Icon Publishes Industrial Heritage Skills Report

Action to support the development of a fully trained conservation workforce

26 Sep 2023
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Industrial heritage collections represent a significant part of our shared cultural heritage in the UK. However, it is widely recognised that the skills required to conserve and restore these collections are at risk. Urgent action is needed to implement activities to resolve these issues, and to ensure that collections can be effectively protected and preserved for future generations.

Icon was successful in securing the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Heritage Innovation Fund to deliver this work.

We already had a strong sense that the very low number of fully qualified and trained conservators specialising in industrial heritage conservation posed a significant risk to our ability to care such collections. It is inevitable that people will retire or leave the profession, and with that create a significant gap in the labour force and a loss of highly specialist skills and knowledge. 

The funding allowed us to spend time to research and deepen our understanding of the true nature of the workforce challenge. We did this through surveying museums, practitioners and representative bodies. We also pulled together a steering group to oversee the work and ensure that the proposed solutions are deliverable in practice and meet the most urgent needs of the sector. 

We believe that the priorities should be to focus on actions which aim to:

  1. Preserve knowledge by ensuring that methods of documenting and sharing knowledge are in place.
  2. Support volunteers to ensure that they have the full range of underpinning knowledge and skills of conservation-restoration practice to inform their work
  3. Support professional-conservator restorers to enable them to develop their skills and address the challenges presented by industrial heritage collections.
  4. Growing and developing the workforce to ensure there is a sufficient supply of fully trained / qualified conservator-restorers with the right skills to meet employer demand.

What happens next? Icon is committed to tackling this issue. We will work closely with sector stakeholders to deliver the recommendations outlined in the report to ensure that action is taken to support the development of a fully skilled workforce, with enough people, to care for our industrial heritage collections.