£400k scheme to address skills shortage will show being a technician is a ‘career for life’

The IST is supporting a £400,000 scheme to tackle a blackhole in universities’ technical expertise and train the workforce needed to ensure the country is at the forefront of international research and development.

A study by Dr Paul Lewis as part of a Gatsby Foundation funded project showed 1.5 million science, engineering and technology job opportunities will be created across the country by 2020, with nearly a third of these in the higher skilled technician roles needed by employers to compete on a global scale.

But separate research by the Technician Council found the UK must educate another 450,000 technicians across all sectors by 2020 to address a massive skills shortage.

To tackle this problem, the University of Sheffield has successfully secured £400,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to pioneer career pathways for technicians and bring new blood into the profession. On average, UK Higher Education institutions will lose between 25-35 per cent of its highly skilled professional technicians in the next three to five years as many reach retirement age.

The scheme, which will be rolled out across all Higher Education institutions in England, aims to enhance the excellence and efficiency of the technical workforce by creating a national framework for progression and sharing best practise. At the moment, each institution has its own structure, which can leave gaps in training at both a basic and advanced level.

The initiative will run alongside the professional accreditation scheme for technicians offered by the IST, which proves they have the necessary credentials in their field of work.

IST chairman Terry Croft, who is Director of Technical Development and Modernisation at the University of Sheffield, said: “There is a stigma surrounding what a professional technician is which means many people think it’s a job rather than a career.

“We want to demonstrate there is a clear career pathway and that if someone is flexible and agile in their thinking and embraces opportunities for training and development, they can have a career for life.

“To give the technical workforce this agility, there’s a need in this career pathway to multi-skill them.”

By working closely with other universities, the scheme will:

  • Create a series of generic classifications for technical jobs that align to a national grading structure.
  • Identify typical career pathways and specialisation routes for technical staff so institutions can plan recruitment and training and development.
  • Address a gap in training for technical staff at the basic level by creating consistent training and assessment structures which can be used at apprentice and graduate level.
  • Train technical staff at an advanced level as senior staff retire with the loss of the skills and knowledge that underpin cutting edge research.

Mr Croft added the scheme would not only benefit Higher Education institutes, but the sector as a whole.

“It also helps UK PLC by showing we can deliver and compete internationally. Research and development brings in billions of pounds to the UK’s economy.

“There’s a need to formalise career pathways in the technical community so we have that framework in place to show we have the quality and ability in this country.

“The University of Sheffield is the leading institution in the scheme and has developed a series of pilot schemes to recruit new blood over the last few years – through apprenticeships, trainee technicians and fast-track graduate technicians.

“The University is pleased to have been granted this HEFCE catalyst bid to work over the next three years for the benefit of the sector as a whole.”