Heritage & culture sector

Want to find out more about a career in heritage and culture? 

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.

Almost 3000 of our students said they are interested in heritage and culture

Explore your options

Want to explore career options in the heritage and culture sector? Explore the types of careers and resources below.

Heritage

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
  • Information and collections
  • Conservation
  • Administration and management
  • Education and outreach

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).

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 Senior Fundraising Fellowship Programme that looks to train fundraisers for the charity, arts and cultural 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. 

Archaeology

Archaeologists examine ancient sites and objects to learn about the past. They may specialise in particular geographical areas, historical periods or types of object, such as pottery, coins or bones and work on excavations or ‘digs', and the associated recording, analysing and interpreting of archaeological remains.

Archaeologists may also work in other settings including:

  • Local authorities, advising on the archaeological implications of planning applications.
  • Museums or heritage centres, assisting with the preservation, conservation, display and interpretation of artefacts.
  • Universities and research organisations, carrying out research and educational work.

Typical activities in Archaeology

  • Surveying sites using a variety of methods, including field walking, geophysical surveys and aerial photography.
  • Working on field excavations or digs, usually as part of a team, using a range of digging equipment.
  • Project managing an excavation, including managing teams of diggers.
  • Recording sites using drawings, detailed notes and photography.
  • Analysing finds by grouping, identifying and classifying them.
  • Using computer applications, such as computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information systems (GIS) to record and interpret finds, sites and landscapes.

To find out more about an archaeologist does day-to-day visit the archaeologist job profile.

Although a career in archaeology is open to all graduates, it's common for people who have studied archaeology, architecture, ancient history, anthropology; conservation or heritage management to enter the field.

It's becoming increasingly common for archaeologists to hold postgraduate qualifications. This may be particularly useful if a specialist skill or knowledge is required, such as human or animal bone analysis. For a list of courses visit British Archaeological Jobs and Resources (BAJR).

Knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information systems (GIS) is also very beneficial.

Archives

Archivists acquire, manage and maintain documents and other materials that have historical importance for individuals, organisations and nations.

Typical work activities include:

  • evaluating records for preservation and retention;
  • cataloguing collections and managing information and records;
  • preparing record-keeping systems and procedures for archival research and for the retention or destruction of records.

For a more detailed overview of an archivists role, visit the archivist job profile on Prospects or watch this Careers at the National Theatre: Archivist YouTube video.

A university degree in any discipline (though usually in an historical field) is needed to be accepted onto a postgraduate course in archives, which is the normal entry route. This qualification needs to be accredited by the Archives and Record Association (ARA).

Courses lead to a nine-month Postgraduate Diploma, the minimum requirement for employment as a professional archivist, or a full one-year Masters degree on completion of a dissertation.

Posts at assistant level are open to those without the required professional qualifications. They are available in most archive services. It may be possible to complete further study in-service or after a period of employment.

Professional Bodies and Trade Associations are a great place to start exploring a given sector. They identify the best employers, give you all the latest news on the industry and often link you to careers events, blogs and job/internship vacancies.

Arts administration

In this role you’re likely to carry out a range of varied tasks relating to most aspects of an organisation, which could include marketing, events organisation, managing performers, human resources, fundraising and administration.

The work varies considerably depending on the type and size of the organisation. Arts administrators in small galleries may be responsible for the whole day-to-day running of the venue. In large organisations, they may need to contribute to work in several areas.

Although you don't need to be a graduate for a career in arts administration, the majority of administrators are graduates. Your degree subject isn't always significant, but can be an advantage.

Graduate entry programmes are extremely rare and most people enter the field through applying for entry-level roles.

Postgraduate study isn't necessary for working in arts administration but it’s likely to help build relevant knowledge, insights and contacts.

Auction houses

Auction houses are at the very heart of the art market. In their sales rooms collecting trends are established, with buyers travelling across the world to bid on major lots, ranging from Renaissance paintings to Contemporary prints. The high prices and glamour make it easy to forget how much work happens before the showcase sale event, and by whom. As many auction houses are large organisations, this means that there are very varied job roles, from communications, marketing and advertising, to art shippers, client representatives and IT staff. Everyone has heard of the auctioneer, but what else can you do?

Types of jobs in auction houses

  • Administrator
  • Auctioneer
  • Cataloguer/Researcher
  • Client Service Representative
  • Registrar
  • Social media manager
  • Specialist
  • Technician

Professionals in this sector have a strong interest in art and/or antiques as a business. Many have studied art history, although business, economics and language graduates are also often sought after. As the larger auction houses have several offices worldwide, a second language is highly desirable.

Doing a masters or completing a postgraduate qualification could help you develop specific skills and specialised knowledge that the industry is looking for. The sector values experience highly so postgraduate study alone will not get you further in this competitive industry.

Most auctioneers and senior specialists will have climbed the career ladder that takes them from department administrator to registrar to researcher and then specialist. They then build a client base that they enjoy working with.

Hear from graduates in the heritage and culture industry

Many of our graduates from University of Birmingham have gone on to pursue careers in the heritage sector.  

Read, watch and listen to graduate stories in the heritage and culture sector. 

Attend an Employer Insights event

Book an appointment with a Careers Adviser

If you have questions and want to find out more about pursuing a career in heritage and culture, have a chat with one of our Careers Advisers. 

Book an appointment through your Careers Connect account. 

Plan your career

If you are ready to start planning a career in the heritage and culture sector, have a look below.

LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning has over 13,000 courses to enhance your CV and stand out from the crowd when thinking about a career in the heritage and culture sector.

University of Birmingham students get free access to LinkedIn Learning

Work experience

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.

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.

Getting experience in archaeology

Volunteering is the best way to gain relevant experience and the majority of volunteers start as diggers.  

Attend training events run by specialist bodies such as the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). Many are open to non-members and can provide networking opportunities for potential entrants.

To find out more about volunteer opportunities visit The Council for British Archaeology.

Getting experience in archives

It’s important to get work experience in archives or a record management environment (not a library). Visit The Archives and Records Association for a list of organisations in the UK and Ireland that offer voluntary or paid placements.

Be persistent in tracking down opportunities. It may be worth contacting organisations speculatively close to where you live. For contact details of local archive and records management services, see the ARCHON Directory.

Getting experience in arts administration

Get involved in student drama productions/concerts, look for part-time/temporary jobs in theatres, cinemas, or in the bars of arts centres and theatres.

The organisers of arts festivals often need temporary/volunteer staff to help with administration and publicity. Visit The Performing Arts Yearbook and the A-Z listing on The British Arts Festivals Association.

Getting experience in auction houses

Pre-entry work experience is extremely desirable, and enables you to make some valuable contacts to use when you’re looking for a permanent role. It will also provide you with an understanding of how the art business of an auction house works. There are work experience and internship schemes in place at most well-established, large auction houses including Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams. With smaller organisations, you can make speculative applications – just make sure you express an interest in their areas of expertise.

Bursaries and funding

You may be eligible to apply for work experience bursaries through The University of Birmingham. For more details visit the internship funding pages.

Apply for jobs

If you are ready to apply for jobs in heritage and culture, have a look below

Search and apply for jobs in the heritage and culture sector

Application support

When you have a clear sense of where you want to apply, the final step is getting the most out of your application. Our Employability Advisers are here to help review your application documents. 

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