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Using apprenticeships to build a Laboratory Technician Talent Pipeline

Christine Sakhardande, Head of Assessment Services, Science Industry Assessment Service (SIAS)

The The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, which supports the delivery of high-quality technical education which focuses on ensuring appropriate infrastructure is in place has stated:

“Technicians are the linchpins of the UK economy. They are skilled people who use their science, engineering or technology knowledge to identify and solve practical problems ....they are also crucial to the success of many of our country’s future-growth areas, including the aerospace, chemical, digital, engineering and manufacturing industries.”

However, an aging workforce means that 50,000 of our best technicians are retiring every year, and forecasts show we will need as many as 700,000 more technicians in the next decade to meet demand from employers.

Laboratory technicians represent a vital stream of skilled individuals that make up the UK’s technician workforce. And we now need to ensure we are replenishing this critical pipeline. There is now a highly effective solution to all of this – apprenticeships.

This route to developing a new and skilled pipeline to take over from the current generation of employees, has of course, been in place since the Middle Ages.

Apprenticeships are currently enjoying a renaissance, not least because of university fees and worries about too much student debt – together with increased employer demand for hands-on practical skills.

Here at SIAS, the specialist end-point assessment body for apprentices in the STEM-based sector, we are seeing more and more young people who are considering a career in science, seeking a more practical approach to their learning and development. This is matched by an increasing requirement from employers to fill skills gaps in key scientific roles.

Apprenticeships allow the trainee to mix work and study through a combination of on-the-job training with classroom or online learning (or a blend of both types).

And now apprenticeships in England are underpinned by the new style apprenticeship standards which are designed by employers and describe the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) an apprentice will need to develop to undertake a specific job role. 

At the end of their training, apprentices have to complete an end-point assessment (EPA), and this important step determines whether they are competent in the job role for which they have been undertaking the training.

And of course the Government’s reforms to apprenticeship funding means the employers’ with a wage bill over £3 million a year now have to pay an apprenticeship levy of 0.5% . Employers can then recover their contribution to pay for apprenticeship training.

From next year non levy paying employers will only pay 5% towards to the cost of apprenticeship training (currently set at 10%) and Government will pay the rest (95%), up to the funding band maximum for the standard selected.

Please note that apprenticeships are funded differently in the UK’s devolved nations and their respective Government websites will set out more detail.

Using the Laboratory Technician Standard
The Laboratory Technician standard is tailor-made for Laboratory Technicians across all sectors, and provides new, trainee recruits with the core skills, knowledge and behaviours required for the role.

Indeed SIAS is already working with employers who are utilising this standard to train Laboratory Technicians, as it allows them to design a bespoke training plan to give their apprentice the skills they need to do the job in their particular laboratory setting. We have worked in many settings and sectors including:

  • Chemical plants
  • Schools
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • R&D Labs
  • Universities
  • Analytical services
  • Consumer products manufacturing

When it comes to the EPA at SIAS we strongly advise that employers “start with the end in mind” and to ask the question “What is the actual job role I am looking to fill, and how do I work back from there to ensure I get what I need from taking on an apprentice?”

Under the older style apprenticeship frameworks, apprentices were “signed off” at the end of their apprenticeship by their training provider. Now apprentices who are training on these newer apprenticeship standards must undertake this final EPA stage to achieve their apprenticeship.

It essentially certifies, through passing through what is known as the “Gateway” that the apprentice has the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for the job, and confers the Apprenticeship Award on the individual.

Download the LabTech Standard

You can find out more about the range of apprenticeships available on the ‘Employing an apprentice’ page of gov.uk  

For more information about the LabTech Standard and End-Point Assessment contact SIAS on 01925 515 211 or email info@siasuk.com