One of the most varied roles in any college is that of technician. It is a job I have been fortunate to do for the past 55 years – my entire working life – and one that still motivates me to cycle six miles into college and six miles back each working day.
Supporting the college’s lecturers with teaching and learning in construction and civil engineering is as fulfilling and enjoyable as ever. Practical learning has always been at the heart of training students and apprentices for their future careers in the construction industry, so as a technician the contribution you are making is very direct.
Every brickwork model built by the students has to be set up and taken down by a member of the technician team. Over the years, I must have knocked down a million bricks from the models that students have built! The importance of practical work within our curriculum area creates a strong sense of teamwork between the lecturing staff and technicians. We are all here for the same purpose, and my colleagues are definitely one of the best things about the job.
Working as a technician is far more varied and interesting than you might at first think. I certainly had no idea of the breadth of work I was signing up for when I came here for a job interview soon after finishing my O Levels in the summer of 1968. Technicians get asked to help with anything and everything to support the smooth running of the department, but we are also experts in our field.
Working in the brickwork workshop, the area of I came to specialise in was materials testing. Up until the early 2000s, the college had a materials testing service and local building contractors came to us to have concrete cubes, bricks and other building materials certified. I was responsible for running the testing service for many years and I enjoyed working with employers from the local construction firms. Whenever I walk around the centre of Norwich, I can see numerous buildings I certified the building materials for.
The more varied aspects of the technician role have included things like helping with trips to construction sites, providing classroom support with teaching and assessments, driving the college minibus and lending a hand with the enrolment of students. In the days before electronic records, one of the small but crucial jobs at the start of each new academic year was to replace the nibs of the ink pens that students used to fill out their enrolment cards.
The biggest change during my career has undoubtedly been the introduction of computer technology and the central role it now occupies in every area of the curriculum and every part of working life. When the college opened a new Advanced Construction and Engineering Centre last year, the construction lab was designed to integrate practical and digital skills in the same space.
On one side of the workshop, students make and test concrete samples and carry out hydraulics experiments using a water flume; in the same space they have access to interactive whiteboards and desks that a bank of laptops can be plugged into. Today’s students can move easily between carrying out experiments, recording the results and then presenting and discussing their conclusions.
The contribution you are able to make as a technician can be brought home in unexpected ways. A few weeks ago, I was doing the shopping at a local supermarket. A chap came up to me, introduced himself and asked to shake my hand. He was a student from many years ago, on an HNC in construction, and he remembered me. He thanked me for all I’d done in the past, for helping him to get into the position that he is in now as a chief engineer at one of the local airbases.
It is moments like this that remind me that us technicians – often working away ‘behind the scenes’ in colleges – can and do make a very real difference for our students.