New skills and professionalization

Need to re-new skills of cultural heritage practitioners

Public-oriented cultural heritage institutions are facing a re-examination of their societal roles, frozen or cut budgets, and changes in user demands, partly due to increasing use of the Internet and new media. Consequently, there is a considerable need to re-new qualifications in the sector.

Training and continuing professional development is particularly required concerning the communication and valorisation of heritage assets. The necessary update in competence profiles includes:

  • understanding the changing user demands in cultural services both on-site and online,
  • forging partnerships and working with organizations and businesses in other sectors (e.g., tourism providers, creative businesses),
  • effective deployment of new tools and media (e.g., digitization of content, enhanced online access, social media), and
  • evaluation of social and economic relevance and impacts.

The sector cannot wait, for example, for new generations of heritage professionals with high digital skills. The required skills are more on the user-side, e.g. digital marketing and “branding”, online communities, etc., not internal (e.g. digital collection management).

Also lack of cultural leadership and entrepreneurial spirit is often mentioned, combined with innovative thinking, looking outside the sector, and doing things differently. (Creative Choices 2010) Of course this is reinforced in the current phase of economic recession.

The situation will also often mean that funds and sponsorships become scarcer, even to the point that cuts in costs are necessary. Training and professional development are among the most likely candidates for cuts, however, this would impede the capability to take advantage of new digital tools and dissemination channels.

Training of students and young professionals

According to the Eurostat “Cultural Statistics” pocketbook (2011), the interest of students in culture-related fields of studies is quite high. In the academic year 2007/08, 18% of tertiary-education students in the EU-27 were studying in a field of the Humanities, Arts, Architecture and Building. In most countries, the humanities were the most popular field (more than 10%), in some Arts or Architecture and building was predominant.

Thus Europe can count on a good base of students with a background in cultural themes. However, this does not necessarily qualify them for professional, projects-based work for cultural organisations. In one of the CreativeCH workshops, consultant Anamaria Wills (CidaCo, UK) described her work with young arts & humanities researchers at the University of Leeds. The goal was to help them make their work interesting to a wider audience; for example through relating it to relevant topics (e.g. historic places), cultural events and venues (e.g. museum exhibitions). Also bringing the young scholars together with players of the cultural and creative sector was an important part of the work.

Often the use of digital media allows for triggering interest by new and young audiences in what arts & humanities scholars can tell them about historic periods and cultural products. However, Wills noted: “It is a slow process and it needs that both the creative and the academic people come together and exchange their views and perspectives to find innovative ideas and solutions.”

Important ways of connecting students with the cultural sector are volunteering or internships. Volunteers or interns are usually welcome by cultural organisations, but it is felt that often they are not well supported or that unpaid work is not appropriate (e.g. interns should be paid at least the minimum wage). There is much advice available for students on how to get a volunteer or internship placement and benefit from it, e.g. see the advice on the Creative Choices (UK) website. But also good planning and mentoring by the host organisations is required.

According to Paula Simões (University of Coimbra), most tertiary education curricula still do not have an interdisciplinary and creative approach that is aligned with job requirements. So many graduates have little knowledge in project management, working with customers, content preparation for digital projects, issues of copyrights, etc. Therefore the University of Coimbra together with other universities developed the European Masters Programme “European Heritage, Digital Media and the Information Society” (EuroMACHS). The programme started in 2006 and is currently offered by the Universities of Coimbra (Portugal), Cologne (Germany), Graz (Austria), Salento (Italy) and Turku (Finland).

The EuroMACHS programme promotes a project-based approach to the development of relevant competences and skills. Programme managers of the University of Coimbra, who participate in the CreativeCH project, have summarized lessons learned in working with students. The document provides advice on what to do and what to avoid so that students acquire useful expertise and skills (it is available on the CreativeCH website).

The publication of the UK Heritage Lottery Fund “Young People's Heritage Projects” (2007), gives some advice and examples on how to develop a project with young people. Examples of educational projects aimed at stimulating entrepreneurial thinking and practices of young people can be found in a recent publication of the European Commission – DG Enterprise and Industry (2013).

Results of the CreativeCH workshop on “New Skills and Professionalization for the Digital Arena”

The topic has been addressed by the CreativeCH workshop held at the Digital Strategies in Heritage (DISH) 2013 conference (Rotterdam, Netherlands) on the 2nd of December 2013.
Workshop highlights