Valuing technical staff at the University of Edinburgh and across the UK
Andrew Arnott, Lab Sustainability Coordinator, reflects on the recent HEaTED event at Easter Bush. Will this year be a turning point for technical staff?
Over 60 people made the journey to attend the latest HEaTED Scotland Network event on our Easter Bush Campus on 30th May. For those unfamiliar with the group, HEaTED is a membership organisation which works to promote and support professional development for individuals and organisations with technical staff. The University of Edinburgh estimates it has almost 1000 technical staff across the organisation, playing an integral role in almost every aspect of our teaching and research, from biological and life sciences, through engineering and physical sciences, and including the arts too.
A strong contingent of technical staff from the University of Edinburgh made up the bulk of the delegates, but there were also significant groups from the University of St Andrews, SRUC and others. After a bit of networking chatter in the queue for tea, coffee and delicious cream scones we got down to business.
Introduced by University of Edinburgh’s Val Gordon, our host for the day and HEaTED Scotland Network Coordinator, Katherine Forsey from the HEaTED central office in York provided an update on what is going on across the country currently. Firstly she advised that on 31st of May 2017 the Technicians Commitment will be launched, which commits signatories to improving the visibility, recognition, career development, sustainability and support for technicians in their institution. HEaTED are working with the Science Council and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation as an official Resource Partner for the Technicians Commitment. Read more about the commitment in their online magazine.
Katherine also advised that the HEFCE funded catalyst project at Sheffield will launch its Technical Development and Modernisation toolkit on 1st August, which covers skills capture, pay scales, pathways to career development and a CPD programme.
Both of these are important developments in terms of influencing and supporting organisations to better support their technical staff – a group who across the country (and exemplified in many of the interactive sessions at this event) report the same problems of poor career development opportunities; poor recognition for their work, skills and experience; and lack of support for attending CPD training. When asked to choose one word to describe a utopian vision for the future, the group settled on “equal”.
It is not only a moral imperative that we provide all of our staff, including technical staff, with equal opportunity to develop and thrive in a University of Edinburgh career. It is also a highly business savvy approach as technicians spend an awful lot of time teaching and supporting students. Thus they have a substantial impact on the all-important student experience, affecting league table positions and Teaching Excellence Framework results. Improved training, morale and support for these staff can only help. In addition, poor working conditions and career prospects for technicians result in high staff turnover and difficulties in recruiting – which adds substantial costs to the organisation’s finances unnecessarily. In addition, the major research funding bodies are starting to take more of an interest in technical staff. The BBSRC have recently completed a survey of technical staff and MRC are now members of HEaTED.
Perhaps this year will be a turning point?
At the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, we certainly hope so, and we hope we are playing our part in helping to make this change happen. For a number of years now we have been working with HEaTED and technicians across the University of Edinburgh, and since last summer we have also been working with HR, the unions and the University of Edinburgh’s Institute, for Academic Development (IAD). With support from the University of Edinburgh’s People Committee, we have been meeting as a group to develop a list of actions, requests and plans to help to improve opportunities for technicians’ careers, training, professional development, sense of community, visibility and recognition.
With such a wide range of tasks set for us, it may come as no surprise that we have a wide range of ideas on what we might do next. However, the group has been decisive and proactive at prioritising certain key actions including setting up an internal mailing list for technicians, and a separate one for managers of technicians; and developing a website which will publicise opportunities for technicians, provide advice and support, celebrate good news stories, and provide greater visibility of technicians.
Alongside that, we have a number of other plans in the pipeline which we will seek consultation upon from the wider community of technicians in the University of Edinburgh. The strong attendance at the meeting on 30th May should give us all hope that the consultation will be substantial and meaningful, and will result in future plans which will help to address the problems technicians face in a systematic way.
For me and, I suspect, many others in the audience, the highlight of the day was witnessing Joan Ward from the Institute of Science and Technology present certificates of professional registration to Marianne Keith, Emma Boyd and Sharon Moss; and especially Val Gordon being awarded a Fellowship of the Institute of Science and Technology for her continued and substantial efforts in supporting and promoting technicians development at University of Edinburgh. Congratulations to all.
Coming back to my hope that this year may be a turning point for how we support our technical staff at the University of Edinburgh. I think the publications from HEaTED and Sheffield combined with the collaborative work happening between technicians from across the university, HR, IAD, and Social Responsibility and Sustainability, make the possibility of positive and lasting change more likely now than at any other time recently.
Photos by Dr Katherine Forsey