Midlands Innovation Launch TALENT Programme for the Midlands Region’s University Technicians

technicians programme launch

MICRA welcomes the TALENT programme a new project to grow and enhance the capacity and capabilities of technicians working in higher education institutions in the midlands region. 

A new project led by the Midlands Innovation consortium of eight universities with 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.

Midlands Innovation’s £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.

The four-year project is being led by Kelly Vere, Director of Technical Skills and Strategy, at The University of Nottingham.

She said: “Advances in research and innovation are a team effort. Technicians are vital members of these teams but have been described as the ‘invisible workforce’ and across the country we have an identified shortage of technical skills and roles. The sector lacks effective understanding of the role of technicians and strategic insight into future technical skills requirements.
Through our collaborative programme TALENT, we’ll be generating new insight and knowledge on future sector skills requirements, investing in the development of our technical community and tackling the cultural challenges facing technicians. We’re thrilled to be working collaboratively with a number of partners on the TALENT programme, all committed to ensuring status and opportunity for the technical community”.

Professor Alec Cameron, Chair of the Midlands Innovation Board, Vice-Chancellor Aston University said: “I am delighted that Midlands Innovation has been awarded this investment. TALENT will shine a light on the important role that technicians play in our universities and will enable us to deliver a step change in the career development opportunities we provide to this vital workforce.

“In addition, TALENT is an excellent example of how universities can collaborate to innovate in their operation. Collectively we have over 2100 technicians working in our eight universities. We will be sharing information on the nature of our technical workforces, collaborating to create new development opportunities for our technical staff and trialling interventions to address issues such as EDI and representation of technicians. By doing this in partnership we can share different approaches and experiences whilst creating a vibrant, connected and empowered technical community.”

Jane Hubble, Laboratory Manager at Cranfield University, said: “I have seen first-hand the benefits of working collaboratively across the 8 Midlands Innovation universities. We share and support each other in the delivery of our respective Technician Commitment activity and have developed new opportunities for technicians to engage with colleagues across the consortium, attend shared training, share best practice and learn new skills through a placement scheme. I am excited to take our shared activities for the technical community forward through the TALENT programme.”

The shortage threatens to derail the Government’s Industrial Strategy aim to raise UK investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP, as announced by Chris Skidmore, formerly Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, last year.

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.”

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “Technicians play a crucial role across our universities, research institutes and industry. They have specialist knowledge and expertise and underpin our universities primary activities by providing the technical excellence essential to enable research, teaching, knowledge transfer and innovation. The Technician Commitment is working to ensure that a career as a technician is a respected and valued, professional career and ensure a technical community who play their part in a more effective research ecosystem – ensuring efficiency, value and collective strength. I’m delighted that UKRI have become formal signatories of the Technician Commitment and thrilled to announce the Research England funded Midlands Innovation TALENT programme which will deliver strategic insight into future technical skills requirements and new opportunities for the technical community.”

Also taking in part of the launch were members of the MI Board and Executive Management Group, along with Helen Turner, Director of Midlands Innovation, and Kelly Vere, who lead the Technician Talent bid on behalf of the partnership).

TALENT 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, which will offer a pot of cash that collaborative groups of technicians can assess to fund staff development on specific skills gaps.

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