As part of the Skills theme of our Sector Resilience Interview series, we heard from Phil Pollard, Heritage Career Pathways Manager at Historic England, all about the aims, objectives, and upcoming opportunities to engage with the Historic Environment Skills Forum
Read on to find out more.
Phil, tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the heritage sector.

I work in the Sector Resilience and Skills department at Historic England. We focus on enhancing the resilience of the heritage sector to address existing and emerging challenges. Our work aims to ensure the sector can adapt, grow, and remain relevant for future generations. The department’s key areas of focus include sector workforce development, connectivity, collaboration, and thought leadership.

As Heritage Career Pathways Manager, I particularly look at things such as: monitoring workforce health; developing sector workforce policy; advising the government on challenges and potential solutions; piloting interventions; and supporting infrastructure development to facilitate these efforts.

What can you share with us about the Historic Environment Skills Forum? Where did originate from and what does it aim to achieve?

The Historic Environment Skills Forum, formed in November 2022, is a cross-sector initiative responding directly to Action 1.1 of the HEF’s Heritage Sector Resilience Plan. It unites employers, professional bodies, and sub-sector forums to coordinate skills-related activities across the sector and between sub-sectors; ensuring they are evidenced, effective, and responsive to demand. The forum facilitates the sharing of good practices and resources across organisations and sub-sectors.

Prior to its establishment, a Ministerial Round Table in June 2022 identified common strategic challenges in various professional areas within the heritage sector, leading to the endorsement of the Skills Forum as a collaborative platform to try and address these.

Historic England leads the forum, providing the Chair and hosting the online workspace for coordination. Membership is open to anyone working in the historic environment who wants to be actively involved in shaping the sector’s skills landscape. It is led by a Steering Group representing different occupational areas within the historic environment.

What contribution do you think the Skills Forum is making towards heritage sector resilience?

The Skills Forum’s overarching goal is to ensure that the right skills exist in the workforce to care for our historic environment, and that employers value and demand those skills. We aren’t interested in skills development and career progression for the sake of it; rather in ensuring we have the right skills to meet demand, and a resilient workforce that can ensure we have a historic environment that people connect with, learn from, and that we are proud to pass on to future generations.

In that way the Skills Forum is the place where the difficult questions will be asked around which areas should be prioritised (with regards to improving the skills and careers landscape) in a land of limited funding and resources. This prioritisation is really important to do in order to have the “one voice” that government (and funders!) are looking for.

In terms of how the Skills Forum is already contributing to the resilience of the sector, we have created a space for knowledge and resource sharing between different aspects of the sector and are going to be launching a publicly accessible resource hub for skills in 2024 as part of a wider sector resource hub.

What does success look like for the Skills Forum – how do you plan to measure this?

In Summer 2023 the Skills Forum published a Strategic Statement of Intent document which outlined three key areas members of the Forum commit to:

  1. To openly discuss the skills challenges and the different initiatives that organisations are undertaking to address these; ensuring good practices and resources are shared across the sector and mutual support is provided
  2. To provide a clear shared evidence base using information gathered from discussion and through directing specific research into identifying the current and future demand for historic environment skills; analysing where gaps and shortages are; and identifying the metrics and indicators which will allow us to prioritise areas to address and be used to show progress
  3. To produce and oversee a multi-year Historic Environment Skills and Careers Action Plan for England that drives activity across the sector. This will set a shared agenda, with shared performance indicators that will shape skills development for the future. Through this we will:
    • Seek investment and support to deliver against our objectives
    • Monitor and report on activity in order to regularly review evidence and update priorities.


Success for the Skills Forum will be seeing the Action Plan published, updated annually, and most importantly, being used by the sector to drive their activity around skills.

How can colleagues support the efforts of the Skills Forum or get involved in discussions?

They can become members of the Skills Forum themselves! They can do this by joining the online community, which is hosted on Heritage Workspace (on the Knowledge Hub platform). There they can engage in and post their own discussion topics, add resources to the library, share knowledge and experience, and importantly, comment on draft documents such e.g. priority needs, action plans etc.

The success of the Skills Forum in making a difference is largely dependent on organisations in the sector feeling ownership for the Action Plan, so I would really encourage colleagues to engage with it, using the online community. Don’t be idle and wait for someone else to post a discussion topic – raise one yourself, and join in with existing conversations!

The Skills Forum has also just launched a new webinar series, which will take place quarterly and each will focus on a different key issue with regards to skills. The first of these is coming up soon on Wednesday 6th December, and will be a discussion on the research report commissioned written by MSDS Heritage entitled ‘Apprenticeships in the historic environment sector: Examining employer interest and barriers to implementation’.

Please sign up to attend the webinar!

Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

For me, it is a need to work collaboratively and stop working in “silos”. In establishing the Skills Forum we identified that the strategic challenges affecting skills were effectively the same, whether you were an archaeological scientist or a bricklayer – so why wouldn’t we pool our resources and look at how we can tackle those challenges together?

This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Phil Pollard as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities.

If you’d like to contribute an interview as part of the series, follow the link below to find out more:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum