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DIY Development: Skills and the Future Museum Professional

Originally posted on 17 November 2013 #LMGBlogArchive #LMGBlogArchiveProject by Jemma Davey


I don’t think there can be a discussion of skills which does not also address the matter of experience. Skills and experience go hand in hand. As competition in the sector rises and budgets fall, future museum professionals will increasingly need relevant, well-evidenced experience in support of their skills. In this blog I will highlight the importance of proactive professional development. In doing so I intend to demonstrate the relevance of ‘tailor-made’ development plans in what is a diversifying museum sector. I will conclude by commenting on the difficulties museum professionals face in the bid to improve and better their museum based skills and experience.


I am a relatively new face in the museum sector. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was attending UCL’s post (post)-graduate careers seminars. Sitting in a room with such bright, well qualified (unemployed) young people is a sobering experience. The discussion of skills was understandably rather more cited in the present than the future.  Shortly into my first paid museum job, a colleague introduced me to the Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA). The AMA is a professional development scheme for museum workers (at varying stages of their careers). My interest was immediately sparked. The Museums Association claims its three-year framework helps “develop job skills and the core competences needed for a successful career in museums”. Sounds good, right?


The AMA is essentially a framework through which museum professionals can facilitate their own professional development, in other words: DIY development.  Through my role as Coordinator for the London AMA Support Group I have met lots of AMA candidates. A common frustration with the scheme is that the (not insubstantial) annual fees do not reflect the input or efforts of the Museums Association itself. While perhaps not unfounded, I believe that the AMA is designed to encourage candidates to consider their own specific development in relation to their intended career path. In doing so the Museums Association allows for the increasing diversity of today’s sector. It also recognises the importance of proactive career development.


While I feel this approach is the key to the AMA, it is also the cause of my unease in addressing the question; ‘what skills do future museum professionals need?’. Different museum jobs require different skills.


Every museum role brings different challenges and so requires different skills: ‘tools for the task’. Nick Poole’s blog correctly highlighted the continuing professionalisation and evolution of the sector. With change comes diversity – in both roles and in the associated skills needed to fulfil them. The latest AMA guide features superimposed museum professionals at work wielding various ‘tools’; a camera, a paint roller, a magnifying lens, a clipboard. The intended message clearly conveyed here is that of variety.


A Conservator needs technical collections skills. A Project Manager needs financial and management skills. A Volunteer Coordinator needs HR skills. Of course these skills are not exclusive and many jobs require a range of skills. However, the AMA encourages the museum professional to reflect on their own current skills or need to develop. In doing so, the museum professional strives to be better at their job and to further develop their career. Personal professional fulfilment results in the sort of attributes Nick highlights:


* Personal integrity & professionalism

* A positive attitude and the willingness to learn

* A desire for museums to be genuinely open, diverse and adaptable


These attributes benefit both the sector and individual alike, they also perpetuate further development and improvement.


As I stated at the beginning of this blog, a discussion of skills must also be a discussion about experience. However, finding the support and time to undertake skill orientated activities whilst working full time can be difficult.


In stage two of the AMA, the candidate creates a Continuing Professional Development plan (CPD plan). The CPD plan is a framework which requires the candidate to draw connections between their wider career goals, development needs (skills) and activities (experiences). In my experience, demonstrating these relationships within a formal plan (the MA officially approves CPD plans) helped my Line Manager to approve my development activities. Other AMA candidates have commented how the AMA has permitted them to engage in the kind of experience-based learning activities they would never usually have the opportunity to undertake. Colleagues sometimes jokingly ask how I am ‘allowed’ to attend or organise AMA meetings during my working time. However, for me pursuing skill development and experience-based activities is essential rather than opportunistic (although of course it can also be rather fun!).


It is important that skills and experience be easily quantifiable and well-evidenced to really help career development. In both my roles at the V&A I have line managed very able volunteers. Opportunities to gain quality experiences can be limited, especially given competition for places. Many volunteers struggle to find employment because their CVs do not evidence their skills clearly enough to potential employers. The CPD log (record of the CPD plan activities undertaken) and final project report are useful tools in both tracking and evidencing skills development. The AMA itself is a recognised accreditation in the sector. Moreover AMA documentation can be utilised for different purposes.  I have used my CPD plan and log to development my own V&A performance management plan. The AMA can therefore become a tool in itself.


I have inadvertently given a rather glowing review of the AMA programme. Admittedly, some museums offer their own worthy professional development plans. The British Museum for example has just funded the last intake for its ‘Skills for the Future’ initiative. National Museums Northern Ireland currently run the ‘Collections Skills Initiative’. However, unlike the AMA, these schemes rely on funding, are available to only a select yearly intake and are relatively niche. The AMA (aside from the aforementioned fees) is available to all museum workers and volunteers alike.


In this blog I have addressed the matter of diversity, the importance of experience and the necessity of tailor-made development plans in relation to the AMA scheme. I would like to conclude by highlighting the museum professionals who undertake the AMA rather than the scheme itself. It is the AMA candidate who takes initiative in considering, directing and actioning their own skills development and work experiences. In a sector facing so many challenges, the museum professional of the future will need to be resourceful, proactive and experienced. Schemes such as the AMA go some way in helping museum professionals facilitate and achieve this for themselves.


Jemma Davey is an Exhibition Assistant at the V&A and London Group Coordinator for the Museums Association AMA Scheme.

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