Although there may not be many opportunities for young people to enter the museum workforce at the moment, museums can still play a central role in helping them develop transferable skills for employment. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a huge impact on youth unemployment rates, there has never been a more important time to support young people into work.

1. The impact of COVID-19 on young people’s employment

According to a BBC Panorama report, young people aged 16-25, especially those from a deprived background, have had their career prospects most affected by COVID-19. There is currently a very real risk of mass youth unemployment. A recent Resolution Foundation report outlines that forecast levels of youth unemployment may reach those seen in the early 1980s in the next three months. The report also highlights the potential of long-term scarring of career prospects for those leaving full-time education in 2020.

Even before the pandemic, there was a higher chance of being unemployed as a young person if you:

  • were eligible for free school meals
  • have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
  • are a care leaver
  • were permanently excluded from school
  • are from some non-White backgrounds.


(Source: Report from the Youth Futures Foundation.)

In common with many industries, the pandemic has had a severe impact on employment in the cultural sector. Increasing numbers of organisations are making staff redundant. The number of vacancies is shrinking and it is a tough time to start a career.

These statistics are stark and as well as supporting young people with employability skills, it’s also important to make sure they take care of their wellbeing if they are struggling to find work. The Mix, a charity which provides support and information for young people has some top tips about staying positive if you are looking for work and where to find further support.

2. Developing transferable skills

At a time when young people are struggling to start their careers, it has never been more important to support the development of core skills to support employment across all sectors, not just museums and heritage.

There are a range of ways to identify what skills are most important:


Pre-COVID-19 many museums already had a role in helping young people develop transferrable skills that could be used in a variety of sectors, as well as to develop a career in the heritage or cultural sector.

In this resource we outline a range of approaches museums can use to support young people’s employability. These range from short term initiatives such as Takeover Day and work experience to longer term provision such as youth panels and apprenticeships.

3. Short term engagement

Even time-limited employability support can have an impact for young people. Part of the Gatsby Benchmark for careers education outlines the importance of young people having multiple encounters with employers from the age of 11 as part of good careers education. Delivering shorter projects can make this engagement more manageable for museum staff who have less time and fewer resources.

The 2020 Youth Voice census shows that young people aged 10-16 are keen to have opportunities to visit different workplaces and find out about different jobs and what skills are required at work.

The 2016 Character Matters report recommends Taster Days for young people as being important to increasing museum workforce diversity, particularly if they are timed at key points in education when young people are making subject and/ or careers choices.

Takeover Day

Kids in Museums Takeover Day or Digital Takeover Day is an ideal opportunity to enable young people to experience different job roles in museums and the skills required to work in heritage and culture. For example, small surveys carried out with young people who participated in a Takeover Day or Digital Takeover Day found that they felt more confident, more able to work as a part of a team and more creative as a result of the programme.

By working directly with museum staff, young people can gain an understanding of a range of different skills, including teamwork, leadership, creativity, speaking and listening. They can also learn about areas of work such as commercial, operations or digital which are widely applicable. You could add a short discussion at the end of your event to enable young people to reflect on the skills they have seen at work during the day and how confident they feel about them. One of the reports above could provide a template for this.

It is possible to deliver Takeover Day online while COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Here’s our guide to doing so.

Careers Fairs and Events

Careers events can provide valuable experiences for young people and are a very popular way for them to find out about work and career choices. You could join up with other local museums to have a presence at careers fairs to promote opportunities you might have at your museum, such as work experience or young volunteering. There is a list of local careers fairs on the Youth Employment UK website.

Other organisations hold their own events, such as those at the BarbicanV&A and Somerset House and so that young people can find out about careers in the creative sector.

Insight Events

Insight days enable young people to try out a task that is part of a museum staff member’s role. Museum staff can also talk about what their jobs entail, their career routes and the transferable skills that are needed to do their jobs.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York runs regular insight evenings for young people.

Work Experience

According to the 2020 Youth Voice Census, over 80% of young people undertake work experience while they are at school and value it as a way to learn about employability skills. Many museums already run work experience, but if you are new to it, Youth Employment UK has a comprehensive toolkit on its website.

The Museum of London runs insight days to help young people to meet staff from different teams before deciding whether they want to apply to do a week of work experience with them. During lockdown they adapted their programme so that young people could still engage online.

In order to offer work experience across different teams in a museum, you could work with your HR staff to take an organisation-wide approach and develop work experience champions in each department.

At the end of your work experience placements, you could offer a session on employability skills to help young people think about what they have learnt during their work experience. This could include support with CV writing or interview skills to help young people better understand how to communicate about the skills they have to get a job.

The Youth Voice Census also shows that family members are still important to young people finding work experience. This may mean that the placements are not as inclusive as they could be, and lack of any work experience is seen by young people as a major barrier to getting a job. Offering placements through schools, education business partnerships or youth organisations will help to reach a wider range of young people.

It is also worth considering whether you can promote work experience directly to young people as about a third say they find placements themselves. Think about how you can reach young people directly. This could be on social media, through schools or local youth groups.

Make your programmes inclusive for young people who have special educational needs or disabilities, or those who might need additional support. According to Mencap research, only 6% of adults with a learning disability are in paid employment. 52% of adults with any kind of disability are in employment compared to 76% of the general population. Following their highly successful Careers for All programme, Leeds City Museum has created a toolkit for museums that want to create SEND careers offers.

The V&A’s Create Futures programme and the National Maritime Museum work experience programme provide placements for NEETs, young offenders, and young people from Pupil Referral Units.

4. Medium term engagement

If you have more time and resources, you could think about creating medium term engagement that lasts longer than a couple of weeks and supports young people to develop new skills and put them into practice. The Youth Voice Census shows how highly young people value these opportunities:

  • 70% think it is quite or very important to be involved with extracurricular activities, volunteering, or social action.
  • Around two thirds think it helps build skills for work.
  • Just over 60% think that it helps to increase confidence.


One way to do this is through youth volunteering programmes. For example, museums have trained young people as tour guides, film makers, event producers and to develop oral history and transcription skills. This could also enable young people to gain qualifications, such as an Arts Award, and could contribute towards a Duke of Edinburgh Award.

The Young Devon Museum Volunteers project supported three museums in Devon to involve young people aged between 16 and 18 as museum volunteers. There is also an example of an active young volunteers programme supporting skills development at Royal Museums Greenwich.

Young people would like to see better advertising of young volunteer programmes and would like organisations to offer more flexible volunteering opportunities. This NCVO blog has some useful tips on recruiting and retaining young volunteers.

This NSPCC toolkit outlines the safeguarding considerations for working with young volunteers under the age of 18.

It is really important that volunteer roles are not a substitute for paid staff. You can find information to ensure that volunteer roles are appropriately set up in this short guide from NCVO. 


Internships are work placements that can last for up to a year. Unpaid internships have been a contentious subject in the cultural sector. A 2018 report by the Sutton Trust shows that 86% of internships in the arts were unpaid and this had a negative impact on social mobility and workforce diversity.

Creative and Cultural Skills has a guide to setting up paid internships. The CIPD also has a useful guide to setting up effective internships.

The Wellcome Collection Summer internship programme is a great example of a paid internship.

Kickstart Programme

The Kickstart Programme has been set up by the government to help young people back into work after the pandemic. It offers young people aged 16-24 who are currently in receipt of Universal Credit the opportunity to take part in a six-month paid work placement. Young people must access the scheme through the Job Centre Plus network.

Employers can offer placements that have a start date until December 2021. Support to employers includes salary costs (National Minimum or Living Wage depending on age of participant) which they can choose to top up, National Insurance and Pension costs for each role, and a one-off payment to support each young person with skills for employability.

The scheme is targeted at larger employers, so to apply directly, you have to offer 30 placements. If you are interested in taking part, but want to offer fewer placements, you can do so via a gateway organisation. You can search for local gateway organisations on this website.

For more information, see the Kickstart Scheme website.

5. Long term engagement

Longer-term engagement can support one young person or small group of young people over a year or more.

Youth Panels

Programmes such as youth panels can enable young people to develop a range of skills and to develop their own projects depending on their interests. For useful insights about how to run a youth panel, read our blog from Leeds City Museum about the Preservative Party, their youth group which has been running for a decade.


Involving mentoring support for young people as part of longer-term engagement can be extremely beneficial to help participants to set goals and make longer-term plans. Mentoring can help young people reflect on the skills they have learnt and write CVs or personal statements for UCAS and think about what they would like to do next in education or employment.

Mentoring involves making a regular commitment to a young person. You can read a useful definition of mentoring here. Ideally mentors should have some training. This is difficult to access free unless it is part of a funded programme, so you might want to consider whether your organisation will pay for it out of a training budget.

If you are interested in exploring mentoring further, The Princes Trust has a set of free resources to help young people with employability.

If you live in an area covered by Arts Emergency, you can signpost young people aged 16-25 to their programmes.

Apprenticeships and Traineeships

Paid apprenticeships and traineeships allow young people to undertake vocational courses alongside gaining practical work experience.

The Museum Futures programme at the British Museum for example provides UK-wide traineeships for a diverse range of young people. They have created films about the benefits of taking on young trainees.

London Transport Museum runs a young freelancer programme to support young people to work in museums and enable other organisations to contract their services.

Often apprenticeships and traineeships do not have to provide routes into the museum sector. Big Pit offers mining craft apprenticeships and London Transport Museum take a multi-generational approach in their enjoyment to employment initiative to embed engineering careers within their work with audiences of all ages, from under 5s to young people.

There is a useful guide from Creative and Cultural Skills outlining best practice in setting up apprenticeship and Orleans House created this hints and tips guide based on their experience. The Centre for Apprenticeships advertises a wide range of apprenticeships for young people.

The Devil’s Porridge Museum, National Museums Liverpool and Brunel’s SS Great Britain have supported long-term opportunities for young people with autism. On the Autism in Museums website, you can hear the impact these programmes have had for Ryan and Alistair who have both gone on to work at the museums they were volunteering at.

6. Some tips for making recruitment more accessible for young people

This section is based on a session delivered by the Kids in Museums Youth Panel at the Fair Museum Jobs Summit in November 2020. During the session, young people gave feedback about all stages of the recruitment process.

Job advertisements

  • Role titles: people looking for roles early in their career will often be attracted to Assistant roles. However, this title seems to cover a huge range of positions and it’s not always clear what the level of the role is from the title. Think about whether there is an alternative term you could use.
  • Degree or equivalent experience: offer more clarity in the advertisement about what additional experience would include to make it clear whether it is possible for someone without a degree to apply. Knowing whether you have a degree or not is clear, knowing if you have equivalent experience is not.
  • For part time jobs with low salaries: provide clarity about hours or an indication about whether flexibility is possible to accommodate another job.
  • If salary for a part time role is advertised pro rata, state the actual annual sum the post holder will be paid.

Role description

  • Length: long role descriptions are off-putting.
  • Skills required: are all the skills listed things a new entrant to the job market would easily understand? Think carefully about essential and desirable requirements and how applicants with limited past experience will be able to evidence them.
  • Contact information: make sure it is clear how an applicant can ask questions and whether it is possible to get in touch via social media.

Interview questions

  • Language: ensure questions are open to people applying for first jobs, for example, talk about experience or previous tasks rather than career to date. Also try to ask for more positive than negative examples.
  • Make questions shorter: try to avoid multi-part questions.
  • Think about whether you can offer questions to candidates in advance of the interview.

Interview feedback

  • References to scoring systems in feedback tend not to be helpful unless the scoring system has been explained in advance.
  • Think about how much detail you can share in feedback (and take advice from an HR professional if necessary). Younger candidates found more specific feedback helpful and, if a scoring system was used, would like the scores to be shared and explained. Remember that GDPR may give interview candidates the right to request their interview notes through a subject access request.
  • Offer the option of receiving feedback by phone or a follow up call to email feedback.

7. Useful websites and reports

Youth unemployment

Transferable skills for young people

Creating careers and skills development opportunities for young people

Interview feedback