26 March 2013

Technicians use practical skills to maintain exhibition spaces at heritage sites.

Technicians need a wide range of skills and may come into this work as a second job. Image: The Imperial War Museum.
Technicians need a wide range of skills and may come into this work as a second job. Image: The Imperial War Museum.

Technicians build, repair and maintain exhibition spaces, displays and technical equipment. They use practical skills in electrics, electronics, carpentry, joinery and painting.

What do technicians do?

The job is varied and can include:

  • installing or de-installing exhibitions, including handling fragile objects or hanging paintings
  • maintaining existing exhibitions and exhibition spaces
  • looking after equipment stores and sourcing and ordering new stock
  • packing, unpacking and moving delicate and valuable objects within a site, or to other sites
  • building display stands
  • making specialist mounts for objects going on display
  • setting up and maintaining lighting and/or sound equipment
  • opening up and shutting down museum or gallery spaces
  • regular inspections of gallery spaces and equipment
  • cleaning large objects and some general cleaning
  • keeping electronic records, or using a collections database.

In some jobs you may:

  • set up and maintain audio-visual equipment
  • prepare and edit multimedia content
  • research and buy new audio-visual equipment.

What is the job like?

The job will vary according to the site. In a larger museum, art gallery or heritage site there may be a team of technicians with specialists in electrical, audio-visual, venue or community work. In a smaller institution one technician will cover all of these areas. 

You may work across a number of sites in a museum group. You would need to be physically fit and able to work at heights or in confined spaces. At some heritage sites the work may be outdoors.

You could work alongside exhibition designers, building displays by working from scaled drawings. Or with conservators, curators and community outreach staff.

The job could include working or being on call for evening and weekend duties.

How do I become a technician?

There is no set career route. Technicians in the heritage sector need a wide range of skills and may come into this work as a second job after working in a range of areas, including:

  • ICT
  • carpentry and joinery
  • electrical work
  • engineering
  • technical theatre
  • shop fitting.

You would need to be physically fit and able to work at heights or in confined spaces.

As well as practical and technical skills you will need a genuine interest in working in a museum, gallery or heritage site.

This may include an appreciation of how to handle fragile or valuable artefacts or paintings. 

The skills you may need include:

  • practical skills such as metal fabrication, woodworking, electrical maintenance, painting
  • manual dexterity and ability to handle delicate objects with care
  • IT skills, such as Microsoft Office
  • ability to work on your own initiative as well as in a team
  • being flexible and adaptable to lend your hand to lots of different practical tasks
  • good problem solving, trouble shooting and forward planning skills
  • ability to communicate well with members of the public
  • knowledge of audio, video and interactive media including CGI and Multitrack Audio.

What qualifications and training do I need?

This will vary greatly according to the nature of the position. For most jobs you will need GCSEs at C or above, including English and Maths.

Some jobs will have set requirements, such as wanting a qualified electrician or someone with specific practical skills.

For some jobs an HND or foundation degree may be desirable. Some employers may prefer you to have a degree in a subject related to the museum or gallery collection or a postgraduate diploma in museum studies.

Useful qualifications include:

  • ICT Practitioners BTEC Diplomas – Level 2 and 3
  • Level 2 Diploma electrical installation
  • Digital media technologies BTEC Level 3
  • BTEC Level 3 Diploma in technical theatre
  • HND or foundation degree in computing, electrical and electronic engineering or technical theatre.

Relevant apprenticeships include:

  • ICT support technician
  • electronic or electrical servicing
  • carpentry and joinery
  • creative and digital media.

Experience gained from working on sound, lighting, set building or using audio-visual equipment to support music or theatre events at school or college could be very useful.

The V&A offer Museum Technician Awards at Level 3 and 4.

What can I earn?

You could earn from around £15,000 to £25,000 depending on the level of qualifications and skills required.

Permanent jobs with museums and galleries are difficult to find, and often work is on a short-term contract.

In a national museum, art gallery or heritage site it may be possible to progress to technical manager.

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