Jane Barlow AIH (Technical Services Manager) and Dr Ian Tidmarsh FIScT CSci (NTDC Specialist Advisor, Career Pathways and Technical Services Business Partner) share the strategy and benefits of the Resource Centre model recently established at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). The model delivers multiple benefits including the efficient deployment of resources and a ‘one-stop-shop’ style access point for Technical Services support.
In 2018, Ian Tidmarsh designed and implemented a redeveloped technician structure to support the recently completed Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) at the University of Birmingham. A new structure was required to ensure efficient delivery of undergraduate teaching activity across two academic faculties. The strategy was centred around two distinct staffing groups; colleagues who:
A. Support preparation, set-up, clear-away and related processes for taught sessions. Colleagues are deployed flexibly to deliver support where required without restriction;
B. Support a defined specialist space (e.g. a specific large laboratory or workshop) delivering laboratory management functions and expert in-class technical support.
Resource Centre Strategy
Building on the success of this model, Jane Barlow has expanded the concept of two distinct staffing groups. This article focuses on the development of staffing group ‘A’ beyond teaching support. After a period of informal reorganisation, Resource Centres at MMU now deliver the following key functions for teaching, research and scientific facilities across STEM, Healthcare and Teacher Education (across three academic faculties):
- A consistent high level of housekeeping across all specialist spaces ensuring that cleanliness and health and safety standards are maintained (critical during the Covid-19 pandemic);
- Specialist health and safety support e.g. the management of hazardous waste and compresses gases;
- Preparation, set-up and clear-away support for all taught activity (UG and PG);
- A single point of face-to-face contact (a ‘one-stop-shop’) for student and staff enquiries (virtually throughout the pandemic);
- An equipment loan and laboratory consumables dispensing service;
- Support for the creation of digital content including AR/VR and blended learning materials (rapid growth in this area due to the pandemic);
- A focal point for sustainability issues and recycle and reuse initiatives.
The benefits delivered by the Resource Centre model are:
- Duties aligned to grade with clear roles and responsibilities to deliver role satisfaction and institutional value for money;
- Flexibility of deployment to accommodate change and uncertainty in future requirements;
- Resilience resulting from large teams of multi-skilled, primarily, Assistant Technicians who share tasks, skills, knowledge and experience;
- An entry point onto the technician career pathway. An opportunity to work across multiple areas to develop the widest range of skills to enhance service resilience and individual’s future employability;
- Skilled entry-level staff with the potential to satisfy succession planning requirements within the service.
It is only when the core conditions are right that high quality teaching and research activity can take place and colleagues are able to flourish.
The model has proven so successful that it is currently being expanded across the institution. The model will be critical in ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the new John Dalton building (STEM education and research). The latter represents the university’s highest value transformational change and estates project to date (ca. £125m).
(Diagram illustrates an example Resource Centre structure and alignment to the HETT and Professional Registrations. The Resource centre structure can vary depending on the key services delivered.)
Strategy Supports the Technician Commitment
The strategy demonstrates achievement against the Technician Commitment:
- Visibility – Technicians are identifiable and their contribution is acknowledged by Senior University Officers and those outside the organisation
- Recognition – Roles mapped against Professional Registrations and funds available to facilitate membership to the IST and subsequent registration
- Career Development – A clear and incremental organisation structure aligned to the HETT
- Sustainability – Flexible and cross-disciplines roles aid in knowledge transfer increasing sustainability and resilience
Positive Feedback from Resource Centre Teams
As with all operating models, this model is only a success because of the high calibre leaders and colleagues who believe in the strategy and make it work:
“Strong leadership is fundamental in setting expectations and establishing systems that all technicians can engage with and have a voice and a choice in decision making”
– Helen Bell, Technical Team Leader, Resource Centre
“If you start as an Assistant Technician you have the opportunities to progress especially when team leaders are encouraging”
– Lucy Warr, Assistant Technician, Resource Centre
“I feel I have learnt so much more since working flexibility between buildings, I feel valued and colleagues give me the time when I require help on new things”
– Jacky Gee, Assistant Technician, Resource Centre
National Technician Development Centre
If you would like to explore the support available at the National Technician Development Centre (including strategic development) please contact firstname.lastname@example.org