Mapping the technicians workforce

Union reps focus group listens to presentations about the project ©Private
Union reps focus group listens to presentations about the project ©Private

A Finnish proverb suggests that a beloved child has many names. Technicians are a case in point. There is a plethora of job titles and job roles they carry in workplaces all around the country.

Defining who is a technician is a regular starting point when I begin telling people about unionlearn's Technician Pathways project. This was also the case in the focus group unionlearn and the Gatsby Foundation organised for union reps in the end of September.

The focus group gathered reps from RMT, Prospect and Unite representing a whole variety of industries from rail to science, marine technology to higher education and aircraft building. The group was hit with three two big questions:

  • What kind of support reps need for raising technician professional registration in the workplace both with employers and members?
  • How can technician registration fit the union learning and skills agenda?

Najmah Anshory from the Science Council and Blane Judd from the EngTechNow campaign provided invaluable help with opening up what registration is and how professional institutions can help.

The group found out early on that technicians work in many different job roles. In some industries, they come under a headline of technologists or instructors or craft people or numerous others. There is a more or less official definition according to which "a technician is a worker in a field of technology who is proficient in the relevant skills and techniques, with a relatively practical understanding of the theoretical principles." The job titles differ though from healthcare science practitioner to processing engineer.

Technicians work in highly skilled jobs in science, engineering and ICT. You could say that technician qualifications are around Level 3 or 4, but, in practice, technicians can come from academia at any level or with no academic qualifications at all. Some people come to technician roles through apprenticeships and some have been building experience in their jobs over the years.

One suggestion for definition for technician was that they are the people who keep things going and make things happen.

Setting the scene for the focus group was not therefore easy, but I found that there definitely is great power in thinking things through together. Some reps in the group had been involved in unionlearn's Technician Pathways or Prospect's RegTech projects before but most were new with pertinent questions and feedback for unionlearn. This added spice to the lively discussion.

I've come to realise that a lot of union work starts with mapping. This is very much the case with supporting technicians too.

There may well be many names, or job roles, but finding out who technicians are, where they are and what they do helps to find out how registration can help them access to more and better Continuous Professional Development (CPD).

With our project, the unions have an opportunity to find out who technicians are in their workplace and how they can be supported and recognised as an essential group that keeps the UK workplace going forward.

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Kirsi Kekki

Kirsi Kekki is a unionlearn policy officer working in the Strategy team. She has worked in a number of trade unions in the UK and Finland with a variety of roles from tutoring to organising and project management.

Kirsi is currently looking after English and maths, adult learning and apprentice policy and support to unions.