Technicians: Report highlights diversity challenges in workforce

New report for the STEMM-CHANGE conference revealed equality, diversity and inclusion challenges in the sector

The majority of technicians in managerial positions are male, even in subject disciplines where the majority of technicians are female, a new report on equality, diversity and inclusion has said.

The University of Nottingham report – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI): A Technician Lens – was presented at the annual STEMM-CHANGE conference and recommended more promotion opportunities for female technicians.

The report also said only one in 10 technicians working in the fields of physics and engineering were female.

According to the EDI research, just 10% of technicians are black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME). Many technical staff were unaware of the issues in the workforce and of the Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charter initiatives, the report concluded.

The report also highlighted an ageing workforce and urged the sector to devise better “succession planning”.

Three in 10 technicians working in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) are over the age of 51 – this figure rises to 45% for physics and engineering disciplines. The authors said more outreach, apprenticeships and trainee schemes are needed to tackle the problem.


Read more: Nottingham University launches Institute of Policy and Engagement


Gender and ethnicity

Our EPSRC funded STEMM-CHANGE project is designed to put in place a toolbox of real solutions
– Prof Sam Kingman

Prof Sam Kingman, pro-vice-chancellor for the faculty of engineering at Nottingham and principal investigator on the STEMM-CHANGE project, said: “Our EPSRC funded STEMM-CHANGE project is designed to put in place a toolbox of real solutions to a number of ED and I challenges across the STEMM sector and I am delighted we are able now to make a number of recommendations which we hope will help address some serious issues in our technician community.”

The report’s authors said the expansion of the Athena SWAN charter to include professional and support staff has sparked  greater interest in EDI challenges for non-academic staff.

Gary Loke, Advance HE director of knowledge, innovation and delivery, welcomed the report and said: “As the findings imply, Advance HE’s Race Equality and Athena SWAN Charters are strategic resources in supporting the sector in its work to promote and fully embed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). The principles set out in the Charters are the building-blocks for progress and change.

“We are absolutely committed to supporting the sector in advancing equal opportunity and outcomes, along with fair representation in each and every constituency in higher education. We do this through the Charters and our specifically designed portfolio of programmes and events focussing on EDI.

“We therefore welcome the STEMM-CHANGE initiative. It’s very encouraging to see in particular the inclusion of the technical community in its work.”

The STEMM-CHANGE conference is funded by the Engineer and Physical Sciences Research Council and works with the University of Liverpool and the John Innes Centre, and the Science Council.

New apprenticeship standard

UCEA’s recent workforce survey found that around 10% of HEIs are facing significant difficulties recruiting technicians
– Universities and Colleges Employers Association

A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association spokesperson said: “We welcome this report which provides detail on equality and diversity challenges related to a vital part of the HE workforce.

“UCEA’s recent workforce survey found that around 10% of HEIs are facing significant difficulties recruiting technicians and this is another incentive for actions that seek and develop talented individuals from the widest pool of people.

“There were 140 apprentice science technicians in the sector in 2017-18 of which 28% were female and 13% were BAME. The new technician apprentice standard, which 40% of HEIs report they are likely to use when it is introduced, will help grow this number and direct more apprentice levy funds towards technician skills development.”

As part of the 2019 UCEA workforce survey, employers were asked if they planned to use a new HE assistant technician apprenticeship scheme: 40% of employers said they either planned or were likely to use the scheme, but 41% said they were unlikely to – a further 17% said they were unaware of the apprenticeship developed.

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