UK skills needs – Technicians

Previously much of the discussion about STEM skills has focussed on the need to produce more science and engineering graduates. However, a number of influential organisations including the CBI (Confederation of Business and Industry) have pointed to a worrying shortage of technicians.

In the 2010 National Skills Audit, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills identified a demand for:

associate professional and technical roles in a broad range of sectors, particularly manufacturing, process sectors, including oil, gas, electricity, chemicals, life sciences and pharmaceuticals, automotive, engineering, and broadcasting.

They are likely to be required in large numbers, will require breadth as well as depth of knowledge including generic product lifecycles and manufacturing techniques, and are essential to survival if competitive strategies of moving into higher value added markets are pursued. In particular, one of the most striking themes to emerge from the Audit is the growing importance of technicians, especially in specialist STEM areas – workers with the ability to apply an in-depth understanding of a particular field in a practical setting. Demand is rising for technicians across a range of sectors driven by:

• growing technological complexity – driving up skill levels across the production sectors;

• the growing attention given to higher value added product market strategies – accentuating the need for higher and intermediate vocational and technical skills;

• changing skill mix in some professions, for example in the public and professional services.

In the education context we tend to think of technicians as being the enabler for practical work in schools and colleges. But as the UKCES report identifies technicians have a vital role to play in the UK economy, using their knowledge of science, mathematics and IT to set up, operate, and maintain laboratory instruments, monitor experiments, solve problems and help invent and improve products and processes.

A recent Engineering UK survey found that “The technician role was most commonly viewed as a helpful, supportive, practical function” however it also found that “There was widespread lack of knowledge about technicians, especially among younger people and females”.

November 2010