What is heritage? At one time it was thought of purely as historic monuments and artefacts.
Today, we recognise that buildings and objects need not be ancient or monumental to be of value, and that small, everyday buildings and items can hold major significance.
The heritage sector covers museums, buildings, archaeology, archives and conservation. Due to the types of buildings and collections, there is scope for graduates with a wide range of interests and qualifications, from science graduates interested in the history of science and technology, to literature and language students working on collections of film and media.
The heritage sector is supported by national and local government bodies, professional associations and specialist service providers and freelancers.
Types of heritage job
Job roles can be classified under the following brackets. The following links take you to the relevant Prospects job profiles page:
Academic and curatorial
Heritage Curator, Museum Curator, Project Organisers, Museum Directors, Assistant Curators, Technicians, Exhibition Staff, Museum Exhibition Managers, Exhibition Designers and Exhibition Researchers.
Information and collections
Collection Managers, Collections Assistant, Art Handler, Registrar, Digital Managers, Records Assistant, Records Manager, Documentation Staff; supported by Information Managers, Librarians, Assistant Archivists and Archivist.
Conversation Officer, Conversation Worker, Conservator, Restorer, Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Inspector of Historic Buildings. However Archaeologists, Archaeological Scientists and Find Specialists may be required.
Administration and management
Admissions and booking roles, Arts Administrator, Fundraiser, Volunteer Manager, Properties/Faculties Manager, Heritage Manager, Security and Invigilators, Marketing and PR, Events Manager, Events Staff, Publications, Publicity Staff, Publishing. Other roles: IT, HR, Finance and Legal. Growth area: Business/Product Development (often linked and associated with Sales and Merchandising).
Education and outreach
Development Staff, Exhibition Guides, Education Staff, Heritage and Historical Worker, Museum Education Officer, Gallery Staff, Formal Learning, Informal Learning, Outreach School Liaison, Interactor/Gallery Enabler.
This is not an exhaustive list as the heritage sector is wide and incorporates other specialisms/roles such as Archaeology, Illustration, the Art Market, Crafts and associated Customer Service roles such as Retail and Catering. In addition, roles can blend aspects of other roles dependant on the size of organisation.
Lateral careers are found within finance and the legal sector where many will train outside of the industry but move to work for an arts organisation or work in a specialist practice (private finance and wealth managers).
For more information on the types of roles available in heritage, see the Prospects job profiles directory.
Careers Adviser tips
- Check whether a specific academic background is required for job roles, or consider how your academic study may be of use in the industry.
- Do you have specialist and technical skills and how can they be used?
- Is postgraduate study required? Do you need to gain additional specialisms/skills or a professional qualification?
- Check for assistant level roles, and take on work experience such as volunteering (see entry routes, getting experience and internship sections).
- Utilise clubs and societies at Birmingham, and involvement in local community groups/initiatives.
- Ensure you read information sent to you by Careers Network and your College of Arts and Law (CAL) careers team as this will promote relevant opportunities.
- Be flexible and consider temporary jobs for initial steps; think laterally especially for skill attainment; activate your LinkedIn profile and build your network.
Entry routes into the heritage sector
A degree in a subject such as history, classics or archaeology can be useful but is by no means essential, as the types of collections, buildings and items that are preserved are so wide. The key to getting into the heritage sector – museums, art galleries, historic buildings and conservation – is to gain relevant experience. This is usually through volunteering, although there are also seasonal, paid posts available. See the Getting Experience section below.
There are Masters degrees in subjects such as Heritage Studies and Cultural Heritage Management, which will complement work experience, but will not replace it, so ensure you continue gaining work experience if you decide to pursue further study.
Graduate schemes in the heritage sector are unusual and only take a few graduates a year. An example is the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Fundraising Fellowship Programme that looks to train fundraisers for the charity, arts and cultural sector.
Getting experience in the heritage sector
Nearly all museums and heritage organisations use volunteers – from front-of-house to research, events and exhibitions departments.
The heritage sector has become increasingly dependent on volunteers to maintain services, and their volunteers become very professional and skilled. Volunteering provides possibilities for students to gain experience while still at university and build essential networks.
Some work experience bursaries are available from the University of Birmingham. The links below give a few opportunities as examples, but you can approach any other individual museums and heritage organisations directly to find out if they need volunteers. Remember to contact local and independent heritage organisations as well as the national ones, as they also need support and entry may not be as competitive.
Many large organisations run internship programmes. The University of Birmingham has opportunities on campus, including the Cadbury Research Library. There are many smaller, independent organisations you could contact speculatively.
Heritage volunteering opportunities:
Finding a heritage job or internship
Museums and Galleries
General Art and Heritage websites
UK university open access job boards
Find out more about the heritage sector
There are many ways to grow your knowledge and contacts in the industry. Consider use of social media like engaging with Ask a Curator on Twitter, or accessing The Guardian's Cultural Professional Network, or information from Culture 24 (latest news from the industry) and even looking at the Museum Services Directory that holds the details of over 500 companies and consultants.
Not found what you're looking for?
Find out how to get in touch with Careers Network.