Midlands Universities lead project to deliver largest ever investment into HE technicians
A new project led by Midlands Innovation, a consortium of eight Midlands-based universities including the University of Warwick, and industry partners is to shine a light on the expertise of their technical community by delivering a package of measures to support their career advancement and development.
The £4.99 million TALENT programme is the largest ever investment into technicians in higher education, whose specialist skills often go unrecognised despite the crucial role they play in the success of universities and the growth of the UK economy.
As a highly skilled workforce, around 30,000 technicians currently underpin research, teaching, knowledge transfer and innovation at UK universities and many are researchers and educators in their own right, teaching and training students and researchers at every level.
Announcing the programme, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “Technicians play a vital role across our universities, research centres and industry sectors. It is great to see that Midlands Innovation is leading the way in supporting technicians who work so hard across the UK to teach students and underpin innovation.”
Commenting on the University of Warwick’s involvement Professor Stephen Jarvis, Technician Commitment Lead and Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at University of Warwick said:
“Since the Technicians commitment was launched at the University of Warwick in 2017, we have been working hard on community building events, skills development programmes, mentoring schemes, professional registration and new transparent technician career pathways.
“Together with our Midlands Innovation partners, we aim to build on this by sharing best practice, mapping future skills requirements of technical posts in the HE sector, working collaboratively to capitalise on opportunities between universities and with business partners, and underpinning shared training and development for the 2000+ technical staff in the region.
“The Midlands has long been recognised as the ‘engine room of the UK’, and through the TALENT programme our region will be at the forefront of technician training, career development and innovation opportunities in the UK.
TALENT is underpinned by a grant of more than £3 million from the Research England Development Fund. The rest of the funding will be provided by the consortium university members as well as key partners including the Science Council, Technician Commitment, Wellcome Trust, British Geological Survey, Rolls Royce plc, Unilever and Midlands Engine.
It builds on considerable work already undertaken by Midland Innovation to advance the technician agenda, including the signing of the Technician Commitment by all consortium institutions in 2017, the establishment of the UK Higher Education Technicians Summit; a national conference for technical staff working in higher education and research, and the Papin Prizes, a series of awards to publicly recognise technical excellence in academia, as well as piloting a collaborative placement programme to enable career development opportunities for our technical staff.
Research England’s Director of Research, Steven Hill, said: “Technicians are an understudied group in higher education, which means there is a real gap in our understanding of both their role and future skills requirements. We also know there is a growing shortage of technicians across all sectors, but these technicians are a vital workforce, the absence of which threatens the UK’s innovative strength and global competitiveness.”
TALENT, which will be led by Kelly Vere, Director of Technical Skills and Strategy, at Nottingham. will lead and promote change to enhance the status and development opportunities of technicians through three main themes:
Technical Talent of the Future will use a commission-based approach to investigate the technical skills and talent needed to support future research and teaching in the UK. It will gather evidence from a range of stakeholders including technicians, academics, university management, funders, students and policymakers before putting together a range of recommendations for the sector that will be used to inform institutional planning, training activities, culture change and the UK Higher Education Technician Summits. The scope of the project will include the sector’s future need for technical talent, government policy implications and the impact of increasing focus on collaboration with business and other researchers.
Technicians as Partners will develop and pilot innovative ways of working to deliver culture change within HE to strengthen technical career opportunities and develop the effectiveness of the technician role within universities. It will encompass projects focusing on challenging the stereotypes around technicians and promoting the attractiveness of a technical career; promoting more diversity in the sector; equipping technicians with the skills they need to improve their presence on executive committees; studying best practice of equipment sharing between technicians; and exploring opportunities for technical knowledge exchange and collaborations with business.
Technical training and Empowerment will deliver a technical training package – both print and digital – with guidance and briefing notes on the creation of placement schemes and exchanges for technical staff, soft skills case studies, lessons learned and recommendations for ways of working. It will also include the establishment of the Technician Led Training Fund that will offer a pot of cash that collaborative groups of technicians can assess to fund staff development on specific skills gaps.
Midlands Innovation is a world-class research and innovation partnership, combining the collective excellence of eight leading universities in the heart of the UK – Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick. It unites the power of university research with the unique strengths of Midlands industry to drive cutting-edge research, innovation and skills development.