The heartbeat of operations – Technicians
Tom Cheek – Apprenticeship Lead (Science Council)
Technicians act as the heartbeat of operations and are the enablers of innovation. They are a skilled, professional, and proud workforce that open creativity, allowing performance to flourish within and across an organisation.
Encompassing a wide range of skilled occupations, they form a vital part of a staff base, with organisations facing the challenge of how to maintain, enhance and grow the specialist technician skills they require, both now and in the future, recognising the essential role technicians play in the success of their organisation.
‘A technician is a person who is skilled in the use of particular techniques and procedures to solve practical problems, often in ways that require considerable ingenuity and creativity. Technicians typically work with complex instruments and equipment, and require specialised training, as well as considerable practical experience, in order to do their job effectively’
(Barley and Orr 1997: 12-15; OECD 2002: 92-94; Technician Council 2011). Lewis & Gospel 2011
Apprenticeships can act as part of the training and retention jigsaw, that solves the workforce skill gaps for technicians. They deliver on experience, as apprenticeships are a minimum of 1 year but often 2, 3 or more years. Apprenticeships also deliver on developing the underpinning and complex knowledge required, contextualising this knowledge into how it is applied within a work setting.
Through the quality of learning and the access to government funding, there is the opportunity for apprenticeships to be utilised to upskill an existing staff base or offer a financially attractive way to grow the workforce. Either way, they act as a strong retention tool, that builds a dedicated, ‘organisational-aware’ staff-base, with knowledge, skills and behaviours that delivers real impact. Furthermore, apprenticeships are all about delivering full occupational competence. This is assessed and confirmed through a robust, synoptic end point assessment, providing confidence to industry and organisations’ within.
The occupational competence that is assessed, is identified, and developed as an occupational standard. This is designed initially through the creation of duties. Duties are the essential abilities expected by employers for the specified technician occupation, for which the standard is being built.
This occupation and associated duties are identified by a group of employers within the industry (called a trailblazer group), demonstrating a key element of standards, being that they are employer driven. The duties created are then expanded to define the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are required to meet them. Finally, the trailblazer group create an assessment plan on how full occupational competency can be best measured through assessment. In other words, apprenticeship standards are occupationally focused rather than qualification focused.
It is this occupation focus that brings real opportunity for technicians, as it has resulted in a diverse range of apprenticeships that meet the various technician roles that comprise multiple industries and sectors.
In 2020 and into 2021 the Science Council, alongside its’ members, and through funding from the Gatsby Foundation, designed a method to identify and recognise apprenticeships, including technician occupations that align closely with the professional register competences of Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) and Registered Scientist (RSci).
Where alignment is evident, a shortened application has been created that acknowledges the knowledge, skills and behaviours demonstrated through the completion of the apprenticeship itself, robustly assessed and quality assured through an end point assessment. It recognises the high-quality learning and professional experience gained.
Some examples of technician apprenticeships that are eligible for shortened applications include:
• Metrology Technician Level 3
• Laboratory Technician Level 3
• Science Manufacturing Technician Level 3
• Technician Scientist Level 5
• Nuclear Technician Level 5
• Senior Metrology Technician Level 5
The shortened application makes professional registration more accessible, and through the requirement of membership to a professional body, which is licensed to award the registration, it delivers access to a community of networks, early careers support and CPD opportunities, whilst also gaining external validation of competence, ethical practice, and a commitment to continuous professional development.
The mapping work continues, with the Science Council and its community of professional bodies engaging with trailblazer groups, to identify opportunities for the professional standards of RSci and RSciTech, to be embedded within new and revised technician standards.
Apprenticeships act as a magnifying lens that clearly demonstrates the applied skills, knowledge and behaviours technicians bring to a workforce. When this is combined with the benefits of membership to a professional body and the recognition of professional registration, it further amplifies the quality and influence technicians can play in operational success through a commitment to continuous professional development.
Find more information on the this work and details on how to access the shortened application here
The Science Council ~. 2021. Our definition of a science technician – The Science Council ~. [online] Available at: <https://sciencecouncil.org/about-science/our-definition-of-a-science-technician/> [Accessed 7 December 2021].