Science Council launches new professional technician award

Technicians are a vital part of innovation economy says Science Minister at Third Gareth Roberts Lecture

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science will launch the Science Council’s new register for professional technicians in a lecture today at the Royal Society of Medicine, a launch event for the first London Science Festival.

As Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts will say in his Gareth Roberts Science Policy Lecture today:

Technicians play an invaluable role both in laboratories and wider industry. These professional registers will ensure their expertise is properly recognised by employers and the scientific community. It will raise the profile of technicians to businesses and research institutions, and provide those working at this level with a springboard towards further qualifications and professional development.”

Research from UKCES shows that the expansion in demand for associated professional and technical staff will be over 2.2 million up to 2017, accompanied by a reduction in demand for lower skilled jobs. The UK Science Workforce data report published last month by the Science Council showed that 20% of the UK workforce – 5.8million people – are now employed in science based roles and that this is expected to increase to 7.1m in 2030.

The public perception of ‘scientist’ is mostly of someone working in research or academia but the reality is that the 21st century economy needs people working with science skills in a variety of ways and at many levels. The science workforce is made up of roughly equal proportions of workers with non-graduate, graduate and postgraduate qualifications.

Other research for the Science Council found that technicians do not feel valued or recognised as professionals, and they do not believe they are accepted as an integral part of the science workforce. Yet in many sectors, technicians are at the heart of the workforce. One technician told the researchers: “It is important to have a professional identity, as it would help raise our self esteem and realise how important technicians are in science.” Another commented: If you ask our research colleagues they might see us as failed scientists, rather than something we’ve chosen to do. In some regards we are [treated as being] at the same grade as janitors…”

Diana Garnham, CEO of the Science Council says:

Until now technicians have been undervalued and unrecognised. The Science Council believes there is a strong case for raising the profile of technicians in the science workforce by providing for professional registration alongside graduates and postgraduates. We hope that this will help motivate and retain those already in these roles as well as encourage more young people to see this as a great potential career in science that does not require going to university.”

By introducing two new registers – Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) and Registered Scientist (RSci) – alongside the prestigious Chartered Scientist award, the Science Council aims to build a framework of professional standards and recognition across the science workforce. This is crucially important as the UK economy adjusts to the demands of an innovation economy with high demand for those with science and technical skills at all levels – from technician to research director.

Technicians undertake a variety of roles including:

  • Supporting leading researchers and Nobel Prize winners in designing and undertaking experiments
  • Delivering practical science in schools, colleges and universities
  • In key growth sectors such as industrial biotechnology by developing products from enzymes
  • Being part of the teams developing new and greener fuels
  • Helping to investigate and develop chemical processes to make them more sustainable and lower cost
  • Ensuring safety in medicines, food, water and air quality and many other every day essentials
  • Supporting high quality patient care in the NHS by delivering diagnostic services and advanced technology treatments
  • Undertaking skills measurement to underpin accreditation and consumer confidence

Science Council Workforce research – This UK workforce research is a starting point in providing greater depth of data on the size, shape, distribution and qualifications of the UK science workforce today as well as giving some projections of future changes. And it takes into account the complexities of today’s science workforce, both in science and from science.

The research found that the science workforce consists of those with postgraduate qualifications and graduates as well as people with non-graduate qualifications. Within the science sectors (core and related) 34% of the science workforce is non-graduate (with 17% QCF level 3&4); 32% are graduate and 26% are postgraduate.

Future Morph – The careers from science web site with more detailed information about subject choices, qualifications and careers arising from the study of science and maths. The web site has information about careers and training for technicians.

London Science Festival – The London Science Festival is taking place from 19-26 October 2011 in venues across London. In partnership with many leading science and art institutions as well as several much smaller organisations the programme is a rich and diverse mix.