More science technicians needed in NZ – report

New Zealand needs more science technicians, with employers finding it difficult to find staff with more practical skills, the Royal Society says.

The society is encouraging people to consider going straight into training as a technician rather than spending years working towards being a scientist.

The Royal Society’s expert panel report said the practical skills employers were looking for in technicians were now seriously lacking.

Panel chair Jim Johnston said in some cases people applying for science technician jobs were vastly over-qualified for the job, with masters or even PhD degrees, but they still needed to be given extensive on-the-job training once employed.

“The bachelor degree is a more generic qualification,” Professor Johnston said.

“Whereas the science technician roles are quite specialised and very diverse.

“There are a lot more aspects to the science technician role and many of those aren’t covered to the depth required. So employers have to take that person and actually then train them.”

He said the career advice has to change, along with the perception that a university degree was needed to work in science.

Other qualifications suitable for those who like hands on approach

Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology Forestry and Resource Management head Linton Winder said schools and parents needed to get away from the idea that a degree was the only way to get a decent job.

“Other qualifications are available,” Mr Winder said.

“And those qualification are often really suitable for people who like practical or applied roles. Diplomas are often six months or a year, so if you really want to get into the workforce they are a really good option compared to degrees which are often four years.”

The expert panel has suggested a two-fold approach to improve the situation.

It wants the polytechnic sector to set up a national network offering science technician training, focusing on the Level 6 Diploma in Applied Science qualification.

It also wants the degree system improved as a pathway into working as a technician. It would like university courses to include a core requirement for basics of laboratory practice, and/or the introduction of a minor in laboratory practice within the degree programme.