Case study

Learning and events assistant — Rachel Brodie

Rachel studied Primary English Education (with QTS) at Edge Hill University. She now works as a learning and events assistant at Cumbria's Museum of Military Life

Why did you decide on a career in the heritage sector?

I've wanted to work with children and young people ever since volunteering with the Scouts when I was in secondary school, so I originally thought that teaching would be the perfect fit.

As part of my teaching degree, I chose to specialise in history where I got to explore the benefits of learning outside the classroom and how the heritage sector positively impacts children's cultural capital. Through this, I realised there was more freedom to be innovative in my approaches to learning in museum education, as opposed to the mainstream classroom. This was when I started to consider a career in the heritage sector instead.

How did you get your job as a learning and events assistant?

Following graduation, I worked at Wordsworth Grasmere as an 'education trainee' where I supported their education programme by developing and delivering school sessions, family craft events, library outreach, onsite trails and museum interactives.

Towards the end of the traineeship, I started to seek out roles within the museum education sector with the hope of securing my next role. My line manager at the time shared this job with me, so I applied and was invited to interview. I was offered the job a few hours after.

What's a typical working day like for you?

In a single day, I could be overseeing work experience students, creating a brochure for schools to showcase our education workshops and then supporting with an event (e.g., a talk) in the evening.

Describe your job in 3 words.

  • fun
  • varied
  • rewarding.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I particularly enjoy the learning aspect of my role, purely because of how creative I get to be in my approaches to delivery. Our collection and galleries are powerful tools to facilitate learning in a context-rich environment. Getting to play an active role in sparking children's curiosity and supporting their progress in a range of curriculum subjects is extremely exciting and rewarding.

What are the challenges?

The museum has a military collection and I've found that my lack of subject knowledge can be challenging at times, especially when I get asked for details regarding specific vehicles and weaponry. That said, I've already learned a lot through planning various events and workshops. I also undertake CPD during and outside of work hours to develop my understanding of the collection and enhance my skillset in the role.

What are your career ambitions?

For the foreseeable future, I want to remain within the museum world and continue to build on my knowledge, skills and experience. I aspire to become an education officer one day.

What type of person would suit a career in the heritage sector?

It depends on the area as there are differing levels of skills, knowledge and experience required for each role. For example, someone with a passion for learning, the ability to work individually and within a team and the ability to build and maintain relationships with colleagues and visitors of all ages would be very well suited to a career in heritage education.

Can you talk us through three issues currently affecting the museum sector?

  • Low pay - The pay issue needs to be addressed due to the high demand for jobs in the sector. I know lots of highly skilled and experienced professionals choosing to stay in low-paid roles despite knowing they could receive better pay in other sectors. That said, organisations like the Museums Association (MA) actively campaign for museums to prioritise fair working conditions and workforce well-being by providing resources such as the Salary Research and Recommendations document that can be used as a tool when considering job salaries in the sector.
  • A lack of diversity in the workforce - People from minority groups are currently under-represented in the culture sector. For example, the 2020 Inc Arts Hold On Report revealed that only 2.7% of the museums, galleries and libraries workforce are from Black and Minority Ethnic communities. However, charitable organisations such as Creative & Cultural Skills and Rising Arts Agency are working to provide opportunities for diverse voices from across the sector to share their insight, perspectives and ideas around barriers to entry, the need for diverse leadership opportunities alternative entry routes.
  • Exclusion - There's a definite need for heritage organisations to address issues of exclusion, with findings from a survey in 2019 revealing that more than a quarter of parents of children with special needs (29%) have felt unwelcome at a museum, gallery, theatre, stately home or castle. In light of this, there's been an increase in resources like SEND in Museums that provide clear guidance for museum, heritage or other arts and cultural professionals, on supporting the inclusion of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

What advice can you give to students and graduates aspiring to a career in the heritage sector?

Use any spare time you have to get volunteering experience in a museum, gallery or heritage site to gain an understanding of how they operate and the different roles available. Try to use this experience to establish which area you'd like to work in (e.g., curatorial, visitor experience) and then pursue work experience in this area to further develop your knowledge and skills.

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