Technician Commitment Launched

by Rossana Espinoza 0

Technician Commitment Launched

 

The launch of the Commitment took place at the Higher Education Technicians Summit at The University of Warwick on 31st May. The University of Cambridge and the University of Nottingham were the first two institutions to pledge their support for the Technician Commitment. See the full list of founding signatories at the end of this article.

The Technician Commitment is a sector wide, collaborative initiative led by the Science Council and supported by Gatsby’s Technicians Make It Happen Campaign, to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research. Universities and research institutes are invited to become signatories of the Technician Commitment and pledge action against five key challenges affecting their technical staff. It is spearheaded by Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz and Professor Sir David Greenaway (see attached brochure).

 

Technicians in research and academia
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, developing 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 and student colleagues 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. It is estimated that there will be a demand for 700,000 new technicians by 2020.

 

Work supporting Technicians
Over the past five years, the Science Council and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation have been working together to raise the profile and status of technicians across all areas of the economy. Activities to date have included:

  • Professional recognition for technicians through the introduction of Registered Science Technician and Registered Scientist designations alongside the existing Chartered Scientist status. Gatsby has also funded work on professional registration for technicians in Engineering and IT, and the Science Council have supported the recognition of technicians’ roles in teaching through the>Higher Education Academy’s Fellowship scheme.
  • The Science Council’s Employer Champion programme which provides dedicated support to institutions to help their technicians to achieve professional registration. Current Employer Champions include Kings College London, the Open University and the Universities of Exeter, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Strathclyde, as well as the Medical Research Council, John Innes Centre and employers across the public sector and industry
  • Active involvement in reform of technical education and apprenticeships. Gatsby provided the secretariat for the Sainsbury Panel which led to the post-16 Skills Plan published by the government last summer while the Science Council has developed a process for recognising technical qualifications that lead to professional registration as a means of enhancing their status.
  • Making a case for the inclusion of technicians in the Athena Swan charter and for recognition of technicians’ contribution to teaching in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
  • Working with the Research Councils, including a joint letter with BBSRC published in Nature last month. A cross-council statement on technicians and technologists is also in development.
  • Working with Midlands Innovation to support activities for technicians including the Higher Education Technicians Summit (the next one will be held on May 31st 2017 in Warwick) and the Papin Prizes which recognise technical excellence in academia.
  • Gatsby’s Technicians Make it Happen campaign which aims to raise awareness of the talented technicians working in this country, the huge variety of roles that they undertake and the exceptional companies that they work for
  • Supporting related initiatives such as HEaTED which offers professional development and networking opportunities for technical staff in HE, and the HEFCE Catalyst-funded TDM project at the University of Sheffield.

Why the Technician Commitment?

Despite the good work already underway, there remains a need for greater coordination and collective action across the sector to improve the status and profile of technicians and to ensure sustainability of the technical workforce in academia and research.

To address these challenges, the Science Council has developed the Technician Commitment – see also The Technician Commitment Brochure with contributions from Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Professor Sir David Greenaway, HEFCE and MRC. The Commitment calls on all Higher Education Institutions and Research Institutes to commit to action in five key areas affecting their technical staff.

The aim is for all Higher Education Institutions and Research Institutes to sign up to the Commitment and to monitor progress in each of the five key areas through a Steering Group which has representation from RCUK, HEFCE, Wellcome Trust, HEA, UCEA, CRAC and others. This is a self-assessment process and all signatory institutions will be supported by a resource signposting projects and initiatives that support progress with the key challenges identified.

The Commitment

The Technician Commitment has been developed to address the key issues affecting the technical community in academia and research. It covers the following key areas:

1. Visibility
Ensure that all technicians within the organisation are identifiable and that the contribution of technicians is visible within and beyond the institution

2. Recognition
Support technicians to gain recognition through professional registration

3. Career Development
Enable career progression opportunities for technicians through the provision of clear, documented career pathways

4. Sustainability
Ensure the future sustainability of technical skills across the organisation and that technical expertise is fully utilised

5. Evaluating Impact
Regularly assess the impact of actions taken in support of the commitment to ensure their effectiveness

Founding Signatories
Aston University, University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, Canterbury Christ Church University, Cardiff University, University of Central Lancashire, Cranfield University, University of Essex, University of Exeter, University of Hertfordshire, Imperial College London, Institute of Cancer Research (London), James Hutton Institute, John Innes Centre, Keele University, King’s College London, Lancaster University, University of Leicester, London South Bank University, Loughborough University, Newcastle University, University of Nottingham, University of Manchester, Open University, University of Oxford, Plymouth University, University of Reading, University of Sheffield, University of Strathclyde, University of Surrey, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Warwick, University College London, University of the West of England, University of York
Becoming a Signatory
To ensure that your institution joins them as a founder signatory to the Commitment, the Science Council need to receive your confirmation. Please complete and sign the attached Technician Commitment Signatory Form, nominating a lead contact for taking forward the Commitment within your organisation.

For further information and to become a signatory please contact Kelly Vere at technicians@sciencecouncil.org or call 020 3434 2022.