Male and female technician working in a lab.

Actively supporting career development for technicians in Higher Education

By Andrew Lee RSci, Technical Team Leader (Food Sciences), University of Nottingham

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are increasingly becoming more business orientated, with an emphasis on centralisation and resource management. For technical staff across HEIs in the UK this has led to a subtle but worrying change.

Career progression for technicians in HEI

Technical careers have always been quite haphazard, but historically, if you were successful you would have the opportunity to become departmental or school Superintendent or Technical Services Managers. This senior role would involve managing technical staff, finances and supporting the department or school in achieving its aims in research and teaching.

Recently however, HEIs are increasingly replacing these roles with professional managers who have experience of general management in HEIs but are lacking the direct experience of research and teaching which can be so important. This process seems to be part of the increasing trend in HE to professionalise.

Line management of technical staff who have such diverse roles can be difficult for someone who does not have a technical or academic background. The consequence of this is that at many institutions there is a glass ceiling at a relatively low level for highly skilled and qualified technical staff. However I worry that if the top of the ladder has been removed, then many technical staff will leave HEIs at a time when there is already a skills shortage.

Developing technicians’ talents

The modern technician is ambitious, highly qualified and committed to professional development. They are ably supported by the excellent professional registration status which the Science Council awards through many of its Licensed Professional Bodies.

Personally I decided to become a Registered Scientist to demonstrate the value of my experience and skills which can sometimes be overlooked or taken for granted. This applies to both internal and external to the University. I am currently registered through the Royal Society of Biology and have recently applied for Chartered Scientist status.

Since becoming registered I have noticed that I do feel more confident in my skills and abilities. It’s easy to take for granted things you find easy and do day to day, which others value highly.

I also applaud the creation of the new Technical Development and Modernisation scheme at The University of Sheffield and their aim to create a national career structure for technical staff.

Technical staff have been achieving great things and will carry on doing so in our HEIs, provided there is a will from senior management to actively support their career development and not just be left as an afterthought.

I would like to thank the Technical Superintendents who acted as inspiration to me in my career and have ably served the UK HE community for many years.

Find out more about the Science Council’s work with employers in Higher Education.