To work as an inspector or conservation officer in the heritage sector you'll need an interest in historical buildings, a good eye for detail and the ability to manage a project effectively

In the role of an historic buildings inspector or conservation officer, you'll advise on and promote the conservation of historic buildings, structures and areas of special historic, architectural, or artistic interest.

In particular, you'll work in the areas of long-term care, preservation and enhancement and may also be involved in regeneration projects that have community, economic and environmental benefits.

Responsibilities

As an historic buildings inspector or conservation officer, you'll need to:

  • visit sites, inspect and survey historic sites and buildings
  • assess and recommend buildings and areas for conservation and produce area appraisals and schedules of work
  • represent conservation issues to planning and development policymakers both locally and nationally
  • advise on planning applications and guide new developments that affect the repair or alteration of historic buildings, areas and sites
  • get involved in regeneration projects that have heritage, community, economic and environmental benefits
  • work alongside heritage and conservation groups, as well as local and national government agencies to develop policies and strategies on building conservation
  • canvass public opinion and deal with public enquiries, providing information as required
  • provide advice and consultation to residents, landowners, councils and other bodies, which can be in the form of formal reports, writing leaflets, arranging displays and giving talks
  • plan and supervise long-term environmental projects
  • give advice and prepare reports as required on the condition, future prospect and potential of sites or buildings
  • estimate restoration and conservation costs
  • find suppliers and craftspeople who have the skills and materials required to carry out work in keeping with the age of the building
  • source and apply for grants to help fund conservation work
  • ensure that all work complies with internationally accepted conservation standards and national legislation and policy, including health and safety guidelines
  • assist with enforcement action to protect threatened buildings or conservation areas.

Salary

  • The range of typical starting salaries falls between £22,000 and £27,000.
  • Those with experience and/or qualifications typically earn £26,000 to £36,000.
  • Salaries at senior level, for example as head of conservation, usually range between £40,000 and £60,000.

Salaries vary considerably according to the location, sector and size of the employing organisation, with salaries normally higher in London. Pension schemes are sometimes available.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary according to the role and sector you're in. Roles in the public sector usually consist of a 35 to 40-hour week, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. In the private sector, hours are more likely to vary, with extra hours, overtime and weekend working more likely.

Flexi-time may be available and part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations.

What to expect

  • You'll split your time between an office base and whichever site you are currently working on. This can often involve working outdoors and site visits and inspections are conducted in all weathers.
  • There may be considerable travel within a working day, and absence from home overnight may occasionally be necessary. A company car is not usually offered, but you might have your mileage covered for site visits.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is increasingly common as local authorities outsource public services. For experienced professionals, there are increasing opportunities for historic building consultancy.
  • Appropriate safety equipment, such as protective boots and headgear, must be worn on-site.

Qualifications

Although this career is open to all graduates, a degree or HND in one of the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • archaeology or history
  • architectural history
  • architecture
  • building conservation
  • building or construction
  • civil/structural engineering
  • heritage management
  • landscape architecture or urban design
  • planning
  • surveying.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible, especially through the planning technician route, from where you can move across into the role of historic buildings inspector or conservation officer.

Although not essential, a postgraduate qualification can be highly advantageous in what is a quite specialist and competitive field. The large number of volunteers in this sector means that the search for a paid position is even more intense. Completing further study will not guarantee a job but it will improve your chances.

Membership of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) is usually a requirement for jobs in this field and it's advisable to attend training events run by specialist bodies such as the IHBC and The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). Each year, SPAB offers a limited number of scholarships for young building professionals.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • a strong interest in, and knowledge of, historic architecture, building methods and techniques
  • knowledge of relevant legislation relating to buildings and conservation
  • confidence working with measurements and budget calculations
  • excellent communication skills, both written and oral and the ability to liaise effectively with a range of other professionals
  • good analytical skills, accuracy and attention to detail
  • an eye for design, the ability to sketch designs and plans and an understanding of technical drawings
  • organisational skills and a methodical approach to work
  • negotiation skills
  • project-management skills
  • the ability to produce clear and concise reports
  • strong team-working skills
  • good IT skills.

You may also be required to hold a full driving license.

Work experience

Gaining relevant experience through vacation or sandwich placements will definitely give you an advantage, particularly if your degree is not directly relevant.

Experience gained through voluntary work is also valued by employers. Volunteers are welcomed by organisations and national amenity societies such as the:

Employers

Building conservation is a relatively small and competitive field, but there are job opportunities across both the public and private sectors, over the country, with organisations such as:

You can also find opportunities with:

  • education institutions
  • local authorities - most employ at least one historic buildings inspector or conservation officer
  • private consultancies
  • private sector employers - for a list see the Historic Environment Service Provider Recognition (HESPR)
  • specialist historic building contractors in the construction industry.

Jobs may be advertised with the title of conservator, or historic environment or building conservation professional/specialist.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Most of your training will be given in the workplace, but it's essential to keep abreast of legislation, compliance and reporting requirements through training and continuous professional development (CPD), in line with the membership requirements and standards of IHBC. This includes completing a minimum of 50 hours' professional development over a rolling two-year period.

There are a number of specialised courses and further qualifications you can take if you want to further develop your knowledge. See the National Heritage Training Group for details of training opportunities within the heritage sector.

Relevant professional bodies with built environment interests, such as the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), have dedicated groups for conservation specialists, and membership of a body relevant to your background and area of expertise is important for addressing your training and career development needs.

For information on gaining accreditation with relevant bodies see Understanding Conservation. IHBC is also closely involved in developing National Occupational Standards for conservation professionals with CITB.

Career prospects

You'll typically begin your career in a trainee position at conservation officer level in a local authority (LA), although entry may be possible at technician level in departments such as planning.

The public sector offers good opportunities for career development and LAs have well-established promotion routes to more senior posts. This may include becoming a senior inspector/conservation officer or management of a team of cross-functional conservation professionals, including surveyors, heritage managers and building control officers.

Increasingly, the careers of those working in the private sector are following a similar path, also including periods of employment in dedicated heritage organisations, such as amenity societies or national heritage agencies.

It's common for professionals in this industry to move between local authorities and the private and/or voluntary sector in order to gain broader experience and seek more senior positions. Due to the specialist nature of the industry and the low turnover of staff, you may find you need to relocate in order to achieve career progression. Becoming a full member of IHBC will increase your chances of progressing to more senior posts.