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GW4 part of network supporting new £5.5m national Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy

GW4 part of network supporting new £5.5m national Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy

A new £5.5 million national institute is to be launched to support the UK’s bid to be a global research and innovation superpower. It will ensure that the UK has the technical capability and capacity across academia, research, education, and innovation to enable the UK to be a global superpower in science, engineering, and the creative industries.

The UK Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy (ITSS) is funded by Research England, which is part of UK Research and Innovation. It is being hosted by the University of Nottingham in partnership with the GW4 Alliance and a network of organisations and institutions across UK higher education and research.

GW4 has around 1300 technical staff across the alliance, often acting as the linchpin in any University department, operating and maintaining facilities and providing valuable expertise and intellectual input to enable high-quality teaching and research.

Despite their critical contributions to UK R&D and higher education, technical roles have experienced a lack of visibility, recognition and career development. The new institute will focus on technical skills, roles and careers, and their contributions to the economy and how the technical talent and know-how required to fulfil the government’s ambitions for the UK to become an innovative nation can be delivered.

Dr Kelly Vere MBE, Director of Technical Strategy at the University of Nottingham and Programme Director, Technician Commitment (Science Council), who is spearheading the new initiative, said: “We frequently discuss the emerging technologies needed to drive innovation, but rarely do we consider the expert technical skills, roles and careers required to use these technologies. Technical expertise is critical to the success of UK Higher Education (HE), research and innovation, and the growth of the UK economy.

“The UK has a shortage of technicians across all sectors, and there are significant ED&I challenges impacting the current workforce. These factors pose a serious threat to the UK’s innovative strength and global competitiveness. We are delighted to be establishing the UK Institute for Technical Strategy to ensure that we have the technical capability and capacity across the country to realise the UK’s ambitions of being a research and innovation superpower.”

The new institute builds on two initiatives which have begun to address this challenge and become the catalyst for advancing the landscape and culture of the technical community; the Technician Commitment and the TALENT programme.

All four GW4 institutions are signed up to the Technician Commitment, which was launched in 2017 to increase visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research, across all disciplines.

In line with our institutions’ pledge to the Technician Commitment, GW4 launched the GW4WARD programme to help support and drive forward the professional development of technical staff across the Alliance. The GW4WARD steering group was created to help address the challenges and recommendations highlighted in the TALENT Commission report. Our GW4 Director, Dr Joanna Jenkinson also sits on the Advisory Board for TALENT.

Dr Jenkinson, attended the launch of the ITSS last night at an event in Westminster to celebrate the impact and progress of the TALENT Commission report, one year on, and to showcase how its recommendations are being implemented across the sector.

Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, GW4 Alliance Director, said: “Our technical staff are a highly valued and crucial part of the excellent teaching and research that takes place across the GW4 Alliance. They play an integral role in helping us drive forward our research and innovation programmes, providing economic and societal benefits for our region and beyond.

I was delighted to attend the launch of the new multimillion-pound national institute and am proud GW4 are part of the network supporting this much-needed initiative. We look forward to working with ITSS to build on the great work of our technical community and further support the ambition for the UK to become a global research and innovation superpower.”

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Executive Chair of Research England, who announced the new institute at the event commented: “Technical skills and technicians’ roles are an essential element of the UK research and innovation system. As such, I’m pleased that Research England funding is supporting the new UK Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy.

“The institute will enhance the skills base for technicians, help to raise the visibility of their vital contribution to UK research and innovation, support their career development, and tackle a shortage of technicians.

“I look forward to seeing the impact the ITSS will have for technicians nationally and across sectors – from museum archivists, right through to space technologists.”

ITSS will be the source of sector expertise on technical skills, roles and careers in UK HE and research and will form four new hubs focused on key areas:

  • a research hub focused on technical roles, skills, careers, education, and training to expand sector understanding of the technical workforce through academic research. It will help to address gaps in knowledge in this area and work with funders to attract new investments for future research.
  • a policy hub, working with partner organisations and the extended Technician Commitment community to inform, influence and interpret policy pertaining to technical roles, skills and careers in HE and research.
  • a practice hub to develop (and evaluate) innovative approaches to culture change, piloting and evaluating them before rolling them out across the sector. Examples include career pathway models, apprenticeship schemes, workforce planning tools, and flagship and bespoke learning and development opportunities.
  • an engagement hub to connect the technical community to government, professional bodies, funding bodies and other organisations in order to build a strong, connected community through engagement and events.
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