The Relevancy Project: Developing A Diverse, Preservation-Minded Workforce

Read the compiled findings from The Relevancy Project in Landmarks Illinois’ November 2023 publication, “The Relevancy Guidebook: How We Can Transform the Future of Preservation.”

A craft worker performs masonry repairs in summer 2019 on the rear façade of historic Old Cook County Hospital in Chicago, which took over 20 years of preservation advocacy to save from demolition. General Contractor Walsh Construction used the project for their Pre-Apprentice Program, a trades and industry training program. Eighty percent of the pre-apprentice trainees were sponsored into a local union at the program’s end. The former indigent care hospital, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been rehabilitated and reopened as a multi-use Hyatt House hotel, food hall and office development. Photo credit: Walsh Construction
*Special thanks to Sarah Marsom, activist and cultural resource consultant, for reviewing and contributing to this blog post. Also, you can scroll to the bottom of the webpage for a PDF version of this post.

OCTOBER 9, 2022


Exploring the preservation labor force as a topic could have come first in this blog series. Foundational to making preservation more relevant is having a labor force that is willing and able to do to the work. I chose to cover the more challenging topics first to illustrate the scale of needed change, and the knowledge and skills that will be required. Changing what we do, and how we do our work, requires more capacity – knowledge, funding and time, but people most of all. Based on The Relevancy Project interviews, we believe these are the necessary steps when it comes to future jobs in preservation:
1. Having a workforce that represents the nation’s diversity creates stronger organizations and is imperative to telling our full history.
2. The workforce of preservation-minded people needs to grow if we are going to have any impact in the areas that will make us more relevant to more people.
3. Our knowledge and skills must expand, so education programs need to evolve to support this expansion.
4. We need to expand the pool of workers that have a preservation ethic, knowledge and commitment to influencing change. Our workforce can make change by working both inside and outside of the existing preservation field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track the historic preservation industry specifically. We fall under many industries, so determining the size of the preservation labor force is difficult. A 2012 National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) market study entitled, “Field Guide to Local Preservationists,” estimated that there are over 500,000 “Preservation Leaders and Members” in the United States.[1] However, the study defines a “Preservation Leader” as “people who consider preservation to be their number one cause and who are extremely active in preservation-related activities.”[2] Presumably, that definition includes most of the preservation workforce. Back out the NTHP’s then 250,000 members and supporters, members and supporters of the 1,000 other preservation groups and we are down to a small workforce that preserve our nation’s older buildings.[3] These numbers have not been publicly updated over the past 10 years to see if and how our field is changing. The U.S. workforce has gotten younger in that time, with Millennials at 35% of the labor force, Generation X at 33% and Baby Boomers at 25%.[4] Millennial preservationists have made incredible contributions to, and been leaders of, the conversation about needed change. Though their position in leadership and their influence continues to grow, established leaders must continue to either make room – or make way – for the fresh perspectives that rising generations bring to the field. But first, emerging preservationists need to overcome barriers to enter the field in the first place.




The National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE) lists 63 historic preservation and allied academic programs with a cumulative enrollment of over 2,200 students.[5] NCPE does not offer program cost data, but the average Master of Arts degree in the U.S. costs $72,800.[6] Many professional preservation jobs require a Master’s degree. However, tuition is likely a barrier for low- to moderate-income students who need to acquire the credentials to enter the field. Only 10% of low-income adults have a four-year college degree by the age of 25 compared to 50% for those from high-income families.[7]
Increasing our field’s economic, racial, ethnic and geographic diversity depends, in part, on the accessibility and relevance of required education. Both access to a preservation degree and the curriculum that underpins it need reform. Preservation education focuses predominantly on philosophies developed over 40 years ago and is centered on the administration of preservation regulation.[8] Preservation educators and supporters called on NCPE in an August 2020 open letter to reform and decolonize preservation pedagogy to support racial equity in the field. They stated,

Beyond what is taught and how much it costs to earn a degree, supporting oneself as a preservation professional can be a barrier. More than half of all college students leave school with student loan debt.[10] Combine that with low pay for entry-level preservation jobs and the high cost of housing and it is a recipe to ensure only high-income individuals, or those with supplemental incomes, work in preservation.

Justin Garett Moore, AICP, NOMA
Former Executive Director
New York City Public Design Commission
March 31, 2020
New York City, New York [via Zoom]



Not everyone interested in working in preservation wants or needs an academic degree. Some want to work directly with historic building materials. However, not enough people are entering trades training apprenticeship programs to replace the 40% of construction workers that are expected to retire in the next nine years.[11] According to 2021 data, the Associated General Contractors of America report that 89% of contractors are having difficulty finding craft workers.[12] What does this craft worker crisis look like for the specialized preservation trades? The Campaign for Historic Trades, a program of Preservation Maryland, is currently collecting baseline data via a survey to predict future construction skills needs. The campaign has made significant strides towards putting the infrastructure in place for preservation trades training programs nationwide, in partnership with the National Park Service’s Traditional Trades Advancement Program and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. I include tradespeople as vital preservation labor force. However, hiring, retention and safety practices may overlap some with those covered below, but there are also challenges that are specific to those in the trades. The Preservation Priorities Task Force, a joint project of the National Preservation Partners Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has published an Issue Brief noting the challenges and possible solutions to increasing the number of craft workers with traditional building skills including a more accessible system to enter the preservation trades and find employment.[13]


Nancy Finegood
Former Executive Director
Michigan Historic Preservation Network
April 10, 2020
Eaton Rapids, Michigan [via Zoom]



Prospective employees often encounter barriers to entering, or moving up, in the preservation field. Sarah Marsom, activist, consultant and creator of the Dismantle Preservation movement, has led a public campaign for cultural resources pay equity.[14] The campaign calls for paying interns and demands that organizations and job boards require posting salaries as a matter of compensation transparency. These are two important hiring practices for employers. There are several other areas to consider when approaching an employee search. Have you had a job posting open longer than you expected without a successful hire? One or more of the following may be the issue. Here are barriers to remove when creating job descriptions, job postings and during the hiring process, as well as incorporating these practices to retain employees. The points are presented in order of the reasons that the Pew Research Center found that people quit their jobs:[15]
• Paying too little. Data varies on the “nonprofit discount,” that is, the willingness of not-for-profit workers (public sector and nonprofits) to accept lower wages because we are doing “good work.” The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics nonprofit wage report (2016) showed that nonprofit workers actually earn more than their for-profit counterparts do.[16] If you had to go back and re-read that, you are in good company considering the deeply held belief that nonprofit workers are paid less. The report recognizes that there is an inequity in this figure: nonprofit service workers receiving a wage advantage, sales and office workers are at parity with their for-profit counterparts, and management and professional workers are at a pay disadvantage.[17] Women not-for-project workers are at an even greater disadvantage with our pay still being at .83 to every dollar a man earns.[18] Add to this rising inflation. As of August 2022, over half of U.S. workers reported their wages are not keeping up with inflation.[19] The wage gap is widening even further between higher and lower wage earners, including in the cultural resource management sector.[20] With the tightest labor market in the postwar era, employers have to offer compensation that is competitive with the surrounding markets to attract candidates.

• Not allowing flexible work environments. The pandemic changed worker expectations about the ability to choose their own workplace and work hours with 95% of knowledge workers wanting the flexibility to make their own schedule and location decisions.[21]

• Having antiquated benefits. Employers also need to provide competitive salaries and benefits. Study your surrounding markets for for-profit, public sector and nonprofit organizations to understand standards for paid time off (PTO, vacation and sick time), quality health insurance, with plans that provide the option for dependent, domestic partner and spousal coverage, and life insurance. Understand the industry standard for employer premium coverage. Landmarks Illinois just began offering three months of paid caregiver leave, which is a highly desirable benefit. Providing paid, or unpaid, caregiver leave will enhance your company’s competitiveness. Providing paid professional development, volunteer time and sabbatical options is attractive to employees, as well.

• Being lax on protective policies and practices for workers. At the very minimum, employers need policies that prevent and address workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, anti-discrimination, equal employment opportunity and whistleblower policies. Workplace safety includes not only preventing bodily harm, but the mental and physical effects of unsustainable workloads that can lead to burnout (see Blog Post #8 for more information about burnout.) Employees at several cultural institutions have moved to unionize to ensure healthy work conditions and equitable pay, including the Harriet Beecher Stowe historic site and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The National Council on Public History hosted a workplace organizing workshop a month ago to assist workers in fighting for their workplace rights. Special thanks to Sarah Marsom for providing these resources.

o A special note about workplace health. On July 11, 2022, 24-year-old anthropologist Kaylen Gehrke died of suspected heat-related conditions on her first day on the job conducting an archaeological survey in Kisatchie National Forest in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.[22] At the time of Kaylen’s death, the heat index was 107 degrees. We mourn Kaylen’s passing and call out that her death was completely avoidable. Many of us may remember that on the first day of a job, power dynamics lead us to follow others for customary work practices and to avoid drawing attention when we cannot do something, or when we perceive something as unusual or unsafe. The news report does not indicate that Kaylen’s supervisors took any action to stop work and allow the team to return after the heat index subsided.

• Too many required responsibilities. Because we rarely have enough workers to handle our workload, there is a tendency to overload position duties. A prospective employee may see the length of required duties as a surefire path toward an unbalanced workload and burnout.

• Recognize that there is bias when applying for positions. Research shows that men apply for jobs when they meet an average of 60% of the criteria. Yet, women and other people who are systematically marginalized tend to only apply if they meet every requirement. Landmarks Illinois now includes the following language in all of its job descriptions:
o “Not sure if you qualify for the position? Research shows that men apply for jobs when they meet an average of 60% of the criteria. Yet, women and other people who are systematically marginalized tend to only apply if they meet every requirement. If you believe that your perspective, approach and experience would enable you to succeed as the [position name], we encourage you to apply.”

• Requiring years of experience. You are setting up a chicken-and-the-egg scenario if you want an entry-level employee, or are paying an entry-level wage, but you require three-to-five years of experience to qualify. Consider what you are really asking for when requiring a certain level of experience and phrase this differently.

• Requiring an academic degree. Requiring an academic degree can be a significant barrier to entry. Explore what knowledge and experiences you want your employee to have upon entry. Could that knowledge come from other life experiences? Landmarks Illinois has begun to eliminate academic degree requirements for some positions, or include language about the value of life experience, to encourage applications from those who may not otherwise consider the position.

• Only posting on preservation-based job sites. An applicant may not know about preservation-related job boards like PreserveNet or the National Trust for Historic Preservation. LinkedIn, Indeed and listings open up the pool of candidates more broadly, as well as introduce a diversity of skills a person from outside preservation could add to a work team.

• Remaining inside your immediate community to find candidates. If you are trying to hire a person who will contribute skills and perspectives outside of those already on your team, ask your board members or commissioners, partner organizations and friends, to share the job description more broadly.

• Asking a candidate about their pay history. First, this practice is illegal in 21 states.[23] Knowing a person’s prior pay rate can cause a supervisor to have unconscious bias in deciding what compensation to offer. Rather, develop a narrow pay range for what you believe the job is worth to your organization or agency. Make that range public. Develop a series of parameters that will guide how you will decide what level of compensation to offer. These practices help to mitigate unconscious bias in pay decisions.

• Do people understand when and how they are reviewed and when and how to ask for increased compensation? Inform new employees about any probationary period, the performance evaluation process and when and how they can ask for compensation increases in the future.

• In annual performance reviews, ask about your employee’s aspirations and provide them with support to achieve these aspirations. An employee may want professional development such as training or mentoring, and they may identify what position they are hoping to achieve within your organization in the future. Ensure that you are planning ahead when you hire an employee to consider opportunities for professional growth within your organization and make a plan with them so that they understand how and when a promotion can or will happen.



Barriers to working in preservation go beyond employment. We also need to consider creating pathways for our vendors, consultants and contractors. It is easy and efficient to maintain an existing vendor relationship after building trust, but this may prevent diverse vendors from working with you. A best practice is to begin with a spend diagnostic. Review your list of vendors, consultants and contractors and note how long you have worked with them and any other characteristics that support your equity goals, such as supporting women-owned (WBE) or minority-owned business enterprises (MBE). Make it a practice to conduct a Request for Proposals (RFP) process every certain number of years, providing an opportunity for others to bid. Ask employees, board members or commissioners, partner organizations and workforce development organizations to share the RFP with their community. Develop a rubric based on the RFP parameters that applies a logical, quantitative point system to assess each proposal in order to avoid unconscious bias.


Several funders are leading the way to support organizations that are led by preservationists of color, building inclusive capacity, and helping to tell the full story. Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit public art and history studio studying monuments nationwide, received a $4 Million grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2020 to hire its first staff.[24] The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (Action Fund), a National Trust for Historic Preservation Program led by Brent Leggs, received a $20 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in June 2021.[25] In January 2022, Latinos in Heritage Conservation (LHC) was awarded a $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to expand its organizational capacity.[26] Thanks to this new funding, Sehila Mota Casper became LHC’s first Executive Director in April 2022 and the organization has hired two additional staff. At the same time, the Action Fund opened eight new positions. Funding for inclusive preservation work may lead to additional survey, research, planning, advocacy, curatorial and construction positions at the public and private level.

Thompson Mayes
Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel
National Trust for Historic Preservation
January 22, 2020
Chicago, Illinois

As covered in Blog Post #7 about preservation and climate change, the federal Inflation Reduction Act included substantial funding for tax credits and grants to help property owners with clean energy upgrades and energy efficiency retrofits. There is an entire preservation trades sector that could be created to specialize in clean energy, energy efficiency and decarbonization assistance for historic properties, as well as managing hazardous material mitigation and salvaging deconstructed materials from reuse job sites. These jobs would be in addition to those already needed in the traditional trades.

Professor Randall Mason
Professor, Historic Preservation / City & Regional Planning
University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design
August 20, 2019
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Undergraduate students often ask, “How can I work in preservation?” My response sometimes surprises them. Beyond the option of a graduate academic degree, or a vocational training program, I advise that they consider entering an adjunct field. My advice is to bring their passion to a community where their influence and persuasion can change minds about preservation. Integrating preservation into other disciplines has significant potential to create more jobs. As our field’s relevance to those communities grows, it opens up new employment arenas. You do not need to be employed in a traditional preservation job to do preservation work. In fact, more good may be done by integrating an ethic for preservation into other disciplines.
Here are some of the allied fields where preservationists could make internal change, resulting in future strategic impact:
• Archaeology
• Architecture and Landscape Architecture
• Banking and Finance (including thinking of new financial tools and making funding more accessible)
• Clean Energy Policy and Infrastructure
• Climate Change Resilience Work
• Communications and Marketing
• Community Organizing
• Community and Real Estate Development
• Computer Science (think new kinds of survey tools or virtual reality tours)
• Construction and the Trades
• Cultural Anthropology
• Deconstruction
• Disability Awareness and Design
• Education
• Elected Office
• Energy Efficiency Planning, Design and Implementation
• Engineering
• Environmental Design
• Estate Planning, Family Funds and Foundations
• Governmental Affairs and Lobbying
• Hazardous Material Identification and Abatement
• Health Care (healing through preservation)
• Housing Development and Policy (including homelessness resources and preserving naturally occurring affordable housing [NOAH])
• Human Services
• Interior Design
• Journalism
• Law
• Museum and Cultural Work
• Nonprofits
• Policy
• Property Management
• Public Administration and Public Finance
• Public Health
• Social Justice (economic, environmental and racial)
• Social Science
• Tourism
• Regional, Rural and Urban Planning
The Relevancy Project was launched with the challenge that if we don’t change our work, someone will change it for us. We can start to change the field by changing our ideas about preservation knowledge and who has it. We can change preservation pedagogy, expand our ideas about who is doing related work, and introduce preservation’s valuable approaches into numerous other fields of work and study. Who we work with in the future will determine the breadth of our field and our ability to make communities better places for all. Evolving preservation pedagogy and encouraging preservation-minded people to enter other fields may well result in more job opportunities and more places saved.


Your thoughts on this and forthcoming topics are not only welcomed, they’re imperative to ensuring this project is inclusive, with well-considered outcomes. So post away on Landmarks Illinois’ Facebook and Twitter feeds and my LinkedIn page (blog comments are not enabled)! Or, send me an email at I’ll collect and consider your comments to inform future blog posts and the project’s outcomes published in the forthcoming Relevancy Guidebook to the U.S. Preservation Movement (working title).


  • What are the most relevant topics to teach in preservation today to prepare students for the future? What should be removed from the curriculum?
  • What are the most relevant topics to teach in preservation today to prepare students for the future? What should be removed from the curriculum?
  • Do you have a shortage of skilled craft workers in your community? If so, how has this affected preservation development and your own work?
  • What would do to entice people to enter the construction trades?
  • What are other ideas that you have to break down barriers to entry in hiring practices? Do you have communities that you can turn to that will help introduce you to diverse applicants?
  • Are there other significant job creation opportunities in preservation that were not included in this short synopsis?
  • Are there other sectors where preservation-minded people could work that would influence the future of our existing built environment? How many of the listed sectors are you or your organization connected to? Which of these would you prioritize?



*NOTE: Landmarks Illinois’ website does not recognize italics, which necessitates using quotation marks for titles. We are aware that this format does not follow proper citation format according to the Modern Language Association (MLA).

• “ACHP Traditional Trades Training Policy Statement.” Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, October 19, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022.

• Aidoo, Fallon Samuels, PhD, Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, Caroline S. Cheong, PhD, Laura A. Dominguez, MHP, Sarah Zenaida Gould, PhD, Michelle G. Magalong, PhD, Raymond W. Rast, PhD, Andrea Roberts, PhD, and Amber N. Wiley, PhD. “Response to NCPE Open Letter.” August 13, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022.

American College of the Building Arts (Charleston, SC)

Auburn University’s Rural Studio

• “Careers in Preservation.” Advisory Council on Historic Preservation undated. Accessed on September 25, 2022

HistoriCorps (Morrison, CO)

Living Trades Academy, Michigan Historic Preservation Network

National Council for Preservation Education

National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center

National Trust for Historic Preservation HOPE Crew

Preservation Trades and Workforce Development, Preservation Priorities Task Force, National Preservation Partners Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Preservation Trades Network

Pullman Tech Workshop (Chicago, IL)

The Campaign for Historic Trades

• Wells, Jeremy C., Manish Chalana, Steven Hoffman and Barry Stiefe. “A Summary of Preservation Education in Relation to Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Social Justice and Some Recommendations.” Equity and Inclusion in Preservation Education Committee of the National Council for Preservation Education, February 2022.





[1] “The Field Guide to Local Preservationists,” an internal publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was distributed to the Statewide and Local Partners, then a NTHP program, in January 2012. I still had access to the publication in my files. However, the document is not available online. The study is referred to in an October 26, 2015 Traditional Building interview with then NTHP President & CEO Stephanie Meeks (see citation below).
[2] “The Field Guide to Local Preservationists.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, January 2012. 5.
[3] Miller, Peter H. “NTHP Enters a New Era.” Traditional Building Magazine, October 26, 2015. Accessed October 4, 2022.
[4] Fry, Richard. “Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force.” Pew Research Center, April 11, 2018. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[5]Academic Programs.” National Council for Preservation Education, undated. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[6] Hanson, Melanie. “Average Cost of a Master’s Degree.” Education Data Initiative, October 11, 2021. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[7] ASO Staff Writers. “Higher Education for Low-Income Students.” Accredited Schools Online, August 24, 2022. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[8] Wells, Jeremy C., Manish Chalana, Steven Hoffman and Barry Stiefe. “A Summary of Preservation Education in Relation to Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Social Justice and Some Recommendations.” Equity and Inclusion in Preservation Education Committee of the National Council for Preservation Education, February 2022.
[9] Aidoo, Fallon Samuels, PhD, Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, Caroline S. Cheong, PhD, Laura A. Dominguez, MHP, Sarah Zenaida Gould, PhD, Michelle G. Magalong, PhD, Raymond W. Rast, PhD, Andrea Roberts, PhD, and Amber N. Wiley, PhD. “Response to NCPE Open Letter.” August 13, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[10] Hahn, Alicia. “2022 Student Loan Debt Statistics: Average Student Loan Debt.” Forbes Advisor, September 19, 2022. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[11] Olsztynski, Jim. “The Skilled Labor Shortage By The Numbers.” Explore the Trades, October 15, 2021. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[12]Construction Workforce Shortages Reach Pre-pandemic Levels Even as Coronavirus Continues to Impact Projects & Disrupt Supply Chains.” Associated General Contractors of America, September 2, 2021. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[13]Preservation Priority: Preservation Trades and Workforce Development.” Preservation Priorities Task Force, National Preservation Partners Network and National Trust for Historic Preservation, Fall 2021. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[14]Call to Action: Labor Equity in Preservation.” Sarah Marsom, June 25, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022.
Call to Action: Labor Equity Campaign Phase 2.” Sarah Marsom, August 1, 2021. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[15] Parker, Kim and Juliana Menasce Horowitz. “Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected.” Pew Research Center, March 9, 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022.
[16] Bishow, John L. and Kristen Monaco. “Nonprofit pay and benefits: estimates from the National Compensation Survey.” Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2016. Accessed October 4, 2022.
[17] Ibid.
[18]Equal Pay Day: March 15, 2022.” United States Census Bureau, March 15, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022.
[19] Foster, Sarah. “Survey: Half of workers who got a raise or higher-paying job say their pay didn’t keep up with inflation.” Bankrate, September 14, 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022.
[20]CRM Sector Wage Inequality: The Gap is Widening.” Twin Cairns, 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022.
[21] Thier, Jane. “95% of knowledge workers want flexible hours more than hybrid work, and managers should pay attention.” Fortune, February 3, 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022.
[22] Thomas, Rachael. “Archaeological worker dies suddenly while in Kisatchie National Forest.” 7KPLC News, July 12, 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022.
[23]Salary history bans.” HR Dive, February 3, 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022
[24]About.” Monument Lab, undated. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[25]African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Receives $20 Million MacKenzie Scott Grant.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, June 16, 2021. Accessed September 25, 2022.
[26]Latinos in Heritage Conservation Awarded $750,000 Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Support Latinx Heritage and Historic Preservation.” Latinos in Heritage Conservation, January 31, 2022. Accessed September 25, 2022.


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