New profile on the Young Cultural Heritage Professionals series:
What was your motivation to enter the cultural heritage field? Was it your first option?
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I entered university, but I kept an open mind and an open heart and in my mid 20s I realised that cultural heritage is an extremely interesting and dynamic field, with infinite possibilities of linking it to our daily lives. I also came to perceive it as the best carrier of memories – something which, to me, is one of the defining aspects of what it means to be human.
The people working in the sector are also the most incredible ones I’ve ever met – it feels like a healthy, nurturing community.
How was/is your transition from studying to working?
Excruciating. The cultural sector in Romania is terribly underfinanced, the public discourse (top-down I mean) is so outdated, the few actors (bottom-up) that are moving things are burnt out and struggling with crippling financial instability. The few available positions (because also Geography is not considered a social science here, so despite my broad experience in the cultural sector, I am technically ineligible for numerous jobs in the field) require years of experience the youth simply cannot possess, or they are so underpaid that people need to go towards the corporate world instead. My journey was filled with 5 years of 9-5 jobs completely unrelated to the field, and all my culture-related projects I left for evenings, weekends or even days off my regular job.
In mid-2021 I finally took a leap of faith, favoured by some positive personal circumstances, and I quit the “non-cultural” world for good. But right now I am in a new transition phase, and I risk repeating the cycle all over again.
In addition, the education phase does too little to prepare students with actual skills that would help them on the job market – up to date research, project management skills, intercultural dialogue, just to name a few.
I also have the feeling that even top institutions or organisations in the field are reluctant to include youth, they already want someone with experience, already tenured professionals because it would require way less training, thus saving them time and financial resources. While of course this is understandable, where does this leave the young people and how does this prepare the future generations for the work that they need to do?
How are you looking/looked for a job in heritage? And how do you experience/experienced the phase of search and application?
Public portals (in Romania, for example, there is one centralising all job openings in the public sector), social media, newsletters. Honestly, I find it a gamble, and sometimes I have heard stories resembling nepotism, where jobs have been given to people without a proper and transparent recruitment process.
What skills and competences do you notice are demanded the most in job offers?
Anything related to project management, consortia coordination, grant proposal writing, and skills related to networking, intertwined with research and analysis. Sound knowledge of heritage policies is also up there, and generally I have the feeling people are expected to have a holistic approach and know a bit of everything, instead of being extremely/highly specialised on something.
Based on the profiles of job positions, do you notice skills or competences that your education didn’t provide you with?
The overall educational system in Romania is more or less out of sync with the demands of the job market, and when people leave universities (unless it’s something super specific and practical, such as medicine or engineering) they have to “wing it”. But I would say that I wish my university provided me with opportunities to hone my critical thinking skills, and also be up to date with current literature and approaches in the field, as well as all the practical, administrative parts of working in the sector.
How do you think young people can be attracted to work in heritage? Do you have proposals?
By fairly valuing their work – both in terms of including them in actually challenging and substantial tasks instead of giving them the most basic of things to do and keeping them there, allowing them space for trial and error, and as well paying them accordingly. Young people don’t want luxury, they want equity and stability.
Honestly, I was thinking that perhaps a dedicated EU-level mentorship scheme would be helpful. For a number of years (let’s say 4-5), any cultural heritage body, regardless of the type and level, would be able to access dedicated funding in order to train the future generation of heritage practitioners and give them a seat at the table. The tenured professionals would, of course, benefit from this funding scheme as well. Both parties would benefit – the tenured professionals feel that they share their knowledge and experience, while the youth would be actually included and have the (financial) stability to develop their skills. Sometimes the young people chase so much the frameworks for their work that they barely have time left for the work itself.
I would like to see that mentorship scheme also include dedicated budget lines for attending conferences, courses and trainings, as sometimes they are prohibitively expensive for the young generation.
In addition, I think promoting a healthy and balanced approach to work would also help. While there are, certainly, periods of time when the workload is heavier and long hours are due, it is somehow expected that juggling multiple things all the time “fueled by passion” justifies and excuses the burnout, anxiety and depression which are so often encountered in this sector.
How do you see the future of the cultural heritage field?
I think we are at a turning point, in which we need to get rid of the Authorised Heritage Discourse once and for all and actually democratise the sector and look at the truth in all its nuances. If we keep shoving under the rug the unpopular opinions about heritage, the ways where it divides instead of uniting, the contexts in which it’s not fueling positive effects, but negatives, we’ll simply lie to ourselves and we won’t solve anything.
Unless we shift the paradigm in the near future, I fear that the sector will crumble under pretty bombastic words.
I also feel there’s not enough follow-up to big EU-level programmes, and that instead of focusing on ensuring proper legacies of projects and such, there’s a pressing need to keep innovating and coming up with new things. While again, this is understandable and sparks creativity, I feel this sometimes takes away the focus from implementing solid and long-term work.