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In September 2017 the University signed the Technician Commitment, pledging to raise awareness of our technicians, recognise the work that they do and support their career progression. The commitment is a nationwide initiative overseen by the Science Council and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s Technicians Make It Happen campaign.

Sarah using liquid handling platform to normalise DNA samples to send away

Reaching the end of the original Action Plan in 2020, the University was invited to take part in another peer-reviewed self-assessment exercise to submit to the Technician Commitment Steering Committee, summing up the progress on their pledge over the past three years. The feedback from the Technician Commitment Steering Committee was incredibly positive and shows that, despite the trials of the pandemic, the work being done is having an impact.

Professor Moira Whyte, Head of the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine, was appointed the senior lead for this work by the Principal. She was ‘delighted’ at the chance to champion and support the University’s numerous technicians, having worked closely with technician colleagues throughout her career: “The Technician Commitment is important to me because of the key roles that technical staff have played in establishing my own research groups in Sheffield and then in Edinburgh, the support of technician colleagues when I led the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at Edinburgh Bioquarter and, of course, their roles in the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine, which has approximately 700 technical staff members.”

Alongside Moira, the Technician Steering Committee works to plan and implement the aims of the Action Plan, as well as representing the technical community within the University. The committee has 15 members drawn from across all campuses of our University, with interdepartmental representation from a wide range of disciplines and roles.

In the four years since the pledge, a number of projects have worked to raise the profile and celebrate the work of our technicians as well as supporting them in being proactive about their own career journeys. Collaboration with teams in Social Responsibility and Sustainability, the Institute for Academic Development, Information Services Group, Edinburgh Research Office and HR have seen success across the University. Particularly noteworthy is the Professional Registration scheme, which allows technicians to highlight and showcase their work for an accreditation. Last year this work was recognised by the Science Council who named the University as an Employer Champion.

Our University community receiving this award was particularly memorable for Moira: “A highlight for me was undoubtedly the presentation of professional registration certificates to a number of our technical staff on the occasion of a visit from the Chief Executive of the Science Council who also presented our Employer Champion award to the Principal.”

“By becoming an Employer Champion we have committed to abide by the Science Council’s professional standards for technical staff and to work towards further investing in our staff and having their skills and talents recognised,” continues Moira. “All three Colleges of the University now support the professional registration of our technical staff.”

Having reached the end of the original Action Plan (which covered 2017 to 2020), the Technician Steering Committee has been working to create and implement a new plan to continue this work. Earlier this year a self-assessment of progress and plan for 2023 was commended by the Technician Commitment Steering Committee.

For Moira, it’s important that our technicians feel they are a key part of this work, as well as a key part of the University community: “I was simply delighted by the feedback on the assessment not only because of the positive and enthusiastic comments we received, describing the University of Edinburgh as an exemplary organisation, but because the assessors commented on how the voice of our technician community shone through in all aspects of the report.”

Despite the positive feedback, there have been challenges to the work too. Like the rest of the University community, the Covid-19 pandemic brought a huge disruption of work, as well as a big strain on mental wellbeing. For Moira though, this period has particularly highlighted the strength, resilience and commitment of our technical staff: “It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of our technical staff throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. They have played absolutely central roles in ensuring the safety of our buildings and staff, were disproportionately represented in staff attending our buildings during the height of the pandemic and then preparing them for the resumption of research and teaching.

“Technicians contributed across the breadth of the University, from maintaining animal facilities at the Vet School to keeping essential medical research, including research on Covid-19, active throughout this period.”

Now, things are unlocking, restrictions are lifting and the city has a bit more life again. Moira explains what her aims are for continuing this work as things slowly return to normal: “I think we should aim to build on the success of the Technician Commitment so far, increasing our communication both between and about technician groups and supporting them to build their professional networks.”

The latest Action Plan sets out more ambitious aims for the future, looking to go even further to embed and involve technicians into the University community, and create a clearer structure and emphasis on career progression and CPD.

For Moira, the most important thing is continuing to listen to our technical staff: “I hope that we can strengthen the voice of our technical staff within our University community, highlighting all they contribute to our work and teaching and further increasing the recognition of their roles. We will also continue to encourage and support their participation in wider University activities, including in public engagement and outreach.

“Ultimately, I hope the University of Edinburgh will provide the best possible environment for a fulfilling career as a technician.”