of paid staff said salaries had fallen by up to or over 10% since January 2012, and a further 44% said salaries remained unchanged, indicating a fall in real terms.

The report estimated that 3,175 people worked as professional conservators in the UK in 2012-13, supported by 2,500 support staff and voluntary conservators.

It showed that the workforce lacks diversity and is drawn from a relatively narrow segment of society. Most conservators are highly qualified, with 78% being graduates.

The report also found that although employers are committed to training, only 28% of organisations had a formal training plan and 54% do not have a training budget.

Icon will use the intelligence to inform its strategic planning and called on other stakeholders to utilise the report to prioritise actions that support a “skilled and diverse conservation workforce”.

Icon chief executive Alison Richmond said: “Overall the findings show the UK has reasonable coverage across the wide range of the conservation skills it needs but there is a lack of coherent strategy for career progression.

“An area of concern highlighted by our findings is the lack of practitioners, courses and employment in the conservation of modern materials and new media. This means that in the near future vital areas of our cultural heritage will be at risk.”

The research is part of Icon’s five-year National Conservation Education & Skills Strategy, which was launched last year to bring employers and education providers together to map out a framework of career paths.

Icon hopes the data will provide a foundation for advocacy and a benchmark for measuring the success of the strategy. The report was funded by Arts council England, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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