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Cultivating the skills of tomorrow’s cultural heritage leaders

Déspina Kortesidou
The top of a staircase in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which ends in an archway leading to a room filled with colourful, modern artwork.

To navigate future uncertainties, cultural heritage organisations (CHOs) are constantly challenged to innovate, adapt and build resilience for the new reality. The cornerstone of future transformation lies in the capacity building of current and future CHO staff and leadership. Thanks to their important role in their local communities, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have the opportunity to train learners with the skillsets that CHOs are in need of. In this article, we draw on relevant research from the Cultural Heritage 2.0 project and present an overview of the competencies needed for academics and educators to train (digital) cultural study majors’ talent for future-proof CHO staff and collaborators.

Essential forward-looking competencies for HEI talent

As part of the project’s investigation phase, a competencies need analysis was completed to reflect the talent’s competence gaps in meeting forward-looking needs of the cultural heritage sector, as well as the approaches academics could adopt to better train the learners’ needed skills. The term competencies can be conceptualised as the triad of attitudes, knowledge, and skills[1] that an individual draws upon to bridge between different actors within their organisation and the ecosystem beyond the organisation. Therefore, the umbrella term “competencies” incorporates one’s knowledge, defined as the theoretical understanding of a specific subject or several areas and disciplines. On the other hand, we define skills as practical know-how, which includes applying and disseminating knowledge, mobilising resources, and achieving goals. Finally, attitudes encompass norms, beliefs and values that mobilise one’s behaviour.

Based on a thematic analysis of intensive desk research on the cultural heritage sector’s status quo and 34 qualitative interviews with Cultural Heritage experts and leaders as well as technology trend experts from 9 countries across Europe, we identified competence needs for future CHOs  talent in HEI, an overview of which we present below:

  1. Attitude of responsibility: There is a need for a sense of responsibility towards addressing challenges within the cultural heritage sector regarding several environmental, social, and economic needs. This involves a proactive approach to problem-solving and a commitment to contribute positively to the broader societal context.
  2. Interdisciplinary approach: The “interdisciplinary approach” is a critical competency for university learners supporting CHOs. It involves cultivating both a generalist and specialist-focused perspective, combining broad knowledge with subject matter expertise. This set of competencies would enable learners to contribute to the strategic conceptualisation and implementation of projects in CHOs.
  3. Open mind ethos: The “open mind ethos” is another skill set for university talent supporting cultural heritage organisations in addressing future challenges. It encompasses flexibility skills to embrace a mindset that encourages trying new approaches, taking calculated risks, thinking creatively, and adapting to change.
  4. Hybrid spaces creation skills: Developing hybrid spaces would prove vital for defining post-digital and hybrid opportunities within the cultural heritage sector. This includes integrating traditional and digital elements, fostering innovation and enhancing the sector’s adaptability to the evolving technological landscape.
  5. Digital literacy skills: In a highly digitalised world, talent must possess digital literacy skills to contribute to cultural heritage projects effectively. This encompasses proficiency in digital communication, outreach, basic video production, and a strong digital presence on social media and other online platforms, ensuring effective engagement with diverse audiences.
  6. Accessible heritage skills: Moreover, learners should acquire skills that promote inclusive cultural heritage experiences tailored to diverse audience needs. This involves understanding and implementing strategies to make cultural heritage accessible to a wide range of individuals, considering factors such as age, ability, and cultural background.
  7. Relational skills: Finally, relational skills are indispensable in cultural heritage support. This includes honing networking, marketing, and project management skills. Building and maintaining relationships within and beyond the cultural heritage sector is vital for successful collaboration, promotion, and effective project implementation.

By acknowledging and providing the learner’s competence gaps, HEI can become the primary trainers of future CHOs’ talent. This role can be underpinned by academics and educators of learners, who can empower learners to navigate the current and forward-looking needs of the cultural sector

HEI academics’ approaches to meeting talent’s competence gaps

The outlined forward-looking competencies for talent in HEIs, encompassing attitudes, knowledge, and skills, serve as a guide for HEI academics seeking to prepare learners for the dynamic landscape of cultural heritage through their teaching, research and engagement activities. For the sake of brevity, we will focus on a few suggested approaches through which academics can support learners to be equipped with these valuable competencies:

1. Design practical-oriented and experiential education

As part of their educational activities, academics can support talent in realising competencies by designing practical-oriented and experiential education. Implementing challenge-based and participatory learning approaches allows learners to engage directly with CHO staff. This hands-on experience equips them with the essential skill sets necessary for supporting the transformation of the cultural heritage sector. By integrating real-world challenges into the curriculum, academics provide learners with a dynamic learning environment that prepares them for the complexities of cultural heritage work.

2. Support the mobility of talent in CHOs

Beyond challenge-based learning, academics can facilitate talent mobility in CHOs as part of educational and research activities. Encouraging a collaborative mindset between HEIs and CHOs creates opportunities for learners to gain practical experience. Academics can actively promote and support internship placements, workshops, and consultancy projects where graduate learners work alongside CHO staff. This collaborative approach enhances hands-on expertise and strengthens the relationship between academia and cultural heritage practitioners.

3. Have a strong focus on open science and cultural heritage projects

Another approach for academics to support their learners in being equipped with future-proof skillsets is by emphasising the importance of open science in cultural heritage projects through their research and teaching. Collaborating with CHOs to research, create, or further develop open-access databases and models for European cultural heritage enhances accessibility and fosters a globally linked open-data community. This approach advances research and opens doors for a broader array of talent to engage in cultural heritage projects.

In conclusion, the article underscores the transformative impact that talent in HEI and their educators can have on CHOs’ path to adaptation and resilience. The outlined competencies, encompassing attitudes, knowledge, and skills, serve as a guide for HEI academics seeking to prepare students for the dynamic landscape of cultural heritage and a first step on how HEIs can contribute significantly to nurturing a generation of professionals ready to meet the challenges of the cultural heritage sector head-on. For the interested reader, more details on the methodology behind compiling the Competence Gap Map can be found on the project’s website.


[1] Williams, P. (2002). The Competent Boundary Spanner. Public Administration, 80 (1), 103–124. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9299.00296

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If you are an educator interested in enhancing the entrepreneurial mindset and skillsets, don’t miss our upcoming training on Developing Entrepreneurial Minds. Additionally, if you want to explore HEI’s mission to help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset, listen to the innovative initiative of Jenny Mullery, the Community and Impact Manager at IdeasLab, University of Galway.

Déspina Kortesidou (author) is a senior consultant at UIIN and holds an MSc in Behavioural Neuroscience Sciences and a BSc in Molecular Biology. In her work, she supports institutions on topics relating to social innovation, institutional transformation and strategic partnerships.

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