Civil service union members in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are concerned about their pay and career progression, according to a recent Prospect survey.
Scientists consider that the most important skill they contribute is analysis, followed by research and decision-making. Engineers and other technology-based occupations are most attuned to the specialist knowledge that they provide, followed by logic and, in the case of engineers, a holistic approach.
Respondents from other occupations included project and commercial managers, data specialists, health and safety advisers, human factors specialists, medical, regulators, technicians, technical authors and editors.
Responses showed a strong motivation among all respondents to contribute to the public good, but that they would like more recognition and better communication with the government.
The survey was comprised of six open-ended questions devised by the Government Office for Science (GO-Science).
The union distributed the questionnaire to members in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and provided GO-Science with anonymous responses to inform work to relaunch the Government Science and Engineering (GSE) profession later in the year.
41 per cent of respondents identified as scientists, 46 per cent as engineers and 13 per cent as other professions.
When asked about the challenges facing scientists and engineers working in government, low pay was by far the most frequently mentioned by all respondents.
This was followed by a lack of respect, which was of particular concern to respondents from other professions.
Engineers were the group most likely to feel under-appreciated and to face challenges due to the overuse of contractors.
Prospect deputy general secretary, Sue Ferns, said: “We recognise that some of the major concerns expressed, in particular those relating to pay and progression, extend beyond the remit of GO-Science.
“But it is important that the Cabinet Office, Treasury and other government departments hear what our scientists and engineers think. This will ultimately help the GSE profession.”
Scientists also highlighted the opportunity to do interesting work, which is consistent with Prospect’s 2015 survey of members in research and development, which can be downloaded here.
Many responses, however, suggested that the initial commitment to working in the public interest could be eroded by factors such as limited funding, ineffective systems, short-termism and lack of appreciation for specialist expertise compared with counterparts working in the private sector.
“Our STEM members’ responses constructively identify options for developing and raising the profile of the GSE community, and we would wish to be actively involved in taking these forward,” Ferns added.
“Although there may be no quick fixes, it should be possible to work together to develop sustainable approaches that would better serve the interests of government over the longer term.”
Click here to see a more detailed report of the survey.