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    Inaugural Technicians' Conference at Harper Adams University celebrates technical excellence

    28 February 2024

    An inaugural Technicians' Conference #HAUTechsConf23 at Harper Adams has been hailed a milestone event celebrating the vital contributions of technical staff in higher education and research institutions.

    The conference, which had been in the making for several years, finally came to fruition following previous setbacks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Amongst many milestones achieved by our fantastic technical community across the institution, we recently celebrated the six-year milestone since our Elizabeth Creak laboratories were taught in for the first time, before their official opening in June 2017.

    We spoke to Laboratory Manager, Dr Victoria Talbot who was the lead organiser of the conference, in light of these milestones, about the success and importance of recognising our Technical Community.

    "We’ve organised this as part of our pledge under the Technician Commitment which we signed up to in 2017. In fact, we’ve been trying to organise one for some time and this was our third attempt to get it off the ground! The first two attempts were thwarted by Covid and so this year we really wanted to make sure it happened.”

    “The Technician Commitment is a collaborative initiative led by a steering board of sector bodies, initially with support from the Science Council and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and now has its home in the UK Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy. It has grown to encompass more than 110 signatory and supporter organisations.


    “It works to champion technicians – a group of staff which is typically overlooked - and their contributions to higher education and research, by asking institutions to pledge action on improvements in four key areas: visibility, recognition, career development, and sustainability of technical roles, skills and careers across all disciplines.

    "Having this conference has been key to promoting all of these four key areas, as well as playing a part in fulfilling some of Harper’s goals for our 2030 vision of being an inclusive and connected community of people.”

    The event welcomed not only technical staff but also all members of the university community, including staff from academic and professional services areas and visiting technical staff from the Harper Keele Vet School and Keele University. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Lee gave the welcoming address and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ken Sloan closed the morning session.

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    “The event helped people to meet up with each other – some for the first time – and helped to put names to faces. Part of the programme involved facility managers introducing themselves and their teams so that everyone could see who each other was. I think that was really helpful, especially since the pandemic, and very important in helping to build our technical community.”

    The conference programme featured a session on STEM outreach activities in local schools led by Senior Technician and Laboratories Outreach Officer, Jane Cooper and Tom Leigh, who is a Teaching Assistant and the University’s Biological Safety Officer.

    We also heard from Kirsty Flint, Senior Technician who spoke about her experience of completing a degree apprenticeship and her application of business improvement tools in the management of some of our laboratory processes.

    The rest of the programme featured TECHx talks and ice breaker activities with our Interim Companion Animal House Manager, Fred Baker and a panel of technicians, where they shared insights into their roles, experiences, and aspirations for the future, before heading to engaging breakout sessions, including interactive tours of the pig unit and decoration-making fun using an acid-etching technique in the laboratories.

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    “The TECHx talks with Fred chatting to technicians about how we became technicians, what we enjoy about our roles and our hopes for the future were just fantastic and we will be looking to use some of the information gained from that to feed into plans for technician career and development.”

    Victoria and the wider Technical Community are itching to get started on the next conference, following the positive response from participants.

    “The feedback was really positive. Lots of people on the day said that they had really enjoyed it, both the talks and the breakout sessions; everyone said they had lots of fun and we all truly celebrated technicians by raising a toast at the end of the day with glasses of fizz.

    “Now that we’ve done the first one, the next should be easier (I hope!). We’ve had suggestions for topics for the next conference and a couple of staff have said they would be happy to deliver a session.

    “I hope too that we will have more suppliers keen to sponsor the event – I am thinking that it would be good to see if we could generate a surplus next time which we can feed back into technician training and development and maybe have some industry-sponsored technician awards as well.”

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    The inaugural Technicians' Conference at Harper Adams University not only celebrated technical excellence but also served as a testament to the university's commitment to fostering a vibrant and supportive technical community.



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