Kristin Hussey (left); Terri Dendy (right)

Why you should listen to junior staff

Kristin Hussey; Terri Dendy , Issue 114/02, p15, 01.02.2014
It may not be fair to say that the junior staff in museums have all the answers, but they are a voice worth heeding.

As the Ministry of Curiosity, we aim to provide a behind-the-scenes peek into the museum world through the eyes of its emerging professionals.

Often fresh from university and on short-term contracts, the new members of your staff get by on their resourcefulness. As senior management plan long-term projects, it is the junior staff sending frantic emails, tracking objects, coordinating contractors, working with lenders and generally turning the big picture dream into a reality.

A competitive job market and years spent volunteering and studying has had a dramatic effect on the skills-set of junior museum staff. Emerging professionals now come prepared for entry-level positions with broad experience in documentation, events, learning, conservation, budgeting – pretty much everything.

We are a generation of generalists. We have a more extensive knowledge of the museum sector and its variety needs than our predecessors. Yet this versatility can be both a blessing and a curse.

Junior staff are an unparalleled resource. Less entrenched in the affairs of a particular museum, emerging professionals can see past the problems of inherited practice, bringing with them creative solutions, an eclectic network of contacts and a wide scope of training.

Yet with the prevalence of contract work, junior staff are getting little time to nurture skills. An inability to settle into working with a particular collection, the frustrations of low pay and lack of security are concerns we hear often.

It seems unrealistic to suggest that short-term contracts should be cut out, but what then can you do to make the most of your dynamic junior colleagues? Listen to them.

They see and hear things across your institution and the sector that could help with long-term planning. Despite a relative lack of experience, new entrants to the field are smart and creative.

While you are listening to their insights, also listen to what they need. If you can’t offer a permanent position, maybe you can provide project experience.

Perhaps most importantly, love your junior staff back. Something as simple as an invitation to a private view or a thank you email can show your appreciation. This has been your Ministry decree.

The Ministry of Curiosity will give a keynote speech at the Moving on Up conference on 6 February

Kristin Hussey and Terri Dendy are founders of the Ministry of Curiosity


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MA Member
11.02.2014, 13:23
Basing jobs on skills rather than qualifications will help. It does not help that so many jobs are based on a set of qualifications which may be difficult to gain entry in let alone pass. A guild system could be in place that would offer training on a mutually funded basis with government helping to pay the head cost of the poor but talented. A John Lewis model should be applied across all museums. Integrating all levels of staffing.
Chris Wood
MA Member
03.02.2014, 16:24
Thank you for talking about 'junior' staff rather than 'young' staff exclusively. Some of us are moving into museums mid-career. Which also means we have experience in other fields that can be useful in museums too.