Demand for technical skills is increasing but the recruitment of technicians is failing to keep pace, according to research from the Technician Council. UK politicians have suggested the gap can be closed by recreating the romance that once surrounded UK engineering and innovation.
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The Technician Council recently unveiled a new framework for employers, skills councils and professional bodies in the light of an 18-month review which revealed a gap between the number of technicians in the UK and the 450,000 higher skilled jobs that will be available by 2020.
At the launch of Promoting Technicians of the Future, which took place at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Oliver Letwin MP, minister of state the Cabinet Office, said the sector needed to attract more people to consider the role of technician as a career.
Letwin said: “It’s about recreating the romance of engineering. Like back when children wanted to grow up and be like Stevenson.
“We as a country have a tendency to talk ourselves down. Many of our fellow countrymen are unaware of our expertise in our manufacturing industries.”
So far, 50 employers have pledged support for the eight recommendations the Technicians Council suggested to promote the role of the technician. Companies include Ministry of Defence (MOD), Royal Mail, National Grid, BT and Microsoft.
Steve Holliday, chief executive of the National Grid and chairman of the Technicians Council, said: “Technicians currently do not get the respect they deserve, which is what today and the launch of this standard is about. We are launching a framework to recognise these people and the skills they provide across IT, engineering, healthcare and science.”
Signposting a career as a technician
Holliday said the launch is about highlighting home-grown technology skills in the UK.
“It’s about signposting a clear but sometimes invisible career path to young people - dispelling the myths and confusion in the workforce and among our children about the role of the technician. So many technicians have such interesting jobs, but are sadly so misunderstood,” he said.
Holliday said there are two million technicians working in the UK that are necessary to keeping the country running: “We need to promote the contribution that technicians make to our society.”
Technician Council: Recommendation framework
- Endorse and promote professional technician;
- Support registration and professional development and announce own aspirational targets;
- Active support for professional technicians;
- Improve communications on career choices;
- Raise the profile of professional technician in government communications to the young;
- Use the professional technician brand;
- Promote greater diversity;
- Sustain the work of the Technician Council.
Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills policy, said It is important that young people are made aware of the range of exciting careers open to them if they have technical skills: “Meeting employers’ needs for highly skilled technicians will not only help boost growth, it will also support investment that creates new jobs.”
Working in a creative industry
In an interview with Computer Weekly, Holliday stressed the fact that technology is a very creative industry, despite it not being seen in such a light: “What is more creative than creating new technology?” he said.
John Hayes MP, minister of state for further education, skills and lifelong learning, pointed out that the term technocrat can be traced back as far as 1919.
“The power of labour and the power of machine – this spirit is important to find again. The joy of labour – to be is to make. The launch of this standard changes the status of the individuals that have mastered this,” he said.
Hayes said the UK needs more technicians and more awareness of what technology can achieve: “Unfortunately we will watch celebrities training to dance, but we don’t revere Fred Dibnah.”
He said the standard should be owned by businesses and not just driven by government: “The emphasis must be that it’s driven by you, for you. It’s your achievement but you have our support.
“This today is the first step. A recognition of what employers can create. We are committed as a government to this standard and to introducing more apprenticeships. To making a more sustainable and resilient economy.”
Closing the gender gap
According to the review from Mervyn Davies, Women on Boards, while 49% of women are engaged in the economically active workforce in the UK, women remain under-represented in higher levels of STEM education and at every level in SET employment. There are however some exceptions in health, pharmaceuticals, education and certain areas of the public sector.
The UKRC - a group that promotes gender equality in science, engineering, technology - recently published a report based on data from the Labour Force Survey.
The report found that, of the technicians working in the health, engineering and science sectors, only 22% were female.
According to Holliday, it’s about dispelling the myth that women can’t be successful in technology: “There are several successful female technicians that work across a variety of sectors.”