Technicians are the unsung heroes of the construction industry, applying proven techniques to solve practical problems. They carry responsibility for their own work and often for the work of others. In many areas of the industry where routine inspections and checks are carried out - on highways, railways and flood defences, for example - they are on the front line and expected to spot potential problems and pass on warnings before situations become critical.
Technicians must have an underlying technical knowledge to carry out their work. That is often, but not always, obtained by undertaking a course at a local further-education college. That course could be a full-time, two-year National or Higher National Diploma; a part-time, two-year National or Higher National Certificate day-release course sponsored by an employer; a two-year foundation degree also sponsored by an employer; or one of the new diplomas in construction and the built environment, or engineering, each of which will contain a period of industrial-based experience. These courses differ from degrees in that they contain more practical teaching. Generally, these courses are better suited to students that have good practical skills, or find extensive book learning frustrating.
A lot of employers are keen to recruit potential technicians and will attend school or college career fairs and other exhibitions to try to meet such people. Many are also happy to provide one- or two-week work experience placements for school pupils and college students. These companies will usually keep in touch with anyone who expresses interest in the work and the organisation. Students can also contact an organisation's human resource or training department, but any written communication needs to be clearly laid out and specific to the organisation being approached: this method can often produce a positive reaction, such as an invitation to an interview.
Technicians also need to get experience in the workplace, which is best gained by following a structured development scheme, operated by an employer, which leads towards a competence or skill qualification. That can be an industry-specific qualification of the sort available in the rail or nuclear sectors, or a more transferable qualification awarded by a professional institution. Many employers combine the teaching of theory with a development scheme by offering a Scottish or NVQ, usually at level 3; these can be obtained to support a variety of skills.
Most technicians gain experience and improve their skills over time to become very good senior technicians. If technicians wish to become more technically proficient or wish to progress into management, those qualified with National Diplomas or Certificates can further their education by pursuing other academic courses, such as a Higher National Diploma or Certificate, foundation degree or undergraduate degree. Many also learn on the job by attending short courses, which are often specialised.
Continuing professional development is an essential part of a technician's career. As their career pathway develops there are opportunities to develop and deepen their knowledge and skills through lifelong and work-based learning, as well as approved work-based learning routes that can lead to professional qualifications. The need to be continually learning about new ideas and techniques is essential in today's ever-changing industry.
The technician route is a good one for young people leaving school or college who do not find the idea of further study at university attractive. Training to become a technician could prove to be a more attractive option, particularly as it can offer early entry to the workplace and the option to do further training on the job to degree level and beyond.
Joyce Chia is the senior marketing executive at the Institution of Civil Engineers, www.ice.org.uk