One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, pt 1

This week there have been a couple of job stories which have been blowing up on twitter, and they tell you quite a lot about where we’re at as a sector.

One step forward…

On Wednesday morning I was checking my twitter on my commute as I often do, and saw a tweet about a National Trust ad for Assistant Curator posts paid at over £27k. This kind of salary for an assistant post is unheard of. I retweeted it, highlighting the further, frankly remarkable aspects of the vacancies:

The only thing that shocked me more than the generous salary was the amount of people who reacted to my tweet – nearly 500 likes at the time of writing this. I am not used to my phone lighting up like this, and it just goes to show how extraordinary this job opportunity is in the current climate.

The problem is, it shouldn’t be out of the ordinary at all. Putting the money aside for a second, the other positives I mentioned in the tweet should just be basic good hiring practice. Everyone should be offered training and development as part of their job, especially in an entry level role. Of course transferable skills should be recognised, whether they’re gained in a museum, a shop, a school, an office. Asking for academic qualifications ‘or equivalent experience‘ is pretty standard in a lot of industries, but in museums we have become so conditioned to think we must have a postgraduate degree if not a PhD to get a crack at a job.

Then there’s the money. I’ve been working consistently in the sector for almost 10 years and I don’t earn that much. The Museums Association’s 2017 salary guidelines state that Assistant Curator salaries range from £17,524 to £22,723, so the £27,191 offered for the National Trust role is significantly higher than any other museums are offering right now. I’m not for a second suggesting that someone starting out doesn’t deserve to earn more than me, or others currently working in the sector. They do. We all deserve to earn a wage that reflects our skills and the work we do. Interestingly, the comparative salary from other sectors which the MA guidelines quotes is also around £27K. What National Trust appear to have done, making this truly revolutionary, is not to simply look at the over-saturated, undervalued museum job market when setting the pay, but to stick their heads above the parapet and offer a wage that compares favourably with other sectors.

National Trust is recruiting for 8 such positions. While that’s 8 fantastic opportunities for the successful individuals, its hard to say whether this programme will have an effect on the wider job market. (Judging by the other ‘opportunities’ I am going to write about in part 2 of this post, I don’t think we’re about to see a sea change). It may also be the case that those 8 people will get to the end of the three year contract and find that there won’t be an attractive job to move up to – the MA’s median salary for an established Curator is £26,295, so they could well end up taking a pay cut.

Another interesting thing I noted in a tweet from the NT jobs account advertising the programme is that it was referring to it as a #graduateprogramme (the website card on the tweet also said Assistant Curator Graduate Programme when I first saw it, now changed to Assistant Curator Programme).

The web page itself doesn’t call it a graduate programme, and states ‘The passion you bring and your enthusiasm for our special places are as important to us as education and formal qualifications.’ The job ad goes further and says ‘We are particularly interested in considering applications from people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds who may or may not hold formal qualifications in the heritage or museum sector…’ and there are no formal qualifications listed in the essential criteria. So why is the office NT jobs account calling it a graduate programme? Could it be that even they can’t quite believe they are offering this as an opportunity for someone without a degree?