What if every entry level museum job was designed to be the first rung in a career ladder for anyone who desires to climb? How could that change who wants to work in a museum, and whether they are willing to commit to the long-term? How might it help museums build a workforce that reflects the communities they serve?
Even pre-pandemic, museums were grappling with challenges related to labor and equity, and the past two years have only raised the stakes. Responding to the most recent COVID impact survey by the Alliance (publication pending), directors ranked “labor and skills shortage” third in a list of disruption threatening their businesses in the next year, topped only by the pandemic itself and the slow recovery of travel and tourism. Over half of respondents are having trouble filling open positions, particularly for visitor-facing roles (guest services, admissions, frontline, and retail), essential support (facilities, maintenance, and security), and education. These positions not only suffer a disproportionate share of pandemic stress, they also typically offer relatively low pay and few opportunities for advancement.
To build a workforce that supports their goals and aspirations and aligns with their mission and values, museums will have to rethink many aspects of labor, from how positions are designed to the benefits they provide in the short and long term. For this reason, I was very intrigued to come across several recent job postings in which the employer outlined where an entry level position fit into a potential career development path within the organization. As museums strive to attract and retain the staff they need, build a diverse workforce, and provide good, stable jobs, mapping position openings onto pathways for advancement could be an excellent practice to add to the HR toolkit.
Here’s the most detailed example I came across in my browsing:
The Barna Group, a research company that specializes in Christian faith and culture, includes an “Advancement Plan” with their job postings. For example, the description for Research Coordinator explains that “The next step for a Research Coordinator is dependent upon the individual’s interest. A coordinator may begin to manage projects, with coaching and oversight from experienced colleagues, prior to transitioning into a role as Associate. This provides an opportunity for learning and development before the coordinator has acquired the necessary broad spectrum of experience to take on additional responsibility and is an important stepping stone to advancement.” The posting also emphasizes not only what a person in this position will do, but also what they will learn.
Last November, on this blog, director Margaret Koch described how the Bullock Texas State History Museum is building pathways for advancement inside the museum, including offering a wide variety of master classes for staff on a variety of issues such as technical skills and management training. To build paths out of what all too often become dead-end jobs, the Bullock hopes to create “hybrid” positions in which people work half time in a front-line job, and spend the other half apprenticing in another department such as exhibitions, education, communications, or development. I love the idea of designing entry level positions as training opportunities for advancement. For one thing, it would help museums to diversify their applicant pool by relying less on traditional academic credentials, and more on the skills, abilities, life experience, and character of candidates. On-the-job training and carefully crafted pathways for advancement can help create a future in which the staff of museums, including the people at the highest levels of leadership, reflect the demographics of the communities they serve.
That sounds like a good first rung for a ladder to a brighter future.
Interested in exploring this topic in more depth? This article from the Society for Human Resource Management provides an excellent overview of ways to develop career paths and ladders in organizations.Skip over related stories to continue reading article
Hi Beth, sure you know that the federal employment system does have a career ladder for museum positions. That might be a model to examine when HR policies are being developed.