Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz,
Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge
Demand for people across the UK economy with STEM qualifications is increasing, and as science becomes more complex and interconnected, the roles undertaken by scientists and engineers in the future will often require high-level
practical and technical skills. Attracting, educating, training and retaining more STEM technicians is therefore vital to the success of the UK economy.
Technicians are particularly vital to the success of the UK’s universities and research institutes. They are a highly skilled workforce with a diverse range of expertise, underpinning the key activities across organisations, and providing the technical expertise essential to supporting research and knowledge transfer.
Alongside this, many technicians are researchers and teachers in their own right. They play an important part in the development of the UK’s future STEM workforce by teaching and developing the technical skills students require to pursue a future career in research, academia and/or industry.
With the ever increasing focus on research and teaching quality, and graduate employability, the role of technicians has never been more important. It is crucial that they are at the forefront of ever evolving technologies in order to provide academic colleagues and students with first-class technical support, enabling research and teaching of the highest quality on an international stage.
Despite the importance of technicians, their role is not well recognised and their career and professional development often overlooked. The aging technical workforce also means that large numbers of highly skilled technicians are retiring every year, taking their knowledge and experience with them. The UK now faces an identified shortage of technicians, which poses a serious threat to our innovative strength and global competitiveness, and it is estimated that there will be a demand for 700,000 new technicians by 2020.
Technicians have been a pivotal part of Cambridge’s ground-breaking research for centuries. Today we have over 800 technicians who play a vital role in teaching and research, and we have made strides to improve our workforce planning and introduced technical apprenticeships with an eye to the future.
The Science Council’s Technician Commitment consists of five key strands, each of equal importance to us as institutions. It also recognises that long term change can only be achieved through sector-wide commitment, and I welcome the support of HEFCE and the Research Councils for this initiative.
Technicians are very much the unsung heroes of our institutions, their work is largely invisible and yet much of what we do would grind to a halt without them. I am delighted to be signing the Technician Commitment on behalf of the University of Cambridge to help ensure that doesn’t happen.