Meet the DTI missionaries

To compete in today's marketplace companies must use the latest technology. This means keeping abreast of developments worldwide. So what's the best way to achieve this? The Department of Trade and Industry believes the answer may be found in its International Technology Service (ITS). Although the service has existed since 1986, its low profile has meant the take-up rate has remained surprisingly low.

ITS works in four ways. It supports short overseas missions by groups of experts; it provides advice and financial support for the overseas secondment of individuals; it provides free information to UK firms from a team of international technology promoters in four key countries; and it conducts database searches through its Global Information on Science and Technology (GIST) service to provide information on the latest developments in science, technology and management practice.

So far, ITS has helped 230 short-term missions and now helps 30 a year. Recent examples include one to South Korea, looking at a scheme to deal with traffic congestion. Another studied timber housing in Japan. Missions are sponsored by bodies such as a professional institution, Business Link, trade association, or a university. ITS not only funds the mission's travel, but also contributes to the sponsoring body's costs in organising the trip, producing a final report, and disseminating the findings.

These are not trade missions. The purpose is to learn and then disseminate the information to other British companies. But because the teams exchange ideas with their overseas hosts, the hosts learn about progress on these technologies in the UK and get a better awareness of Britain's commercial strengths. Mission members often make reciprocal invitations to their hosts during their overseas visits.

There are, however, occasions when international technology promoters see overseas opportunities and do organise trade missions. A deal between a small precision engineering company in Nelson, Lancashire, PDS Engineering, and Nasa arose out of a mission to Houston arranged by Cliff Young, one of three promoters covering the USA. PDS Engineering will promote the space centre's technologies throughout Europe. At the same time a new joint venture, PDS USA, will build projects on site at the Nasa space centre.

Secondments of individuals began in 1997. So far 56 people have been seconded to 23 countries. They can be from any discipline and visit any country for up to 12 months. ITS provides both financial help and advice. This secondment scheme is targeted at firms with up to 2,000 employees. Larger firms can also get practical support, but more limited financial assistance.

Jennifer Stuart, an environmental technologist with Glasgow-based Environmental Reclamation Services Ltd, says of her own secondment: "It is the sort of experience you could never learn from a textbook. We'd identified certain key issues and wanted to improve our ability to bring novel technologies to the environmental contracting market. We already had contacts within the States, including a flimsy agency agreement with MSE, a company that developed the technologies. But we didn't have a close enough contact and found it hard to implement the agreement."

Stuart's secondment enabled her to work with MSE for three months. How has her company benefited? "An improved relationship with MSE. We can now communicate more effectively."

For further information on the ITS, telephone: 0171-215 3884

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Guru Careers: Communications Exec / PR Exec

£25 - £30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a highly-motivated and ambitious Comm...

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral