The Institute of Conservation undertook Labour Market Intelligence research to understand the shape and extent of the conservation sector in 2022. This work has been based on the Heritage Labour Market Intelligence Toolkit developed by Icon alongside the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and Historic England.
This report will be used to inform our workforce-related policy work and to ensure that we can provide effective advocacy and support for conservation and heritage science.
It was clear that the conservation workforce is highly educated, with 88% of organisations reporting that their conservation workforce was qualified to bachelor’s degree level or above, with 56% holding a master’s level qualification.
78% of respondents indicated that they required or desired that their members be either Pathway or Accredited members of Icon, which included 69% who required or desired that their conservation workforce were Accredited members of Icon.
The most in-demand aspect of conservation practice was Collections Care / Preventive Conservation followed by Interventive practice and then Conservation Management.
The materials specific skills and knowledge which were consistently rated as being in high demand included: works of art on paper, archives / library materials, paper, books and photographic materials. This was broadly true for all aspects of conservation practice.
However, we note that low levels of skills demand among respondents in not an indicator as to the relative importance of those skills - it is likely to be more nuanced depending on the aspect of conservation practice and the material knowledge and understanding required to perform the job role.
For example, a specialist area such as engineering conservation may display all of these indicators, with a low number of individuals currently practicing, but a recognised need to increase that number and a corresponding need to increase the use of appropriately qualified individuals to carry out engineering conservation work.
There are also areas of practice that do not fall within the scope of the work carried out by many employers in this survey – architectural conservation is good example of this. It is clear that there is a large number of built heritage assets and a corresponding high number of practitioners, but this data has not been captured in this research.
It is evident that further focused research is required to investigate the specific skills needs within these parts of the conservation profession.
There is a clear demand for communication, project management and digital skills amongst the conservation workforce. This is likely to be reflective of the changing nature of the role of professional conservators in adapting to technology, the changing nature of the commissioning of conservation work and more externally focused job roles.
The median salary levels identified through this survey were broadly similar to those identified through Icon’s ‘Conservation Salaries Survey 2022’. This survey showed that the median conservator earnt between £25,000 and £29,999 / year – this is compared to a median of £30,500 and mean of £31,800 identified through the separate salaries survey.
30% of organisations were reported to employ non-UK passport holders within their workforce. This was not seen as being something that was likely to change over the coming 12 months. The majority, 74%, highlighted that they had not experienced any issues in recruitment However, for the 15% of respondents who had experienced challenges almost all could be put down to stricter immigration rules post-Brexit which had proven challenging to negotiate for those concerned.