Column Uula Neitola. The future of heritage: Beyond job titles

If you were sent back to university studies, what would you like to be taught? Which skills do you think will be emphasized in the future? I’m quite sure this is a question that has no clear answer. But shaping the future is a skill that can be developed. Changes in the Cultural Heritage sector requires more people to talk about their future, develop their future-related skills and imagine alternative futures.

In spring 2023, at the CHARTER Alliance Workshop on guidelines for innovative/emerging VET and HE curricula in Helsinki (Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education red.), I had an opportunity to arrange a workshop for young Cultural Heritage experts in Finland. At the workshop the participants brainstormed on the future skills, expertise, ideas and visions about the transformations in theCultural Heritage sector and skills and occupations needed in the future.

As a result, the participants formed a future target: ‘how will we see the Cultural Heritage field in 2050?’ The future scenarios were quite fascinating:

“In the year 2050 the discussion about Cultural Heritage in public is mainstream.”

“In the year 2050 the Cultural Heritage plays a key role in all decision making in our society.”

“In the year 2050 Cultural Heritage is joy for everyone, we don’t need conservation authorities anymore.”

I kept these scenarios in my mind when I started to think about the professional pathways and needed skills to incorporate a new generation for an attractive Cultural Heritage sector.

I believe that Cultural heritage already carries many things that are important for the next decades. When evaluating the Cultural Heritage studies path, Cultural heritage must justify its place in the present and in the future for different generations. Cultural heritage education is on the rise and on the nerves of the times.

Cultural heritage education is on the rise and on the nerves of the times

One factor may lie in the values. Cultural Heritage is one fundamental form of human activity. The definition of our own place in the world cannot be outsourced to any device or application independent of humans but must be understood by humans themselves in the light of their cultural traditions. Cultural Heritage means a systematic effort to understand ourselves, each other and our world in the only way that is possible for us, but in a different sense also worth pursuing: humanly.

The most relevant statement about the working life of the future by young professionals can be summarised as follows: the world should be made better, not more efficient.

the world should be made better, not more efficient

We don’t certainly know the future, but we can use our most powerful tool, our imagination. So, let’s imagine. The development of technology shapes jobs also in the Cultural Heritage sector. The changing working life, on the other hand, shapes the way we think and act, and some jobs and job titles will even disappear in the future through automation.

That’s why I want to question the idea that we define ourselves and our identity only through work and profession. Unemployed people are probably not unskilled. In my scenario I urge you to anchor yourself in what is most characteristic of you, and not only in a narrow professional sector.

Skill titles
Through university studies our expertise in the Cultural Heritage sector is much more than a title. That’s why I want to bring up the idea of ​​a skill title. Each of us has a skill that we are experts at.
In the working life of the future, our identity is no longer based on profession, but on skills. In our current work, we may not even take the advantage of exactly where we are at our best. In the future, our goal is to do the work that excites us. Reflecting on and knowing our own values ​​helps us to make decisions and justify our own solutions, but also to set goals and achieve goals.

But when you are more than your job, there are more opportunities. The job title probably doesn’t tell you what you’re good at or what kind of problems you can solve. For example, a person who knows how to open problems and make them understandable is a clarifyer. A teacher, on the other hand, brightens ideas and is therefore a brightener who has the potential to do a wide variety of work. A hastener, someone who makes things move forward, is also a desired employee.

In the Cultural Heritage field, the young professionals will probably work as inspirers with their new and fresh ideas. But we also need crystallizers – to examine how the past is used, valued, and institutionalised.

A new kind of identity thinking

Implementing a new kind of identity thinking requires courage, because it requires that everyone boldly brings up their own needs in the work environment and highlights their skills.
I would probably be an enabler. Someone who tries to tell difficult-to-explain things in an understandable way and make complex things accessible to the public. Science communication is an important form of social interaction that serves science and research, strengthens the connection and trust between science and society, and ensures citizens’ right to share in the benefits brought by scientific progress.

What motivates me the most in my work, not as a Communication Specialist, but as a Historian and a Cultural Heritage professional, is the privilege to enjoy the possibility to have a dialogue with history’s most powerful people through literature, archives, works of art and other sources, and at the same time to look at the brave new future that awaits on the horizon.

Five crucial points

When I realised my position, I also recognized the five points that are important to understand:

  1. Strengthening trust in the future – The future will be different, but it can be better than today.
  2. Bringing visions of the future into Cultural Heritage studies – Without visions it would be terribly hard to follow your path.
  3. Introducing values to discussions about the future – We all like the idea that our work has a meaning. It is probably even more crucial to the next generation.
  4. Challenging prevailing visions of the future must be made acceptable – The dystopia trend is not abating, but utopia acts as a counterforce to gloomy future images, which offers radical alternatives for imagining a more pleasant future.
  5. Building a closer bridge between discussion about the future and shaping the future – In order to meet the central challenges of our time, a greater number of people and organisations must have the ability and desire to imagine different futures and make changes towards a more sustainable society.

The Future Frequence. The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

Future Skills. Perttu Pölönen, 2021. Translated by: Owen F. Witesman. Viva Editions.

Uula Neitola is a Communication Specialist in the Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes network and a 2022 European Heritage Youth Ambassador. This column is based on his input at the CHARTER Paris Conference in March 2024.

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