Ensure all technicians within the organisation are identifiable and that the contribution of technicians is visible within and beyond the institution
Support technicians to gain recognition through professional registration and external awards schemes
Enable career progression opportunities for technicians through the provision of clear, documented career pathways
It is perhaps something of a cliché to highlight the fact that Universities are complex organisations whose success depends on a network of interrelated, interconnected roles and responsibilities: take any element away, diminish the significance of any part, whether within the academic, support or service areas, and the whole suffers.
This document – The Technician Commitment – is not only an important reminder of one such community within the University network, but just as important, stands as a call to recognise the very real contribution our technicians make to the life, success and achievement of our Universities.
Technicians represent a significant proportion of any University community with around 9,000 working within the Russell group, over 630 in my own University representing just over 8% of our staff. They are a highly trained group of individuals with the great majority skilled to degree level or above. They play key roles through their support of, and contribution to, research, the training of PhD and postdoctoral researchers, and undergraduate teaching. More than that, as they pass on their knowledge and skills, so they equip each new generation of students with a range of abilities that not only enhance their career prospects, but the skills base of the future workforce whether in academia, research and development or industry. The work, knowledge and professionalism of our technicians, provide a rich skills resource we couldn’t live without.
Given Universities reliance on our technicians, it has been interesting to observe the way in which the drive to develop an Industrial Strategy for the UK, has been a catalyst to reenergise the longstanding debate and concerns around a skills deficit and how this might be addressed in a modern economy in a highly competitive world. These are debates and concerns we surely share. As Universities, we need to think carefully on how we maintain and sustain the pipeline of technical skills essential to our success. While there are many answers to this, not least our ability to attract talent from around the world, I think it underlines the critical importance of nurturing the talents of our technicians, now, ensuring that their roles are presented as an attractive, challenging and fulfilling career option for this, the next, and future generations of technicians.
This document aims to do just that by encouraging all of us involved in higher education to support and sign up to the commitment and so align ourselves with the five key drivers it promotes: Visibility, Recognition, Career Development, Sustainability and Evaluating Impact. It’s encouraging that so many in the sector and associated with it, have already signed up and I would certainly encourage others to follow suit. If there have been perceptions in the past that our technicians are either ‘undervalued’ or our ‘unsung heroes’, it is time to dispel and address these perceptions in real ways: the Technician Commitment shows the way forward and I commend it to you.
Our technicians are essential to the success of our institutions. It’s unimaginable that we could deliver research, teaching and knowledge transfer activities without talented, well qualified and motivated technical staff.
Technicians make up almost ten percent of staff at the University of Nottingham with expertise spanning a broad range of disciplines. Our technicians have the practical skills and knowledge to turn research concepts into reality and to contextualise the theory of the lecture theatre for students through practical classes and workshops. They are actively involved in delivering research outputs; many are authors of published research; and they are developing key technical skills our students need for future employment.
At Nottingham we have been working to ensure increased visibility and recognition of our 700+ technicians through a number of initiatives. We have created opportunities for early career talent through trainee technician programmes, and invested in accredited teacher training to ensure development opportunities for those in student-facing roles. Technicians can gain professional registration through the Engineering Council and Science Council through which we have also achieved Employer Champion status – a mark of our dedication to the quality and practice of science through the professional development of our STEM technicians.
In 2015 we hosted the inaugural Higher Education Technicians Summit, in association with the Midlands Innovation consortium, which attracted more than 450 delegates from over 40 organisations. We are delighted our Midlands Innovation partner, the University of Warwick, is hosting the event in 2017. Nottingham’s technicians are also profiled in two national campaigns: the Department of Work and Pensions’ #NotJustForBoys; and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s #TechniciansMakeItHappen.
We are proud to be a founding signatory of the Technician Commitment and look forward to working with colleagues across the sector to build on our progress and ensure the future sustainability of the technician community in the UK and beyond.
Demand for people across the UK economy with STEM qualifications is increasing, and as science becomes more complex and interconnected, the roles undertaken by scientists and engineers in the future will often require high-level practical and technical skills. Attracting, educating, training and retaining more STEM technicians is therefore vital to the success of the UK economy.
Technicians are particularly vital to the success of the UK’s universities and research institutes. They are a highly skilled workforce with a diverse range of expertise, underpinning the key activities across organisations, and providing the technical expertise essential to supporting research and knowledge transfer.
Alongside this, many technicians are researchers and teachers in their own right. They play an important part in the development of the UK’s future STEM workforce by teaching and developing the technical skills students require to pursue a future career in research, academia and/or industry.
With the ever increasing focus on research and teaching quality, and graduate employability, the role of technicians has never been more important. It is crucial that they are at the forefront of ever evolving technologies in order to provide academic colleagues and students with first-class technical support, enabling research and teaching of the highest quality on an international stage.
Despite the importance of technicians, their role is not well recognised and their career and professional development often overlooked. The aging technical workforce also means that large numbers of highly skilled technicians are retiring every year, taking their knowledge and experience with them. The UK now faces an identified shortage of technicians, which poses a serious threat to our innovative strength and global competitiveness, and it is estimated that there will be a demand for 700,000 new technicians by 2020.
Technicians have been a pivotal part of Cambridge’s ground-breaking research for centuries. Today we have over 800 technicians who play a vital role in teaching and research, and we have made strides to improve our workforce planning and introduced technical apprenticeships with an eye to the future.
The Science Council’s Technician Commitment consists of five key strands, each of equal importance to us as institutions. It also recognises that long term change can only be achieved through sector-wide commitment, and I welcome the support of HEFCE and the Research Councils for this initiative.
Technicians are very much the unsung heroes of our institutions, their work is largely invisible and yet much of what we do would grind to a halt without them. I am delighted to be signing the Technician Commitment on behalf of the University of Cambridge to help ensure that doesn’t happen.
For more information on becoming a signatory please contact: