Technical Careers – The Sky’s the Limit


The IST is keen to explore the array of careers that can arise from a start in the technical field.  We are hoping that members and non-members alike will be able to tell us about their career paths from the outset of their life as a technician (via our comments form below or via twitter @istonline using #techncareer).  For example our newly elected Treasurer Joan Ward started her career as a trainee technician.  From these beginnings her career path is not what many might expect.

Case Study – Joan Ward

University of ManchesterHaving started as a trainee at the University of Manchester with minimal science qualifications Joan worked in a number of their bioscience labs whilst gaining additional qualifications in science subjects up to degree level (Open University).

Following on from her basic grounding in teaching/research she then spent  10 years as a Lab Superintendent/Manager, during which time she secured over a number of years approaching £1m in grant income to support the development of trainee technician programmes (in collaboration with a local FE College). In addition she also helped develop and roll-out a bespoke software package designed to handle HE departmental/faculty accounts and research grants – the software ultimately becoming adopted by over 600 departments across the country/sector. As a consequence of departmental/faculty restructuring she then moved into Finance/Admin full-time where she set up a new faculty finance, purchasing and research administration unit – also completing an MBA (Open University) during this time.

After spending several years consolidating the new integrated unit and helping roll-out the model to other faculties she decided to take advantage of a University early retirement scheme and ‘jumped ship’ to set up her own consultancy company, which she continues to run today. Her company provides consultancy support for admin systems development and website design/development. Having joined the IST during her time as Lab Manager she continues to support the work of the Institute in a number of ways.

Joan WardJoan states:
Having a career plan is always a good idea, but if you are not sure what you want to do my advice is to be proactive and do as many things you can until you find something you like, volunteer on committees, take on new responsibilities, stand out from the crowd.  If you grab every opportunity that comes your way, not all will work out but some will and it is that approach that can pay dividends in terms of both career progression and job satisfaction. 

Joan is not alone in taking a non-conventional career path, in her time at the University of Manchester she witnessed technicians going on to become H&S Supervisors, Building Managers, Hospital Managers, Accountants, Academics, HR Professionals/Trainers, Company Directors, to mention but a few.

The IST Role in Technician Careers

The IST has long recognised that career structures and progression opportunities for technicians has been of continuing concern within the workforce.  Terry Croft IST Chair, and Director of Operations at the University of Sheffield is keen to emphasise the work these two organisations are doing in partnership to address this problem:

Terry Croft“We have a number of initiatives that address creating clear technical career paths as well as tackling the ever growing issue of the need for succession planning. “  However the technicians themselves must recognise that they also have a role to play “We can’t keep talking about moving into dead man’s shoes I expect our technicians to be proactive in terms of their development and be prepared to move on if they want to progress.  Yes this means I will lose some talent but I may gain from elsewhere and a workforce that knows it has opportunities is more motivated, engaged and effective.  It’s a win win situation for everyone”.

Help us find the vast array of careers that technicians have pursued – tell us about yourself or others by submitting a summary via the comments box below (all contributions will be subject to review before they appear on the website). Alternatively why not tweet us at @istonline using #techncareer.


  1. Ken Bromfield
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Having a career ambition or outlook often contributes to job satisfaction. In simple terms it provides a vista about where you would like to be, professionally. The planning process is the map that plots a path to that destination.

    In my case, I felt the need to have a contingency plan. I was thoroughly at home on the King’s College Technical Staff. But I felt the need to prepare options so that if my career hit the buffers, I could move on. That is how I moved into a new career as a full time trainer.

    As a departmental superintendent in Biochemistry, I held a strong view that career management was part of my job. As a professional trainer, it was part of my portfolio. I am prepared to update this guide for technicians and allied specialists as a contribution and commitment towards this IST initiative.

  2. Tin Sang TSANG
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Although a technician must have technical knowledge and skills for development of his/her career, he/she also need to have management concept to upgrade the social status in society. It means that life learning experience is very important for a technician to develop the image, role and functions in the institution or working sectors such as education, industrial and medical field. The reason is that technician is a profession grade of the work in the institution to show our ablities and potential power for solving problems in the real situation.

  3. Posted September 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I started work as a trainee electronics technician in the Dept of Electronic and Electronic Eng at the University of Sheffield back in 1987 (it doesn’t seem that long ago). Those interviewing me must have realised my keen hobby interest in electronics had more value that my recently passed (just) A levels in History , Geography and Economics. My basic knowledge of electronics was re-enforced with day release courses which led to electronic ONC and HNC qualifications. I added a City & Guilds Radio Amateurs examination I took in my own time but with help and encouragement from colleagues.

    Work wise I think I have done just about everything. In the early days I helped out in the teaching labs , repaired research equipment and was the junior technician in a team that build 100 microcontroller teaching boards over a summer. As we moved into the 1990s and my career developed I moved into what were I suppose the early days of PC IT support. This involved everything from cleaning computer monitor screens with tipex on (I didn’t ask the user about how that had happened) to disassembling the computer code in an early computer virus so I could understand how it worked and could write a detection and removal program for use in the department.

    I suspect my technical manager spotted that I really enjoyed designing and building custom electronic instruments for researchers as gradually my career moved that way. Over the next 10 years I built everything from custom power supplies to equipment for the non destructive testing of solar cells. In recent years the skills for this have increasingly moved away from construction and more towards programming. So these days I also write programs to enable one instrument to talk to another, log events in reactors that make semiconductors and display them on web pages. But at the same time I’m still repairing elderly research equipment , assisting students with their projects and now teaching the new generation of trainee technicians here at Sheffield.

    During my job interview in 1987 I was told the job was a varied one and they weren’t wrong about that !