Career chances for technicians shouldn’t be a matter of luck
20 Oct 2020
The Royal Society of Chemistry’s former president Carol Robinson talks through her career path and why technicians need better support from the sector...
Image: Professor Dame Carol Robinson is former president of the Royal Society of Chemistry
“Coronavirus has thrust scientists into the spotlight like never before. The news is full of stories about scientists working on vaccines, developing drugs and devising tests. What gets less attention is that none of these activities could happen without skilled technicians.
Our vision is a culture where technical careers are recognised, respected, supported, developed and aspired to as professional careers in higher education and research institutes.
Technicians are as fundamental to scientific success as researchers. Unfortunately, they have tended to be under-supported and underappreciated in recent years. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that the UK is facing a huge shortage of technical skills, with 70,000 more technicians needed every year.
It's about time that our technical colleagues got the recognition they deserve. Otherwise it's going to be hard to attract and retain the talented people we desperately need in the profession.
That’s why the RSC is championing the Technician’s Commitment, in partnership with the Science Council, the Gatsby Foundation and many others across the sector. Our vision is a culture where technical careers are recognised, respected, supported, developed and aspired to as professional careers
This may sound like a lofty aim, but for me it’s a very personal one. I know first-hand what a difference the right support and opportunities can make. I left school at 16 with the equivalent of a few GCSEs and went to work as a technician at Pfizer. My supervisor noticed that I was fascinated by what I was doing, so he suggested I went to evening school to study science.
That began a long journey that led to me doing a PhD in chemistry at the University of Cambridge – and ultimately to becoming the university’s first female Professor of Chemistry.
There must be room for both kinds of professionals within chemistry. The people with great practical skills and mechanical understanding, and those who are very good theoretically. Both make vital contributions, so we need to value them equally.
When I became President of the RSC, I made it part of my mission to champion technicians. We recently launched our action plan focused on the four pillars of the Technician Commitment – career development, recognition, sustainability and visibility.
There are two initiatives that I’d particularly like to highlight to our technician members. The first is our two new grants. We’re offering technicians funding to attend conferences, training courses and networking events, whether that’s in their own country, overseas or online.
We’ve also launched a technicians’ network to help connect people and also equip them to promote technicians within their workplaces. We want technician representatives at every university, institution and chemical company in the UK and Ireland.
Technicians need to be given the chance to shine in every workplace. And that’s something every one of us working in the chemical sciences can play a part in.