There has never been a more interesting or relevant time to work in the rapidly expanding area of heritage. The combination of different expectations from a new generation of visitors, the changing demographic of tourists, the greater need for innovation in interpretation, as well as the growing politics around heritage ownership have all thrust heritage management roles to the forefront.
Author: Justin Albert | Reading time: 3 minutes
The old days of learning heritage skills ‘on the job’ or even transitioning from other management roles is not as easy or desired as previously thought. This is why bespoke and teachable skills are needed in all areas of heritage management. Europe and the world have a huge and growing demand for heritage management experts, but with very few people trained in the roles. In my dual roles as director of the National Trust for Wales and director of the International National Trusts Organization, every time I recruit senior managers, I am made aware that there is a dearth of well-trained executives in my field. There are many brilliant and experienced curators, archaeologists and conservators, but increasingly, when recruiting, I am looking for evidence of training in core heritage skills and an understanding of the wider cultural picture. I also consistently look for a solid comprehension of what it takes to run a complex, matrix structured heritage organization.
This is why so important to employ trained heritage managers. Put bluntly the business part of the heritage business has been neglected for too long. New disciplines like bespoke fundraising, crisis /public relations management, and business negotiations are now essential to success. Also, a much higher public expectation around interpretation and experience design means that managers need a detailed knowledge about modern curation, and in a world where the politics of ownership of objects and control of buildings is in the news, a strong understanding of the most current political thinking is a ‘must have’ for a cultural manager.
Increasingly, colleges and universities are looking at solutions to fill this gap in the higher education of professionals and post graduates in heritage management skills. The starting point is realizing that a master’s course is an effective and time efficient way to deliver a professional heritage management qualification. Higher education institutions are also realizing that any bachelor’s degree (or in some cases, previous work experience) can be made relevant to a heritage management career. People with degrees in English, business or even maths are now succeeding, and accountants, journalists, lawyers, even nurses and architects have been successful in transitioning to the new field.
The world of looking after, protecting and monetizing heritage assets is rapidly changing. To succeed, and get the top jobs, one will increasingly need a combination of practical experience, a genuine passion for culture, and a strong academic understanding of the discipline. These are exciting times and from Lisbon to London and Lesotho to Lahore the pressure on our collective global cultural sites is growing. What is needed now is a new cohort of trained heritage management professionals to make the most of these challenges and opportunities, and to protect, preserve and interpret humanities history.