As part of the Skills theme of our Sector Resilience Interview series, we heard from Isabel McKernan, Heritage Project Manager at the Construction Industry Training Board for Northern Ireland (CITB NI). In 2022, the CITB NI embarked on a new three-year project to invest in traditional heritage skills training and re-establish trades in danger of being lost.
Read on to find out more.
Isabel, tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the heritage sector.
My name is Isabel McKernan, I am Heritage Project Manager at the Construction Industry Training Board for Northern Ireland (CITB NI).
CITB NI’s role is to encourage the adequate training of those employed or intending to be employed in the construction industry, to improve skills and productivity and deliver a safe, professional and fully qualified workforce across the whole of the construction industry in Northern Ireland.
CITB NI has been actively involved in promoting training opportunities in traditional building skills, working with key stakeholders since 2009. In September 2022, CITB NI commenced a 3-year heritage project to further heritage skills training, supported by Covid Recovery Programme which is funded by the Department for Communities and administered by the Heritage Fund in Northern Ireland.
What can you share with us about the CITB NI’s Heritage Project? What does it aim to achieve for skills and capacity in the heritage sector?
The project builds on previous research undertaken by CITB NI, which found that Northern Ireland has an increasing number of pre-1919 buildings requiring maintenance and repair, increasing the need for traditional skills. This research also identified skills shortages, with stonemasons, heritage joiners, blacksmiths and thatchers particularly needed in Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, there are limited pathways for learners to undertake accredited vocational heritage training in Northern Ireland, and there are barriers to some craftspeople taking on an apprentice on an informal basis. This has resulted in an ageing workforce, with many heritage craftspeople due to retire in the next five years, which will exacerbate existing shortages and have a real effect on retention and condition of historic buildings.
The project aims to raise awareness and knowledge of traditional skills and materials through providing training and upskilling opportunities and engagement with schools to promote careers in heritage construction.
However, the overarching aim of the project is to test the viability of long-term training provision in heritage skills outside of funded projects in order to increase consistent opportunities for people to train in traditional building skills. If successful, this should increase capacity in the heritage sector through actively providing accredited training and upskilling opportunities, supporting a high-quality skills output, and encouraging new entrants in areas of high need.
Images (c) CITB NI
What contribution will this make towards the resilience of the heritage sector?
The project works closely with a number of different heritage and stakeholder organisations, strengthening relationships and working towards the shared aim of improving access to heritage skills and training. The sector will be more resilient, both through increased opportunities for collaboration, and also through increasing capacity and skills within the workforce, which will help to protect and maintain our historic environment into the future.
What does success look like for the Heritage Project? How do you plan to measure this?
By the end of the project in summer 2025, the aim is to increase the pool of skilled craftspeople, which will allow for the enhancement of heritage places and spaces and begin to re-establish heritage trades and skills currently in danger of being lost.
Success of the project is measured through the amount of people who benefit from training, the number of new entrants to the heritage sector through the project, and the legacy of the project through the ability to continue training into the future.
Where can we find out more?
Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?
Working together and supporting the organisations and craftspeople that are sharing skills, and those which have shared interests and goals. Sharing knowledge and promoting opportunities for people to get involved in the sector is also really important.
This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Isabel McKernan as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities.
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