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Heritage Labour Market

The historic environment is reliant on a skilled and experienced labour market to properly care, conserve and manage it. There is a growing body of research which examines the heritage labour market and skills.

How big is the heritage workforce?

There are approximately 5.5 million traditional (pre-1919) buildings in England, it is important to consider who and how we will maintain these buildings in the future.

Key research and publications include:

Skills provisions in local authorities (2013)

Research was conducted by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO) to understand where skills gaps exist for specialist historic environment staff in local authorities, and their preferred methods for developing skills.

The research highlighted a number of areas where local authority staff felt they were lacking awareness and knowledge. These included condition assessment, recording and information management, and finance.

Traditional building skills (2013)

The construction industry, which includes the built heritage sector, changed dramatically following the recession in 2007.

Research undertaken in 2013 was designed to give an updated and comprehensive perspective on the supply of and demand for traditional building skills. This includes identifying skills gaps and determining areas of recruitment difficulty.

Findings include:

  • 5.5 million traditional (pre-1919) buildings in England.
  • £3.8 billion spent on work on traditional buildings in 2012.
  • 89% of contractors are general construction companies, 87% do not hold formal qualifications relating to traditional buildings.

A Skills Action Plan was agreed as a result of the research to address the key issues. It focuses on the continued need to increase client demand, and improve the training and qualifications available.

Cultural Heritage Skills Survey (2013)

To complement the traditional buildings market research, a study was commissioned to examine cultural heritage skills more closely. The Historic Environment and Cultural Heritage Skills Survey focused on the workforce and individuals. Four sub-sectors of the heritage sector were defined:

  • Archaeology
  • Conservation
  • Cultural heritage institutions
  • Planning and other related services

The research provides evidence on where there are gaps in particular individual skills, the development of existing staff and figures on employment.

  • 66% of cultural heritage employers successfully recruited new staff 2010-2013.
  • 42% of respondents believed their organisation was lacking skills.
  • Interestingly, key skills gaps include management, marketing and IT/digital experience.

Historic and botanic garden skills

Research into the careers, occupations and skills required for the conservation and management of historic and botanic gardens include:

Built heritage sector professionals (2008)

The National Heritage Training Group highlighted a shortage of conservation professionals with the necessary skills to maintain traditional buildings in this research.

The action plan calls for Sector Skills Councils, professional bodies, heritage agencies and training providers to work together to strengthen traditional building skills. This includes educating clients about the value and importance of using traditional building methods and materials.

Read the report

Architectural conservators research (2006)

A large segment of the current generation of active conservators will be retiring over the next 10 years.

Research was commissioned to address concerns over whether there will be a sufficient number of qualified and experienced conservators in the future.

After conducting in-depth interviews with training institutions, employers and practitioners, key findings include:

  • Competitive tendering seen by many as a bureaucratic burden, at times a disincentive to maintaining high standards of conservation skills.
  • Profession is largely dominated by white males. While more females are entering there is no ethnic diversity.
  • Little formal consultation between course providers and practitioners.
  • Employers call for apprenticeships.

The report also makes a series of recommendations in an action plan for the profession.

Survey of historic environment specialists 2016-2017

The next few years are forecast to be a time of considerable change affecting our historic environment. Large-scale infrastructure projects like HS2, major road schemes, and a mammoth programme of housebuilding are forecast to very significantly increase the demand for a skilled historic environment workforce, at a time when some of the country’s most experienced historic environment specialists are approaching retirement. As a sector we need to try to get to grips with the impact of these two factors, and to invest focused resources into accommodating them.

The national heritage agencies including Historic England have commissioned Landward Research to carry out a new survey of historic environment specialists, building on the work that was undertaken in 2010. We aim to find out more about the distribution of specialists, their working environments, their training needs and opportunities, and their thoughts on the future.

Landward recently carried out the inital survey, which has now closed, our thanks to all who took part. The results are now being analysed and will be made available in due course.

If you have any queries about the project, please contact

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Adala Leeson

Head of Social and Economic Research

Engagement Group

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