UK museums need more diverse, flexible workforce, report finds

Patrick Steel, 19.09.2016
Research finds museums need to address skills gaps in business, leadership and digital
UK museums must retain and protect specialist knowledge while at the same time broadening roles to address skills gaps in other areas, according to research published today.

Character Matters: Attitudes, Behaviours and Skills in the UK Museum Workforce finds that a key challenge facing the sector is recruiting people who can combine a museum specialism with areas in which there is a shortage of skills, such as business, leadership and digital.

The report highlights the need for a more diverse, flexible workforce to bring new skills and ideas to the sector.

The research shows that the majority of the workforce is made up of white women, although on average men in the sector earn more and occupy more senior positions; that 88% of respondents hold a degree of some sort; and that just 30% of museum job adverts state that they would consider equivalent experience rather than a formal qualification.

The report also recommends that museums pilot non-traditional recruitment methods for some short-term posts to allow for greater flexibility in hiring, and calls for different approaches to learning and training, which prioritise personal qualities such as conscientiousness and optimism.

The report concludes that: “The challenge going forward is three-fold: how to recruit a more diverse workforce (both paid and volunteer) into the sector in general, including people with more of the kinds of “personal qualities” that are identified as assets in an environment that will likely increasingly emphasise adaptability, entrepreneurialism and fewer deep specialisms?

“How to develop the existing workforce, not just in terms of skills, but also in terms of developing their “personal qualities”, particularly given that some “personal qualities” are difficult to change?

“How to get organisations themselves to be more flexible, agile and entrepreneurial and supportive of their workforce?”

Sharon Heal, the Museums Association's (MA) director, says: “The report highlights some significant challenges for the sector, in particular how we recruit a more diverse workforce and develop the skills we need in the existing workforce.

“The MA has been at the forefront of campaigning for workforce diversity for a number of years and has also worked to increase the social impact that museums can deliver in partnership with their local communities.

“We believe that the sector needs to foster values such as equality, diversity and inclusion in order to best respond to the changing environment in which we operate and that these values are at the heart of our new professional development programmes.”

“It should be a clarion call to all of us,” says John Orna-Ornstein, ACE’s director of museums. “The strongest asset of museums is their workforce and they deserve proper support and development.”

The report was commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE) in partnership with Museums Galleries Scotland, the MA, and the Association of Independent Museums, and produced by BOP Consulting with the Museum Consultancy.

Links and downloads

Character Matters: Attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK Museum Workforce (pdf)


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12.10.2016, 16:54
Academics in the work place in any sector are not " business minded " types, or , if they are, they are the highest paid ie a Director, so, very much the minority. The two together are as rare as hens teeth. They go by the book and their business template is book -oriented. I can understand it, it's all they know.

Those that have a commercially minded personality but whom are not armed with a PhD in this & that and a Masters in this, that, and the other, are the ones that can and will get the job done. I've seen museums nearly slide down the precipice as they were not run by commercially minded workers. The trouble with Arts and Heritage is that it's mostly all about the Admin., academia and education, fundraising , yes the three arenas that, guess what, are dominated by young Caucasian women.
12.10.2016, 16:40
Just think coming from a long term career in the private sector there are tangible benefits to it, always pluses and negatives, and so it is in the Arts Sector
The sector I was in was, at the beginning in the 1990's, very male -dominated and so for a female it must have felt like a "club", not nice. And pretty much how I feel the Heritage game is today. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm sure it's not really going to change, not much anyway. Articles like this need to keep coming, men need to make more of a racket about it, and while the Private Sector industry I was in found ways of diversification, with now so many more women than ever before, maybe the Arts might, too, one day. ( maybe when Labour get in there will be real money coming in which would help open those heavy creaking doors...)
06.10.2016, 11:27
Further to what Anon says below - the reason for all the short contracts is that, as we know, so many museum jobs are project-funded for specific periods of time these days, the core-funded permanent posts having been whittled away bit by bit.

This is not museums' fault - we work incredibly hard to secure any funding we can, but this insecurity militates against, and effectively discriminates against a vast number of potential applicants for museum jobs. This might include anyone with a mortgage, anyone with a family to support without a second, better-paid fulltime breadwinner, or anyone without a private income from elsewhere. You'd need to do two jobs to survive - and it doesn't help that many museum jobs, especially in the curatorial or educational areas, are not '9-5' type careers either - you quite often need to work much longer than your paid hours, work at home, attend evening events and so on to do the job properly - which would make it much more difficult to do the second job you might need to survive financially.

Re other types of museum roles - our gallery invigilators are all on zero-hours contracts, in line with Council policy. I know one who supplements her income with casual cleaning work, which she's finding harder to manage physically as she nears 60. She's worried about how she's going to cope until she retires.

All these factors utterly undermine attempts at diversity.
05.10.2016, 17:50
Excellent report, always good to see data.
I would echo Jason's point that 1 year for 'long term' is not really helpful (I know people on 18 month contracts, which doesn't feel permanent). I think 2 years would have been more helpful as it matches the 'unfair dismissal' compensation level.
Also, I'd like to see more about museum roles that are often contracted out eg cleaning, security, catering, retail and see how pay and diversity look in these crucial areas of operations too.
The diversity narrative is interesting too- whilst not at primary school critical levels, the effective 3:1 ratio of female to male workers seems to have been under-addressed strategically.
22.09.2016, 13:18
Bit surprised that "long term contract" is defined as anything over one year. Had a few contracts of that length and they never felt 'long term', especially when there was no chance of an extension.

After even 3 months in post, you find yourself looking at your savings and how long they'll last if you don't have a job at the end of the contract, wonder what the chances of the next job are...

The report also claims that the majority of posts are 'permanent', I wonder how many in the sector feel that is the case.
21.09.2016, 15:54
Reason for fewer people with business, digital or leadership skills is pretty obvious I would think - people with those skills can usually earn twice as much elsewhere than the pitiful pittance, insecure short-term contract and 'full-time workload to be fitted into part-time hours' scenario that is on offer at most museums these days.

And - as is also obvious, if you create more properly paid, full-time, permanent jobs, you will increase the diversity of the workforce too - as more people, from a greater variety of backgrounds, will be able to afford to apply. At the moment the only group of people most museums jobs suit are women with children, whose husbands have full-time jobs paid well enough for them to be able to afford to work for £9K per annum. Those women are, more often than not, white and middle class.

And I take exception to the opinion that museum workforces need to learn to be more 'flexible' - for heaven's sake - every one of my colleagues adapts herself constantly to the shifting landscape of less money, less support, more work, less professional development, more duties... ad infinitum!
Becki Morris
Collections Assistant, Market Hall Museum
20.09.2016, 13:48
I welcome the comments in the report, but feel I need to say that assistive technology needs to be considered and implemented for both the workforce and to visitors, if we want to have a diverse workforce and audiences particularly those with disabilities.


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