Committed to technicians
If we want to prevent an imminent technical skills shortage in science and engineering – we need to enhance the excellence of the technical workforce says Terry Croft.
If we want to prevent an imminent technical skills shortage in science and engineering – we need to enhance the excellence of the technical workforce says Terry Croft. And that’s exactly what the TDM team at Sheffield University hope to do when they launch their Toolkit for technical staff later in 2017.
The recent article in Nature (Performance metrics: Forge a clearer path for technical careers) has further reinforced the need for a more formal approach to sustainable career pathways for professional technicians in the UK, especially in the higher education and commercial sectors. The need for appropriate and focused job descriptions built into a careers matrix, which clearly shows the diverse range of pathways available to technicians, is essential if we are to continue attracting talent into the profession and retaining those key staff.
In 2014 experts in the field of Technical Services Provision were brought together at Sheffield University to form the Technical Development and Modernisation (TDM) team. Funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the team is made up of staff from a number of HEIs. The TDM project – “Development & Embedding of Career Pathways for Technicians across the Higher Education Sector” – was commissioned to specifically address the issues highlighted by several reports published in recent years. Working in partnership with over thirty pilot universities, research and teaching centres, has given the TDM team the opportunity to engage with key employers, as well as access to large cohorts of technicians and related managerial staff in a variety of work roles.
To prevent individual universities and institutions from reinventing the wheel, HEFCE will be releasing the TDM “Toolkit” in 2017
Based within the National Centre for Professional Technicians in Higher Education, the team has gathered an unprecedented volume of (current) data covering technical structures, job descriptions and skill sets, training provision and future needs, as well as a significant sample of institutional strategies related to workforce planning, business continuity and future proofing. This valuable body of data and information will represent the most complete collection in existence anywhere in the sector. The implicit understanding of the sectors wants and needs, based on the work highlighted above, is what makes the work of the TDM team so compelling and impactful.
To prevent individual universities and institutions from reinventing the wheel, HEFCE will be releasing the TDM “Toolkit” in 2017. This will bring a consistent approach to addressing all the issues related to employers and their technical communities, improving efficiency and value for money related to this high cost, high value, and yet essential resource. In addition this will address immediate problems related to talent attraction, retention and succession planning.
[caption id="attachment_57178" align="alignnone" width="620"] Illustration of the HE Technical Taxonomy from Guidance for the UK HE Technical Taxonomy (UK-HETT) & Competency Framework (Consultation Document).[/caption]
The “Toolkit” will provide the HE Technical Taxonomy, which will define individual role levels and support career planning. This is underpinned by the new Competency Framework which outlines the capability expectations for each level, identifying training and development needs (in collaboration with HEaTED) both to maintain skills, knowledge and experience and also to develop in preparation for future roles. Each level is aligned to an appropriate standard of Professional Accreditation required e.g. RSci Tech, RSci and CSci (the need for Professional Accreditation and becoming an Employer Champion with the Science Council is noted in more detail in the Toolkit Guidance Notes).
Guidance documents and tools will be provided to HEIs to capture current skill sets (currently lacking in workforce planning) within their technical workforce. Work to date with pilots and other institutions has revealed over 1500 individual technical skills. Having already engaged with over 2000 technicians, the team have been able to develop and populate a database of all the (current) key ingredients essential to develop a series of “generic job descriptions” that will meet employer needs and provide consistency across the sector. This will complete the package, clearly demonstrating how the HE Technical Taxonomy and the Competency Framework can be used to generate a role family.
Guidance documents and tools will be provided to HEIs to capture current skill sets (currently lacking in workforce planning) within their technical workforce
In addition, the “Toolkit” also contains guidance notes, templates, frameworks and Gantt charts for developing and operating apprentice, trainee and intern schemes. Similar tools are available for creating institutional technical networks, mentoring schemes and access to focused training and development provision.
The TDM team, through the National Centre, now provides expert advice through a “one-stop-shop” to guide employers and technical staff through the issues and related problems currently faced by the HE community. Finally, the sector has the right skills in the right place at the right time to deliver the solutions required by HE institutions and the technical community. TDM will be making it happen through the launch of the “Toolkit” in 2017.
Author: Terry Croft is currently the Director of Technical Development and Modernisation at the University of Sheffield, Director of the HEFCE Catalyst TDM Project and Chair of the Institute of Science and Technology. Terry is based at the National Centre for Professional Technicians at the University of Sheffield.
[box type="shadow" align="aligncenter" ]The TDM team continues to gather data from universities, research institutions and the technical community covering job descriptions, skill sets and technical structures. If you would like to provide additional information to the sector database or discuss issues/concerns related to your technical community then please contact the team t: 0114 2229773 e: email@example.com w: www.sheffield.ac.uk/tdm [/box]