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National Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy to support UK research and innovation

8 March 2023

The IOP is partnering a drive to build physics-based skills and fulfil the government’s ambitions to become a science superpower.

A new £5.5m national institute has been launched to ensure the UK has the technical capability and capacity across academia, research, education and innovation to become 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 and will work in partnership with a network of organisations, including the IOP, along with other institutions across UK higher education (HE) and research.

The 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 innovation nation can be delivered.

Technical professionals have a critical role to play across the UK economy, including enabling research and innovation in universities and institutes and building, maintaining and enabling the use of the UK’s research infrastructure.

Despite this, technical roles have experienced a lack of visibility, recognition, and career development. Career pathways and professional development can be poor, and an aging workforce means that large numbers of skilled technicians are retiring.

Dr Kelly Vere, 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 HE, research and innovation, and the growth of the UK economy.”

Louis Barson, Director of Science, Innovation and Skills, IOP, commented: “The IOP was the first official supporter of the Technician Commitment outside of the HE sector and I’m delighted that we are amongst the first partners of ITSS.

“Demand for people with physics skills at all levels is high and growing across the economy. As physics-based technologies become increasingly central to tackling the biggest challenges of our time, from net zero to future transport and healthcare, the need for a vibrant and diverse physics-literate workforce will only increase.

“Co-ordinated action is needed now to equip more people from more backgrounds with the physics-based technical skills that will help solve these challenges and lead them to rewarding careers. We look forward to supporting ITSS, working together to build skills fit for the future.”

The new institute builds on two initiatives which are seen as catalysts for advancing the landscape and culture for the technical community; the Gatsby-funded Technician Commitment, and the TALENT programme, which has begun to address the challenges raised by this commitment.

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 investment 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 to build a strong, connected community through engagement and events.

The full network of partners supporting ITSS are: Gatsby Foundation, Universities UK, Royal Society, Advance HE, NCUB, Science Council, Royal Society of Chemistry, the IOP, Royal Society of Biology, CRAC/Vitae, Technical Managers in Universities (TMU), Midlands Engine, John Innes Centre, University of Warwick, Newcastle University, University of York, Midlands Innovation (Aston University, University of Birmingham, Cranfield University, Keele University, Loughborough University, University of Leicester, University of Warwick), GW4 (University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University, University of Exeter), N8 (University of Liverpool, University of York, University of Leeds, Durham University, University of Sheffield, Lancaster University, University of Manchester, Newcastle University).