Rachel is a caseworker at the SPAB and also works at Plymouth City Council. She writes about initial qualifications needed to pursue a job in conservation and how her volunteering experience shaped her career.
Category A – Architects, Surveyors, Engineers, Architectural Technologists
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 before specialising later. 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 than engineering courses about the subject of your first degree and 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 practices 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.
Category B – Conservation Officers, Building Archaeologists, Conservators, Caseworkers, Architectural Historians, Facilities/Estate Manager, Consultants
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, many 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 important.
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.