Author: Dr Karen Henderson PhD CSci, Director of Technical Services, University of Reading
As with most Universities, having a technical workforce that is engaged in diverse disciplines from the arts, sciences and life sciences we recognised that with sustainability of our technical skills in mind, it was important that we had a detailed understanding of our current skills portfolio. Such information gives us a baseline when considering our actions relating to the sustainability pillar of the Technician Commitment.
Although we had skills lists that we had garnered from a number of areas it proved difficult and time-consuming to gather consistent levels of detail. The bespoke NTDC Skills, Roles and Responsibilities Audit was the tool that enabled us to achieve our goal.
The Audit is a web-based survey that captures all elements of a technician’s role, including over 2000 technical skills. It also collects information on the skills that participants would like to acquire.
When we reached the point of running the survey, the NTDC actually ran it on our behalf and configured all of the subsequent data into the format that we required. Prior to the launch, the NTDC worked closely with us to ensure that the audit was tailored to our needs.
Having experience of running this survey at other universities, the NTDC guided us on how to get the best out of the exercise. They highlighted the information that needed to be read and understood by participants before undertaking the survey by providing a survey introduction template. This template explained the purpose of the survey, how the information would be handled and who would have access to the data, how long the survey would take (40-60 minutes) and contact names should there be any questions. We worked with the NTDC to ensure that the template was refined to reflect our local arrangements, terminology and ways of working.
In addition, as with many universities, we have some unique skills and these were incorporated into the skills section. Before the survey was launched, we piloted it with a dozen or so colleagues and feedback was used by the NTDC to tweak the survey further.
The survey was launched and remained open for a month. The NTDC gave updates on response rates and were able to send reminders to individuals of the survey closing date, respond to any queries and resend the survey to those who misplaced the survey link.
Some technical staff commented that they enjoyed completing the survey as it gave them the opportunity to reflect on their wide range of skills and responsibilities and give consideration to the skills that they would like to acquire. We had a 100% response rate – all staff completed the survey.
Following its completion, the NTDC configured the information into a number of formats. As is standard, a personal report was generated for each participant for CPD purposes and a full report containing all responses was provided for management purposes. In addition, in response to our specific needs, a bespoke skills report was created that captured the skills and level of capability for each area.
Unexpected Benefits and Future Plans
Already, some unexpected benefits have emerged from the survey as we hadn’t anticipated the level of untapped skills that we hold. It transpired that some of our team members hold specialist skills from previous roles that were not generally known. As a result we have been able to fill an emerging skills gap in one area that we had identified as high risk without previously realising that we had the skills elsewhere.
Using the survey has also assisted us in spotting trends in terms of training and development needs and we have already provided training courses in response to common requests that came through in the survey, Mental Health First Aid training for example.
Thanks to the NTDC Survey, we have now captured a significant amount of data and information to analyse and take us to the next phase of our plan. This will enable us to develop more robust succession planning and therefore sustainability of our technical skills.