Development and Opportunity: Technical Careers

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As highlighted in last month’s SDF blog, the development of technical staff and recruitment of additional staff is key to the development of the workforce that will meet future demand.

To match the Government’s ambitions for R&D it is estimated the R&D sector will need at least an additional 150,000 technicians and researchers by 2030 to sustain the UK’s target of 2.4% research and development intensity. This means attracting and retaining people of all ages and at all career stages into R&D roles to ensure a full pipeline of skilled people are available..[1]

In recent years there has been a major shift in many organisations’ views on the importance of the contribution of technical personnel within the workplace, including at the highest levels in government[2]

 

A key feature in staff retainment is the provision of clear technical career pathways and the opportunity to undertake relevant training and development opportunities at all levels for all technical personnel in the workplace. This will benefit both the individual and the organisation.

The NTDC and its training arm, HEaTED, are continuing to develop and provide services and support for the technical community. The latest Technician Survey report highlights the data on the demographic profile of the technical workforce and other key areas that can benchmark the technician landscape and promote areas to focus on for improvement.

The provision of the NTDC’s bespoke Technician Survey, used by organisations around the UK and internationally, as a method of gathering evidence and data of the technical skills, knowledge and expertise, can often be the main route for ensuring sustainability of skill sets going forward.

This is further supported through the offer of technical courses developed and delivered by technical experts to the community through the HEaTED network.

Ref:[1]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1004685/r_d-people-culture- strategy.pdf

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1009577/uk-innovation- strategy.pdf

 

We have asked two of our Specialist Advisers to give their perspective on how development opportunities have impacted on their careers and the benefits that they have valued from their experiences.

 

Laurence Dawkins-Hall  B.Sc. MRSB, FIScT(Reg), CBiol, CSci

Reflections on my teaching: an Odyssey in Higher Education

Since graduating in 1987, my career has been a patchwork quilt of research experiences, with different institutes throughout the UK, Europe and the US providing a requisite backdrop.

As part of this “Odyssey”, I have had numerous opportunities not just to participate in technical training, but also provide formal lectures to undergraduates and postgraduates alike. I have always enjoyed teaching. Indeed, at one point in my career, when a PhD I commenced at the University of Oxford did not come to fruition, I decided to stay in Oxford and pursue postgraduate PGCE teacher training, with a focus on Secondary school science. Whilst I never formally utilised the skills provided on my course, nonetheless, delivery methods and general pedagogy techniques’ stayed with me and, subsequently, proved useful and effective in ad hoc teaching I have pursued in the HE sector.

However, until about 3 years ago, the teaching and training was always a backdrop to my research. Then, having become Chartered with the Science Council (CSCi), I was afforded an opportunity to deliver Registration workshops, on their behalf. This entailed course design as well as autonomous delivery and, what is more, providing follow up mentoring support to participants. It was something of an epiphany: Having spent 30 years at the bench and supported a lot of successful research, I began to realise that my primary passion was no longer experimental bench science; rather teaching. Don’t get me wrong: I was aware of my aptitude for teaching and knew that I enjoyed it and sought to involve myself whenever I could. But something had changed: I had gone full circle since my PGCE days at Oxford and now wanted to make H.E teaching my primary business. I needed a strategy.

That came in the form of a teaching secondment I elected to pursue in my current place of work, the University of Leicester: This involved demonstrating to students behind the scenes. Although I enjoyed this less conspicuous teaching-like responsibility, it did not satisfy my urge to become a fully-fledged, front of house de facto lecturer. Consequently, I decided, of my own volition, to “turn up the ante” and provide the students with more help than the purely practical (and indeed necessary) and, consequently, made it my business, for example, to assist students with background theory and also explain those “enigmatic” molarity calculations, that so many students find taxing. This was noticed by module lecturers and, not only did they comment on my proactive interactions with students, but started to deliberately refer students, who struggled, to me for real time and follow on tutorial sessions. Coming full circle, with the retirement of a course convener who had hitherto provided the lab induction for new M.Sc. Students, it was suggested by the course head that I might want to take this on. I eagerly accepted and the rest, as they say, is history: I now provide this “front of house teaching” to M.Sc. students and, when it was noticed how much I enjoyed this responsibility and, moreover, appeared to do a good job, this academic term I also have been assigned similar responsibilities with Summer school undergraduate students.

So this is where I am: Drawing on skills from my PGCE teacher training all those years ago in Oxford, to formally teach undergraduate and post graduates and, in addition, provide outside workshops on Professional Registration for the Science Council, the IST, NTDC and Midlands Innovation. Furthermore, in line with Leicester’s “commitment to the Technical Commitment” (as a founding signatory), there are plans to involve Technicians more fully in the actual Technical lecturing and I have been muted as somebody who “fits the bill”, given my track record and demonstrable ability. It is also evident that aforementioned workshops will become an integral part of my day job at Leicester as well; also in line with Leicester’s technical commitment aspirations.

So, like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, I have journeyed far but find myself back where I started, all those years ago in Oxford…

 

James Davoll MRES PGCE FHEA MIScT(Reg)

James Davoll is the technical manager within the School of Arts and Cultures at Newcastle University.  Within this role he manages a team of specialist technicians across Fine Art, Film, Media and Music. His team recently won the prestigious Technical Team Papin Prize at the Higher Education Technicians Summit. He brings enthusiasm, rigorous thought, and vast experience to his post, and supports research projects, leads on taught modules, and contributes to policy.

James’s work has featured at dozens of film festivals, been nominated for and won awards, including Best Experimental at the Wales International Film Festival. This activity all contributes to the research environment within the University and creative arts at large, as well as informs his teaching.

James has a background in teaching, in both further education and higher education, and already had a PGCE before joining Newcastle University. He applied as a Fellow at Advance HE with the hope that his teaching contributions to his role would gain further recognition.

James describes some language used in the application process that may not support ‘traditional’ formal teaching and therefore may be unfamiliar to technicians, which could dissuade them from applying. This is something he came across with  team members, and he worked through this with them to show how they can evidence their teaching. By asking the students questions, they were in fact challenging the students to reflect on, say, their equipment choice, and at the same time are checking that the students understand the technology they are using.

His PGCE was completed over 10 years ago, and teaching has evolved in that time. James felt that the application validated that what he was doing as a technician was teaching, and teaching with a pedagogical agenda.

His advice to technical colleagues that are considering applying would be that it is no extra work. You do not have to change what you’re doing; rather, recognise and translate your activity to fit the framework. He has also delivered sessions and workshops and documents to help technicians identify their teaching activities to align with the framework.

 

Sara Bacon

My own experiences of development opportunities in the area of teaching come from doing a PGCE and teaching Chemistry in a variety of Secondary schools and then moving into Outreach in the HE sector. Supporting technical colleagues, undergraduate and postgraduate students to develop and deliver engaging activities as an Associate Fellow of Higher Education. It was a great experience to be able to apply my professional teaching practice into a formal recognised framework. To be able to continue to develop my teaching practice in the HE environment was both enlightening and challenging. The application process for AFHEA was supported by my colleagues in the Faculty of Science and being recognised in the academic community as an educator of both students and colleagues was inspiring and rewarding.

 

Some organisations and initiatives that are playing an important role in changing the landscape of technical career development include:

The National Technician Development Centre (NTDC)

The NTDC was established in 2017 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (now the Office for Students), to provide expertise and tools for the HE and related sectors to create a sustainable future for technical staff and services. CPD Central is an online tool that the NTDC has developed in conjunction with a number of partners (including the IST) that offers individuals and organisations a platform via which they can log individuals CPD/training activities online.

HEaTED:

As the NTDC’s training arm, HEaTED offers CPD courses and networking opportunities specifically designed for individuals in the technical community, aiming to develop technical staff, no matter their discipline or stage of their career.

The Technician Commitment:

The Technician Commitment is a university and research institution initiative, led by a steering board of sector bodies, with support from the Science Council and the Technicians Make It Happen campaign. The TCI aims to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research, across all disciplines, and CPD is significant in delivering to those 4 Tenets.

Advance HE

Fellowship through Advance HE is a way to demonstrate a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education, with recognition of  practice, impact and leadership of teaching and learning. Fellowship can bring  a range of benefits that include;  personal development and evidence of professional practice in your higher education career; a demonstration of a  commitment to teaching, learning and the student experience. Fellowship is increasingly sought by employers across the education sector as a condition of appointment and promotion;


Dr Sara J Bacon – Centre Manager National Technician Development Centre

About the author: After graduating from the University of Sheffield with a BSc(Hon) in Chemistry, Sara completed a PhD in Bioinorganic Chemistry. She then moved into industry working for Croda Chemicals as a research chemist, and then as a product development manager in the research and development of personal care products.

She then became a data manager, where she managed a team on the implementation of new systems to increase efficiency and improve productivity within the company. She has also worked in a consultancy firm developing surveys and in recruitment assessment for the police. More recently, Sara has worked in teaching, recruitment and liaison roles across the secondary education and higher education sector.