Case study

Learning and participation officer — Donna Hall

After a career in retail, Donna decided to change profession and undertook an apprenticeship in the museum sector. Find out more about her new career as a learning and participation officer

What degree course did you study and where?

I studied for a degree in fine art at the University of Humberside.

How did you get your job?

I got my job at the National Civil War Centre through a level 3 NVQ apprenticeship in learning and development. I saw a job advert for an apprentice learning and participation officer, my dream job, and had to apply. I had an established career in the retail sector at the time and although the hours were long and the money good, I found the pressure to perform and succeed to be insurmountable.

The apprentice wages were far less than I was used to, but I decided it would be worth it. Changing career in your 40s is terrifying, but has worked out wonderfully for me.

What's a typical working day like?

One day I could be doing ice age crafts in the Tudor hall or delivering activities at a medieval family fun day and another day I could be making leads for Prince Rupert's dog, Boye so that children can walk him around the galleries. On other occasions, I might be teaching children within the main Civil War gallery and then showing them how to fire a musket and take part in a pike drill.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy all aspects of my job and I get to meet lots of interesting people. I particularly enjoy writing and delivering sessions, outreach work and holiday activities.

What are the challenges?

I find that not being as academic as some of my colleagues can be challenging. My lack of pure subject knowledge can also be a challenge at times but I am continuing to read and to learn more each day.

In what way is your degree relevant?

Although my fine art degree isn't strictly relevant, it enables me to produce props and replica artefacts for use within sessions.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I completed my apprenticeship just as lockdown began. The museum had funding to keep me on and was looking forward to continuing my development and moving forward.

As the museum was closed to the public during lockdown, I had to adapt my way of working. For example, I had started Mini Museum, a face-to-face toddler group to introduce young children to the museum's spaces and artefacts, but had to move the project online and produce a series of work that would entertain and educate young children.

The apprenticeship has allowed me to look at how we learn and develop, and then to use these skills to produce and deliver sessions. One of the most useful things for me has been learning about reflection in practice, and not being afraid to change the way I am doing something on the fly.

Right now I am happy where I am and enjoy what I do. Coming into the job from a totally different route means that I look at things in a slightly different way and can recommend ideas that have not been considered before. I feel respected by my peers and appreciated by my managers, which is wonderful.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • I would encourage anyone to do this job and would recommend volunteering to get vital work experience.
  • Keep a close eye on all the jobs pages, not just the major job sites but also local councils, museums and galleries.
  • Talk to people within the place you want to work to see if there are any alternative routes in you could take.

Find out more

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