Kendal Museum had a high number of volunteers for many years previous but felt it needed to provide a more solid entry route into the museums and heritage sector for people in the region and launched a Museums & Gallery Skills Diploma, which was verified in the first year by the V&A.

“We realised that our volunteers were looking for training, which we were giving to them ad hoc, and the college had a framework in place and a structure on how to run courses,” says Anna Hall, Lead Tutor Museum & Gallery Skills Diploma. “Together we came up with occupational courses that would fill the gap for those wanting to complete hands-on training and it also developed us as a museum as it increased our outward look and networking.”

Now in its fourth year the diploma takes up to 10 students a year, mostly graduates who have worked in museums, but also those who want a change in careers and the age range is from 17 to 60 years. “They all bring different skills and backgrounds as well as a great deal of enthusiasm,” says Hall. “We also have people that are doing Phds and this was a way for them to complete a vocation.”

The courses are run with practical units such as, Designing Exhibitions and Displays, Caring for the Museum Environment, Handling and Transportation, Working with Colleagues and Education and Outreach. In December the students were able to assist with the flooding to heritage sites in the area having recently completed a module ‘Assist with incidents and Emergencies in a Cultural Venue Premise’.

The modules are very tailored to what is needed in the museum or the museums that they are working in such as Abbot Hall Art Gallery & Museum and the Quaker Tapestry Museum,” she says. “One aim is to provide a skills based training for people who want to work in museums. We are really keen for them to make that all important step into paid work.”

Since the courses started in 2012 there have been 20 graduates with eight currently on the course and 16 have gone on to complete paid work in cultural heritage after graduating.

The students are also given advice on preparing for jobs with CV writing, mock interviews and business skills woven in to the courses. There are ten hours direct training and seven hours experience in a museum.

“We are developing – in the long term we want to foster more relationships with museums and galleries in the region and create a cultural heritage hub where there is a progression of graduates,” says Hall. “We are also looking at developing A Level and As courses that complement the diploma.”

Hall says there is a wide range of people coming onto the courses with different skills, backgrounds and knowledge. Most of the students are from Cumbria but interest is now coming from the surrounding regions and some students have left employment to study museum courses as they have an interest and wanted to take a bigger step into the heritage sector.

The museum has employed students part-time and some have developed their own projects for the museum and worked museum’s own projects. “These have included six students working on the HLF-funded digital project where the museum digitised it natural history collection and involved outreaching to the community, digitising the collection and creating a touring exhibition,” she says. “We have also had students working with schoolchildren and older people with dementia. It has certainly enhanced our communication with other cultural organisations about what they need and improves our work with other museums. And that is something we would like grow, our relationships with other organisations locally and nationally.”

Curator Manager and Course Tutor, Carol Davies says that everyone comes to the course wanting to be a full-time curator but they train them to be a very good all-round museum professionals. “We want these courses to be the beginning of their work and do all we can to support them,” she says. “Right through the course we follow and pass on information about employment. We encourage the students to do the same.”

During the courses Davies says there are plenty of opportunities for the students to get involved with paid projects, whether it be for the museum itself, heritage organisations or individuals. This is important as she says filling their portfolios will equate to 90 per cent of the interview when they apply for jobs.

“When we have museum based funding for projects, such as the digitisation project, the students get the first opportunity to work on them,” she says. “One example was when Lowther Castle Garden approached the museum as they wanted to conserve a collection of Victorian items and the students were able to work on the project and we agreed a fee, which went towards funding a student trip.”

Davies says the museum is gathering requests all the time for the students’ skills in aspects such as conservation and education from cultural venues, other museums and schools. “If there is an opportunity to engage the skills then we will do that – they are part of our museum team for the year,” she says.

Some of the students have been involved in radio-carbon dating the remains of a Norse boat after cleaning it and used crowdfunding to get the necessary funding and consulted experts from Oxford Archaeology North.

“So what they were doing was taking on the research and giving the information back to the public as the boat and its history is on display,” says Davies. “It’s all about Sustainability and the good of the community in the future.”

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February In Focus - Professional Development

Professional Development in the Cultural Sector: finding new ways to develop a skilled and diverse workforce

A trained and skilled workforce is something that every sector needs and the cultural sector, with its museums and heritage attractions, is no exception. But how it trains its new recruits, whether they be students, apprenticeships, trainees or volunteers is always evolving and always up for debate