An ambitious plan to diversify heritage in Wales

,  18 October 2018

Last week saw the launch of the Cultural Ambition project in Wales. Sarah Hughes, Head of Skills Academy, Wales, reports on the launch event and considers the opportunity the project offers to young people in Wales.

Host venues shared their thoughts on why it is essential that we support new entrants to the sector
Host venues shared their thoughts on why it is essential that we support new entrants to the sector

Cultural Ambition is a new project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Welsh Government. It is aimed at helping young people in Wales who are not in education, employment or training, and who are not university graduates.

Each young person will be working towards an NVQ 2 in Cultural Heritage while being based with cultural heritage partners across Wales. Its goal is to try to expand the pool of potential recruits for the cultural heritage sector by giving opportunities to those who have not been able to follow the traditional route through a higher education pathway.

Launch event 

The launch event was held on 11 October in Caerphilly Castle. Not only was this a chance to celebrate the launch of the project, it was an opportunity to stop and reflect on what we are doing, and why we doing it.

Our job is to diversify the sector, to bring in people from all backgrounds and help unlock the potential of young people from across Wales and the UK

The event was opened by Simon Dancey, Creative & Cultural Skills CEO, who emphasised the importance of projects like these: “Our job is to diversify the sector, to bring in people from all backgrounds and help unlock the potential of young people from across Wales and the UK.” 

We then had the chance to hear from a number of trainees who have already begun their placements. 

The penultimate item of the day was a panel discussion with representatives from venues which will be hosting trainees during the project. They spoke about the changing profile of the sector and made a number of points which reminded me of why this work is so significant.  

The need for a new generation 

Within the cultural heritage sector, there is an aging workforce. We know this through research and conversation with employers, and we also know that a lot of sites face challenges to bringing in new talent due to funding cuts. One panel member, Dai Price from Big Pit National Coal Museum, said “We need to do the work of passing on skills while we still have the skills to pass on.”

We need to do the work of passing on skills while we still have the skills to pass on.

There is also the challenge that, realistically, jobs don’t come up very often. Once someone is in the sector, there can be a reluctance and lack of opportunity to move on. Steve Grenter from the Wrexham Museum made the point that, “People don’t move in the sector, and a lack of funding means that capacity is less and less.” 

Adapting to change

The other key challenge discussed was a lack of relevant skills for new entrants in some roles. There is an increasing need for digital skills relating to digitising documents in organisations, such as archives. While academic qualifications are valuable to the sector, it’s important that we’re also seeking entrants with IT and digital skills, which will be essential for these kinds of projects.

There is an increasing need for digital skills

These are all areas that must be addressed as the workforce evolves to adapt to the needs and challenges facing the cultural heritage sector today. There has to be more consideration for what the requirements of the role really are. ‘Degree essential’ should not be an automatic addition to job descriptions.

Within the Cultural Ambition project, we are supporting young people to have relevant learning opportunities which will allow them to be competitive when applying for apprenticeships and roles in the sector. We need to act quickly to ensure that we are taking advantage of the skills under threat due to the imminent retirement of many current staff. We also need to support the trainees on their next steps into the workplace.

After a successful launch event the Wales team are looking forward to getting the project underway, and seeing our trainees, and host venues, grow throughout their 12 month placements. We will also be accepting additional cohorts in 2019 in venues across Wales – so watch this space!


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