Late last year, one day in November 2023, the Youth Forum ‘took over’ Heritage Connects, an online community of practice for heritage professionals, on the platform KnowledgeHub. In the style of an ‘ask me anything’ Q&A, the Youth Forum answered the sector’s questions about early careers in heritage, experiences of being a young professional, or how to engage young people in the sector.
You can find the full record of questions and answers from the day in the Heritage Connects group, under ‘Discussions’. Questions covered a range of topics and issues, sparking discussion across the forum and gathering experiences from across the sector. But with this wealth of discussion, I wanted to explore what conclusions we can take from the day. What key themes emerge when we ask people to talk about early heritage careers, and what can we do to turn online discussions into real action?
Stepping back from individual questions, the following key themes were covered across the day:
- Perceptions of heritage careers
- Involvement in local projects
- Entry into heritage jobs
- International student experiences
- Heritage Skills
- Remote heritage locations and accessibility
- Fixed term contracts
- Job descriptions
- Roles in archaeology
Various Youth Forum members pitched in their answers across the day. They called on personal experiences, anecdotes, and evidence to paint a picture of a young workforce passionate about the sector and what it can offer. But they also discussed a range of limitations to this professional development including education (expectations to have a degree/masters to enter the sector, struggles for international students), recruitment (inaccessible job applications, lack of permanent contacts, professional skills), and finding professional networks (local projects struggling to recruit young people, access to transport to reach heritage events/site).
With this in mind, I think these themes translate into a few initial action points, both for the Youth Forum to act on, and recommendations for the wider sector- our employers, colleagues, and leaders- as well as some questions to broaden the scope.
Online Communities such as Heritage Connects provide a format for professionals to accessibly connect, discuss, and ask questions. By providing this resource, discussion and knowledge-sharing is encouraged as an intuitive way of collaborating. From collaboration comes change, and the Youth Forum takeover should represent a stepping stone in the regularity of conversations about early career gateways and young professional voices.
Earlier in November, Youth Forum member and Heritage Graduate for Wales Izabella Maar was part of the panel at The Heritage Alliance Heritage Debate 2023. She represented young people to answer the question ‘Careers at a Crossroads: How Can We Futureproof the Heritage Sector Workforce?’. Izzy presented a fantastic argument focusing on barriers and obstacles faced by young people in the sector, calling on a range of experiences and generating discussions in the chat.
It is these opportunities to platform experiences of young professionals, find networks and ask questions, that can help to make early career pathways an intuitive part of he heritage sector. By maintaining this space, and creating a two-way dialogue, asking questions and holding discussions becomes a way to drive the ‘culture shift’ that is so often talked about.
Talking to recruiters
It is clear that may of the barriers considered in the experiences of early career professionals take place at the entry point into heritage careers. Considering the recruitment process, there is a long list of possible angles. Tackling perspectives of heritage careers for education providers and universities, removing the necessity of a degree or masters for many heritage careers, fair pay, access to volunteering opportunities, accessible job applications, the list goes on, and many of these experiences were shared anecdotally as part of the Takeover.
Access to the right people to make those changes is key. Recruitment in heritage organisations is evolving across the sector, but it is important that these tools for accessible and diverse recruitment trickle down to smaller heritage organisations, allowing local projects or small trusts to work with and benefit from working young heritage professionals, and vice versa.
It is also important to ensure that barriers specific to younger professionals are targeted. Accessible job applications and fair pay are significant, important, and benefit everybody, but young people are more likely to be looking for a realistic definition of ‘entry level’ in a job description, or support for transportation to a heritage site.
If you work in HR or recruitment, what does your process do to support early career gateways, and how do you encourage other organisations to use this process?
Identifying heritage-specific actions
On the flipside to understanding young people in heritage employment, it is also clear that the heritage-specific needs cannot be ignored. The archaeological sector came forward as a key case study of this in the Q&A, with a question about how early-career archaeologists navigate the full process of a dig: how does experience change even within different areas of the sector, and how can early career professionals access this awareness?
This is not to say that organisations aren’t already aware of these trends for young people, but once again highlights the need for two-way dialogue between early career professionals and their employers, or between heritage students and their education providers, to each ask questions, to ensure that perspective is shared, and that heritage-specific support can be built into the career pathway.
If you’re a manager, mentor, or educator, how do you create opportunities for the young people you work with to talk about their concerns or barriers?
Sometimes, the answer to the question asked was the Youth Forum itself. The Forum is a group of 18-30-year-olds who want to make their voices heard in the sector: a very material action towards supporting young people in heritage and embodying many of themes that emerged in their resources and events.
This is not the only platform for young people in the sector- the CIfA Early Careers Group and Prospect Union Support for Apprentices to name just two- but these networks highlight the value of connecting young people with one another to share advice, resources, and create a shared voice to reach the sector with.
The themes of the Youth Forum x Heritage Connects Takeover may not be new to you, and may not cover it all, but this blog helps to catalogue these discussions as they happened, as a record of the questions that the heritage sector had for young people. May they not only aid understanding, but also prompt and inspire new events, resources, and change to help overcome those barriers and continue to connect young heritage professionals through their shared experiences!
Written by Len Branson, Youth Forum member