Careers Information

JOBS IN CONSERVATION

Developing a career in historic building conservation can be challenging, but efforts are often rewarded with satisfying and varied work. Most job roles rely on a specific skill set which requires training or higher education.

Jobs in historic building conservation can be broadly categorised as follows:
1) Specialists, e.g. building surveyors, architects, conservators, engineers, conservation officers, building archaeologists, consultants, caseworkers, estate/facilities managers etc.
2) Crafts, e.g. masons, carpenters, plasterers, roofers, bricklayers, thatchers, ironworkers, glaziers, timber framers etc.
3) Support, e.g. project management and administration, HR and finance, fundraising and grants,  education and training, PR, and Communications, Media and IT, visitor services, volunteer management etc.
4) Education, Training and Research, e.g researchers and buildings/material scientists, lecturers, tutors on training courses, education staff at heritage sites etc.

GETTING STARTED

1) Specialists

Category A – Architects, Surveyors, Engineers, Architectural Technologists etc
In order to become a building conservation specialist, such as an architect, surveyor or engineer, you will usually need to start with the corresponding undergraduate degree - ideally one accredited by the associated professional body (see further information below). As a general rule undergraduate courses do not concentrate on old buildings, but are the necessary starting point. To become fully qualified, most of these professions require postgraduate study and work experience, plus membership of the relevant professional body. Opportunities to concentrate on building conservation can also arise through advanced studies or specialist training programmes.

For those who wish to become a building surveyor or engineer but do not have an undergraduate degree in surveying/engineering, it is possible to qualify by doing an MSc conversion course. These are usually 12 months long. Entry requirements are set by the individual universities, but applicants will normally be expected to have a 2:1 or first-class degree in a related discipline. Building surveying conversion courses are often more flexible about the subject of your first degree and may sometimes accept those with qualifications in an unrelated discipline. Some experience of working in the industry can also be beneficial.

There are also alternative routes to qualification as an architect for those with experience working in an architectural practice, or a related first degree. More information can be found on the RIBA website.

Once qualified, you can gain experience in working with historic buildings by applying for opportunities with businesses that specialise in this area or have a department that does so. Membership of professional bodies, such as the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), may also be valuable for career development. Attending short courses for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is also recommended to keep your knowledge and skills up to date and is usually a requirement for membership of professional bodies. This may often be funded by your employer or bursary schemes.

Some professional bodies hold dedicated lists of members who are specifically qualified to work on old buildings. Examples include the Royal Insitute of British Architect (RIBA)’s Conservation Register for Architects, The Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation and the Conservation Accreditation Register for Structural Engineers, held jointly by Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) and the Institution for Civil Engineers (ICE). Entry to these lists will depend on meeting the criteria set by the individual organisation.

For exceptional candidates, who are passionate about developing their career as a building conservation professional, the SPAB annual Scholarship programme is an excellent way to develop your career in this field. More information can be found here.


Category B – Conservation Officers, Building Archaeologists, Conservators, Caseworkers, Architectural Historians, Facilities/Estate Manager, Consultants etc
Careers in this category usually start with an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject. Depending on the discipline, this might be history, archaeology, geography, history of art, architectural history, town planning, urban design, museum studies etc. Though it is not a specific requirement, most professionals working in this category will go on to do a Masters Degree or Postgraduate Diploma that concentrates specifically on their chosen area. Subjects might include heritage management, historic building conservation, historic environment management, archaeology of buildings, conservation of historic objects, conservation science, architectural conservation or similar. Work experience, internships and volunteer work are also a huge help in getting a foot in the door.

Membership of relevant professional bodies such as the IHBC, the Institute of Conservation (ICON), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), or the Chartered Institute of Archaeologists (CIFA), is useful for career progression and development. Keeping up to date with industry news and innovations through journal subscriptions, membership of amenity societies such as the SPAB, online discussion groups and attending short courses for Continuing Professional Development is also key.

If you are hoping to eventually move into consultancy, you will usually first need to develop expertise in your chosen area through experience working in professional practice, ideally concentrating on a specific type of work. Contributing to research projects, writing articles for journals and magazines, or leading CPD courses (see Academic, Teaching and Research) are other good ways to get your name out there and establish yourself as an expert in your field. You may wish to join an established consultancy if there is a relevant opening, or set up your own.


2) Crafts
Typically a career as a heritage craftsperson starts with training in a particular skill, such as bricklaying, plastering or stonemasonry. This training might be college based (such as a diploma) or workplace based (such as an apprenticeship or NVQ). Apprenticeships, NVQs and college courses specialising in heritage construction skills are available, but the majority of construction training schemes are aimed at modern construction.

If you have already completed training that is specific to historic buildings, you can develop your career by continuing to work with businesses that concentrate on heritage work, or you may consider setting up your own business. There is a shortage of talented craftspeople in many areas of the UK, so further training or job opportunities may be available. However, the building trade can depend on the economy, so demand for your skill may fluctuate over time. You can also continue to build your skills by working with other craftspeople, attending short courses, and continuing to work towards further qualifications, such as the Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Heritage Skills (Construction). Membership of the relevant guild or livery company may also be beneficial, as may a Heritage CSCS card. More information about the benefits of having a Heritage CSCS card and how to get one can be found here.

If you have received more general training and wish to move into the heritage sector, you will need to gain knowledge and experience of traditional craft skills. Short courses are available from a range of organisations, including the SPAB. You may also be able to learn on the job by working with experienced heritage craftspeople, and work towards a Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Heritage Skills (Construction). You may also consider enrolling on a Specialist Upskilling Programme, which is aimed at craftspeople who want to turn their existing skills and knowledge into a qualification.

For individuals who are passionate about repairing old buildings and promoting traditional craft skills, the SPAB annual Fellowship programme is an excellent way to develop your career. More information can be found here.


3) Support
For those who want to be involved more broadly with building conservation, but do not want to take the specialist or crafts route, careers will usually start with either a relevant undergraduate degree, such as history, archaeology, history of art etc, or a qualification and experience in an equivalent role in a different industry. This might be followed by a postgraduate qualification in historic building conservation or similar, though it is rarely a requirement of such roles.

You will need to develop the relevant professional skills for your chosen role. Examples of these may include marketing, book-keeping, IT, PR, and customer service. These can be developed through relevant work experience, volunteer work and short courses.

It may be difficult to find a starting role without experience, as competition for jobs in this field can be fierce. However, there are often volunteering opportunities within organisations such as the SPAB and others that can help you gain experience. The value of networking is not to be underestimated as volunteering and short-term roles can offer further opportunities and a chance to move into longer-term, paying jobs. If you are just starting out, you may find it necessary to work for a few years in a similar role within a different sector to build your experience and professional skills.

If you are already working and are looking to move into building conservation from a different sector, the section on career changers may also be of help.


4) Education, Training and Research

Category A – Lecturers, Tutors, Trainers on CPD Courses

Typically, careers in this category are preceded by some years of practice as a specialist or craftsperson, in order to develop an expertise in the industry. If you are considering taking this route, it is worth developing contacts with universities, colleges or organisations like the SPAB who run training courses for professionals.

University lecturers often get involved with teaching for the first time whilst researching for a PhD, though industry experience can be just as valuable as academic qualifications. You may spend some time as a visiting lecturer for several universities before applying for a permanent role on the academic staff.

Anyone teaching in the further education sector, including college tutors, needs to gain a Level 3 Certificate in Education and Training during their first year of teaching. For many jobs, already having this qualification is a condition of applying. You must then go on to gain a Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training within five years. These qualifications can often be gained via distance study or short courses, so are suitable for those already in work.

Tutors or speakers on CPD courses rarely need any kind of teaching qualification, though it is important to be comfortable speaking in front of groups. More significant is the range and depth of your experience and knowledge, as you will often be teaching other professionals. It is rare to be able to make a career solely out of leading short conservation courses, but it may complement other work well.


Category B – Education Staff at Heritage Sites
Many education staff start their careers with a teaching qualification, such as a PGCE, or study for a specific postgraduate qualification in museum education or heritage interpretation. Some will go directly into the heritage sector, whilst others work as teachers first, usually in a related subject such as history, geography or design technology.

If you don’t have a teaching background, you may still be able to find an educational role, but will need to gain experience in other ways, such as volunteering to help with educational events or crafts workshops. Some short courses do exist, but are usually aimed at those already working at a museum or heritage site. The Level 3 Certificate in Education and Training might be an option if you don’t want to commit to a full teaching qualification, but note that it only covers ages 16 and up. Knowledge of the National Curriculum is important for success in these roles.


Category C – Researchers, Building Physicists, Materials Scientists
Academic institutions, heritage organisations and consultancies often employ research staff who investigate different aspects of the technical side of building conservation. Like university lecturers, researchers and building scientists are usually already qualified and have a few years work in professional practice before moving into research. Roles within academic institutions will often start with doctoral research. Occasional opportunities arise for technical researchers for organisations such as Historic England, the Scottish Lime Centre Trust or Historic Environment Scotland. Other researchers may join or set up a consultancy, where they offer their services to other organisations that do not have their own research teams (see Category B under Specialists for more information).

 

CAREER CHANGERS

For those considering a career change into the heritage sector, it is worth taking into account the amount of time and money that you are likely to need to invest in yourself. Careers in the technical side of building conservation, as a specialist, a craftsperson, or a researcher, require both training and experience. Before committing to this, it is worth finding out more about the day-to-day realities of your chosen role by attending a short course, arranging a work experience placement or volunteering.

It is often easier for career changers to find work in the ‘Support’ or ‘Education’ category, especially if your previous roles have equipped you with relevant skills, such as finance, marketing, teaching, or fundraising. However, it will still be necessary to develop an understanding of the heritage sector and adapt your existing knowledge accordingly. Volunteering roles are a good way of gaining relevant experience. Be aware that competition for paid jobs in this field can be high, and that jobs are often lower paid than the equivalent roles in other sectors.

Once you have secured a position within the sector, it is often much easier to move roles within it. Many of those working in building conservation will wear a number of different hats during their careers, so it does offer opportunities to change path as your interests develop.


EDUCATION AND TRAINING FROM THE SPAB


The SPAB offers a range of short courses and training programmes. These are usually aimed at building conservation professionals, but some may be suitable for students and those wanting to start a career in the sector. We also run weekend courses aimed at general-interest audiences, which are a good place for people to begin to learn about old buildings. Our annual Working Party is a great way to gain hands-on experience and to meet others who are starting out in their careers.

Our current courses and events are listed here, and you can find out more about education and training at the SPAB here.

For further information and advice, please contact the Education and Training Team at education@spab.org.uk or 020 7456 0915.

For information on jobs, volunteering, and work experience with the SPAB please visit our jobs page. Please note that the SPAB cannot offer apprenticeships or internship placements.   


Further Information

The SPAB is not responsible for the content of external websites

Professional Bodies
Institute of Historic Building Conservation - http://www.ihbc.org.uk/
Chartered Institute of Building - http://www.ciob.org
Royal Institute of British Architects - http://www.architecture.com/RIBA
Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors - http://www.rics.org/uk
Chartered Institute for Archaeologists - http://www.archaeologists.net
Conservation Accreditation Register for Engineers - http://www.careregister.org.uk
The Institute of Conservation - http://www.icon.org.uk/
The Institution of Civil Engineers - https://www.ice.org.uk/
The Institution of Structural Engineers - https://www.istructe.org/
The Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists - http://www.ciat.org.uk/

Crafts Groups
Links to the various Livery Companies - http://www.liverycompanies.com/
Heritage Craft Alliance - http://www.heritagecraftalliance.co.uk/

Training Groups
Council on Training in Architectural Conservation - http://www.cotac.org.uk
Heritage Skills Initiative (under North East Civic Trust) - http://www.nect.org.uk/hsi
Construction Industry Training Board - http://www.citb.co.uk
National Heritage Training Group - http://www.the-nhtg.org.uk/
The Heritage Skills Initiative (run by the North of England Civic Trust) - http://www.nect.org.uk/hsi - note especially their careers guide which can be downloaded at http://www.nect.org.uk/hsi/resources/hsi-guides
Generation H - a Europa Nostra project bringing together young professionals working in the heritage sector - http://generationh.org/people/

General Information on the Sector
Building Conservation Website - http://www.buildingconservation.com/
The Heritage Alliance: http://www.theheritagealliance.org.uk/

Volunteering
National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) - https://www.ncvo.org.uk/
Volunteering England - http://www.volunteering.org.uk/
Directory of Social Change - www.dsc.org.uk
Charity Job - http://www.charityjob.co.uk/
Third Sector Jobs - http://jobs.thirdsector.co.uk/