Technicians vital to UK economy


Technicians vital to UK economy

Analysis of Prospect’s membership database has revealed the huge diversity of technicians represented by the union.

More than 500 types of technician were identified among more than 1,300 people who define themselves in this way.

They range from mechanical, electrical, laboratory and research technicians, to those working in archaeology, fisheries, horticulture… and even in lighthouses.

The data also show that Prospect’s technicians are spread across all working age groups, all UK regions and within dozens of different employers in both the public and private sectors.

RegTech project

The analysis was done to help focus the resources of Prospect’s RegTech project, which is being funded by the Gatsby charitable foundation to promote and support the professional registration of technicians in engineering, IT and science.

Drawing on a variety of research, including work carried out by the IPPR think-tank, Gatsby has identified an urgent need in the UK economy for mid-level vocational skills of the type personified by technician-grade workers.

It says these have often been neglected in favour of graduates, whose skills are sometimes poorly aligned with the needs of industry.

The economy will gain most from technicians if they are properly supported, their skills recognised and their profile raised, Gatsby contends. This in turn will help recruit the numbers needed, the foundation believes.

The employer and regional breakdown of the Prospect data will help the union identify which workplaces and clusters of workplaces to prioritise in the RegTech programme roll-out.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, energy company E.ON and Sellafield are some of the biggest employers of Prospect apprentices, while London and the south-east, Greater Manchester, Cumbria and Edinburgh provide the biggest hotspots.

“Coldspots” include the midlands and the north-east, which may tell a story about UK industrial decline.

Recruitment challenge

Rachel Bennett, Prospect’s life-long learning officer, said: “There are around 1.5 million technicians in the UK, but with 50,000 retiring or otherwise lost to industry each year, up to 700,000 more technicians will have to be recruited by 2020 in order to meet employers’ needs.”

The challenge is illustrated by the age breakdown of Prospect’s own technician data. Looking at those aged between 18-65, the biggest group – at 29.3% – is those aged 46-55, while the smallest – at just 5.6% of the total – is those aged 18-25.

Women comprise 17% of the Prospect cohort. The IPPR estimates that nationwide, women make up just 4% of technicians in engineering, for example.

Lloyd Collier, RegTech project development leader, said: “While there are more than 1,300 Prospect members who define themselves as technicians, there are many more, such as technologists, technical officers and technical support, that may come under the broad definition of technician.”