How can staff developers help their technical communities?

By 13th February 2019 August 9th, 2021 Blog, Events, News
Christmas light display at SDF Conference 2018 attended by SDF
Authors: Chris Turgoose, NTDC Centre manager and Dr Karen Bailey-Smith, NTDC Specialist Advisor

Among the Christmas Tree trails and against a backdrop of high winds and crashing waves in Bournemouth, we delivered a workshop at the Staff Development Forum National Conference 2018 on the 29th – 30th of November. (Insert Xmas tree photos).

Here at the National Technician Development Centre (NTDC), we recognise that any work to develop an HEI’s technical service requires the involvement of the Staff Development and HR professionals within that institution. The Staff Development Forum (SDF) Conference provided the perfect opportunity to engage with the staff development community. With Karen’s background as a technical manager and Chris’s background in work psychology, we were well placed to deliver this workshop at this event.

What do staff developers know about their technicians?

Our workshop, entitled ‘Enabling Effective Partnerships between Technicians and Organisational and Staff Developers to Create Sustainable Technician Services’, consisted of a group led by the NTDC and included staff development and HR representatives from four HEI’s.

Members of the group were at different stages of working with and engaging their technical communities, so we started the discussion by asking the question ‘Who are the technical community?’

Answers included words and phrases such as ‘hidden’, ‘in silos’, ‘provide support’ and ‘problem solving’.

From the information provided by the delegates, it was clear the the role of the technician  was not understood by the group. They outlined that recognition of technical staff is patchy and there is inconsistency around the roles and job descriptions of technicians, as well as how technicians are ‘labelled’.                           

Other key issues that arose included the lack of career pathways, succession planning and accurate job descriptions.

Some strong examples of good practice designed to bring about changes in ways of working came out of our workshop. For example, setting up working groups or committees that are fully representative is usually the first step. One delegate has been successful in getting an academic Professor to be the senior ‘champion’ for their working group.  Quick wins are also a good starting point.

Another example involves technical staff following a more formal application process to be a technical representative on a working group.

There was common agreement that there needs to be engagement across all groups within the HEI for there to be a positive effect.

It was evident from our workshop and time at the SDF Conference that there was limited knowledge of the issues HEI’s face with regard to their technical staff and therefore much work still for us to do.

How NTDC can support staff and organisational developers

The NTDC has a number of tools available that can support a strategic approach to creating a sustainable technical service.

One of the barriers to recruitment into technical careers is the lack of career progression and a clear career structure. The Higher Education Technical Taxonomy provides clarity by illustrating career pathways from entry level to leadership level. The Competency Framework supports this by outlining the capability requirements for each level.

This also addresses the issue around lack of consistency between technical role titles and duties. Staff Development and HR staff have expertise in capability frameworks and developing role descriptions and duties, so working with technical experts provides a joined up process that is viable. Consistency within an HEI is essential to prevent the formation or continuation of ‘Silos’ and to promote cross department/Faculty and Institution working.

There is expertise in the NTDC team that can support work around culture and other areas of organisational development. The focus for change should not just be on the technical staff themselves. Other groups of staff must be engaged with to ensure there is full buy in to addressing the issue that the technical community faces.

Taking a strategic approach is critical, providing the opportunity to understanding the problem and then identifying which tools will help.

SDF members have a critical role in enabling local development of technical services and staff. As partners of the Technician Commitment we are working with HEIs to support the development of their technical services and helping them meet their Technician Commitment pledges. You can read more about how our tools line up to the pledges here.

Here at the NTDC, we are keen to continue to work with the SDF and staff development professionals – both to support them in their involvement with the technical community, but also to learn from the staff development experts about their requirements to enable this to happen.

The delegates at our workshop have made a great start in this area and we will watch how they progress and hope to see them and others at future SDF meetings.


We also plan to write a series of blogs on specific but related topics over the next few months. If you have a special request, please do get in touch.