Technicians are holding onto the bottom rungs of a very short career ladder. Moving sideways and developing their skills, and getting involved in other aspects of school life are the alternatives to true career progression

Many technicians are highly qualified scientists whose specialist experiences are not reflected in the job title nor salary. We might enter this role as a career compromise, for a better work-life balance. Many of us have school-aged children and the working hours fit in with family life. While many are not looking for glittering careers, there is poor appreciation of our contribution and expertise. Unsurprisingly, many technicians leave at the first opportunity. There needs to be a better way to recognise our skills, to utilise our full potential and lower the attrition rate.

An image showing chocolate gold coins

Source: © Shutterstock

No, this isn’t the reward for promotion as a technician. It’s one of the odd things teachers have requested of our undercover technician

Unlike teaching, career progression is almost non-existent. There are mainly two roles, technician and senior technician. If like many of us you’re the only tech for science, you’re basically in charge, which is good in some ways, but you have no one to learn from.

The job roles all revolve around managing the practical activities in the science department, from a more hands-on role such as preparing and improving class experiments to a more administrative role such as health and safety, ordering and budgeting. Taking on activities such as science club or STEM careers do not translate to moving up the ladder or pay scale.

There are development opportunities though:

  1. Stay within your discipline and explore new experiments. For example, check out alternatives to make classroom learning more effective or manageable, or that are cheaper or time-effective.
  2. Learn from your colleagues in the other disciplines. Prepare agar plates in biology or work equipment in physics, for example.
  3. Get involved in science clubs. It will give you the challenge of managing students, and planning activities within a session and across a term.
  4. Get involved in career advice and work experience. It will develop your management and interpersonal skills.
  5. Develop your knowledge and skills with courses such as those offered by CLEAPSS, such as on safe handling of chemicals, for our own protection and that of students and teachers.
  6. Visit other schools and technicians. It’s a great opportunity to gain knowledge. If you’re the only science tech at your school, visit a technician whose specialism is different to yours.

The latter two are also important for networking. There’s plenty of value in the chance to meet other technicians, to see how they work and to share advice and tips. 

Want to know what it’s like to be a technician in HE? Read all about Mike’s life as a teaching technical specialist at the University of Manchester.

The weirdest request (so far)

  • To glue 120 cotton wool balls inside 120 empty Yakult bottles. The students had to identify mystery smells, eg coffee or lemon juice from soaked cotton wool inside the bottles. Anticipating that they would fish out the balls, meant gluing them down before charging them with fragrance.
  • Gold. A teacher wanted items to represent elements from the periodic table for a bottom set class. I had to be creative when it came to gold – as the school budget won’t stretch! – so I used the gold foil from chocolate coins. Of course, the best part was eating the chocolate.