The Technical Apprenticeship Programme

Editorial by Colin Baines

What the Technical Apprenticeship Programme is all about.

The University of Manchester has a long and distinguished tradition of academic excellence, and an ambitious agenda for the future. There are close links to industry, the public sector and the local community.  The University has three core goals: world-class research; outstanding learning and student experience; and social responsibility. The Technical Apprenticeship Programme seeks to ensure our young learners are educated and trained in order to assist this vision and ensure we meet our strategic targets.

The Apprenticeship’s training provider is based at Trafford College in Stretford, Manchester. Following a competitive selection process, Trafford Centre for Science and Technology was chosen from six alternative providers, prior to our first intake in September 2013. The young learners study a bespoke programme of key functional skills and work towards additional units of study which are specific to their skills and the Faculties’ strategic future requirements.

We have an annual intake of apprentices each September, selecting from around a hundred local, Greater Manchester applicants. Following internal shortlisting by a University wide technical management team, the top twenty-five candidates are invited to a selection day, where we assess their ability to work independently, within teams and discuss individual career thoughts and aspirations.

We operate two main streams: Improving Operational Performance; Laboratory and Science Technicians. All new apprentices are initially offered a four year fixed term contract and work towards a BTEC Level 2/3 Diploma whilst studying a Level 2/3 NVQ depending on their chosen route. After successful completion, a consolidation year is built into the timetable allowing preparation for HNC/D including, employability skills such as report writing, interview practice and feedback, presentation and project management skills, further Maths and English.

Why the Apprenticeship programme was established.

The University of Manchester Technical Apprenticeship Programme in Engineering Operations and Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities was created to help solve the future demand for skilled technical staff across the University by granting young local people entry to employment via well thought out and structured training positions.

The technical workforce is largely over 50 years of age and we estimate nine percent will retire annually from this 800 strong pool. The programme is expected to encourage apprentices to develop their careers over time and become analytical scientist/support staff, senior experimental officers, laboratory technicians, technical service managers or project managers, replacing some of the outgoing staff.

Since the Apprenticeship programme began in 2013, thirteen apprentices have secured permanent positions within the University indicating the success of the programmed activities and the quality of education and training received.

The wider community need.

The time and money spent training apprentices yields several benefits including being able to train and educate young people within the culture of the organisation, fulfilling aspects of the University’s social responsibility and in the later training years, the apprentices contribute to the business whilst still acquiring useful skills and competencies.

The Apprenticeship Management Team works in close collaboration with the training provider, Trafford College and the staff training and development team at University of Manchester to enhance the apprenticeship programmes with ‘add-on’ courses that are directly applicable to the apprentices, their professional development and the future technical strategy. The Apprentice Management Team regularly visit apprentices in college to see them in action, monitor their academic progress and maintain personal links with Trafford College. Pastoral care is on hand for advice on anything, recognising apprentices are older teenagers/young adults who need to cope with life challenges.

In addition, the Apprenticeship Management Team seeks further opportunities whenever they are available, for example the Halle Orchestra ‘design a musical instrument’ project. This venture is on-going with a new instrument being designed, delivered and used by the orchestra each year for the next 5 years. The Halle uses these instruments in their outreach programme, reaching out to disadvantaged youngsters, prisoners and the disabled. The programme aims to source well-funded, unusual, discipline crossing projects for the apprentices allowing experiences beyond normal training patterns.

The Apprenticeship Management Team intends to work more closely with schools in the Greater Manchester area to raise the profile of this apprenticeship programme with school leavers and increase the number of applicants to the annual intake of new apprentices.

Deserved Recognition

The Technical Apprenticeship programme is a relatively new apprenticeship in the UK but has already evolved considerably. Generated from the ground up by technical managers across the University the original intention to provide a world class, cutting edge programme is well on-track. The Apprenticeship Management Team manages the apprenticeship programme in accordance with national apprenticeship standards, with approved training providers. The programme is adjusted in response to the apprentices’ feedback and achievements, and also to sector demands. Earlier this year the Technical Apprenticeship Programme achieved recognition when it was awarded the Apprenticeships 4 England Bronze award.


Academic Perspective: Dr Natalie Gardiner

Director of Social Responsibility, School of Medical Science
Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

I started work at the University back in 2002 as a postdoctoral research associate with David Tomlinson, Charles Streuli and Paul Fernyhough and have been here ever since. My research and academic life has made much easier due to the support and input from many of the technical staff across the faculty and university.

The expertise of dedicated staff in the University’s BSF facility, advice on health and safety, help with lab inductions, training me how to use new lab techniques and the experimental support from talented research technicians has been invaluable. Teaching undergraduate lab classes or running school engagement activities is much less daunting knowing you have the support of the great team in the teaching labs. Their careful preparation and efficiency ensures these busy days run smoothly.

In my role as Director for Social Responsibility in the School of Medical Sciences I am keen to increase our connections with our neighbouring schools and communities and to highlight the critical role that our technical staff play in all aspects of the University – teaching, research and operations.

Recently, I arranged a visit of a team of technical staff to talk to a group of Yr12/13 students at Trinity High School, which was very well-received by the teachers and students. The students greatly enjoyed the opportunity to hear directly from University staff about the variety of roles at the university, hearing directly about their jobs and personal career pathways was inspirational. Student comments included “I liked having the apprenticeship program explained to me, because I didn’t know about it”, “It was good to hear your journeys and what you have done to get to where you are now in your careers” and “it was reassuring to hear the range of options that BTEC qualifications can give you to get into uni“.  I think the University staff enjoyed the experience too! – if anyone would like to volunteer to take part in similar future events please do let me know.


Technical Staff Profile: Nicola Steel

Deputy Technical Manager 
Stopford Undergraduate Teaching, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Describe your work area and its importance.

Stopford Undergraduate teaching has over 1000 students in each year. Our obligation to ensure our undergraduate students are the best trained in the country is at the forefront of what we deliver. The student experience is paramount so there are no second chances – everything must be perfect first time!

Teaching has expanded into the vacation period with the introduction of International Summer Schools and a Norwegian Winter School. These are hugely successful and growing in numbers each year.

Teaching is fully committed to the University of Manchester Apprenticeship Programme where we help in the training of the Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technicians. This is done throughout the year where apprentices are rotated into teaching to gain technical skills. In addition to that support we offer training at our ‘NVQ bootcamp’ during the summer.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

There is no typical day in Teaching. While the timetable is set very much in stone my time is spent doing everything from the ground up which also includes the nurturing and training of our University of Manchester Apprentices and much more!

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

I came to the University in July 1997 with only basic qualifications (Maths and English GCSE). My first post as a Laboratory Assistant was in the division of Cells, Immunology and Development. This is where my love of science grew. I was lucky to work with those who could see my passion and potential and I started a Btec in Applied Science (Chemistry) on day release after completing a CVQ with the Institute of Science Technology. I went on to study HNC Biology and was the first ever cohort to graduate with a HNC Biology from North Trafford College!

One of the high points for me during my career was the first time I was author on a research paper. The sense of achievement and recognition for my work was the best feeling ever.

My qualifications and experience opened the door to apply for a Laboratory Technician post in the Undergraduate Teaching Labs in 2003 where I have since progressed to Deputy Technical Manager.

I am currently Pastoral Care Manager for the University of Manchester Apprenticeship Programme and one of 3 people who make up the Apprenticeship Operations Management Team.

What drives you?

I am driven by my love of science, people and the determination to deliver the highest quality in both areas of work – Stopford Undergraduate Teaching and the University of Manchester Apprenticeship Programme.

Tell us a funny story, work-related or not:

When I came for my interview in Teaching, the panel was made up of the Chief Technician, Senior Technician and a member of the technical teaching staff.  The member of teaching staff on the panel was Anthony Steel. Out of the 3 staff on the panel – I was Anthony’s least favourite and he was not convinced that I was the right person for the job. 14 years later I have gone from strength to strength, adapted to the ever changing structure of our faculty, teaching, increase in student numbers, changes in technology and also got married! – to Anthony Steel!

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

You are never too old to learn!



Technical Staff Profile: Anthony Steel

Technical Manager for Stopford Undergraduate Teaching
Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Describe your work area and its importance.

As a University we have a huge obligation to ensure our Undergraduate students are amongst the best trained in the country. With over 1000 students in each year we have a lot of work to do! There are no second chances in teaching as the time table is set from the start of the semester. Classes must be out on time, reagents must be perfect first time, and equipment must be working first time. The student experience is first and foremost in everyone’s mind.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

There is no typical day! We cover so many different disciplines, all of which require different techniques, equipment that every day must be different as a default. We cover medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, pharmacology and microbiology to name but a few, if it’s a Life Science we cover it. Every year technology and techniques move on, which keeps things exciting, this year we have run a CRISPR class which is still a pretty new technique and I think it’s wonderful that our undergraduates are already on a path to mastering cutting edge science.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

I started as a part time Technical Assistant in 1997 and I knew within the first two weeks that I would like to stay and work here for as long as possible. The atmosphere was fantastic and I had never seen labs so big and well equipped. A few years later we bought a 16 computers (a huge amount for the time) to run our electro-physiology classes, I always had an aptitude for working on computers but decided it was time to attend night school to train as an I.T. technician to carve myself a niche looking after this new kit. It was after this that I became a full time technician and if I ever had a low in my career it was saying good bye to the 15 weeks off in summer I used to have! On the flip side I had a full time job, which was great. My next move was to start a HNC in applied Biology so that I could develop a deeper understanding of my area as a whole; biology has always been my favourite subject so it wasn’t a difficult choice to make.

The next logical step was to attend management courses (ILM, interview techniques etc.) and H&S courses. I had now been working at the University for 10+ years and became the Deputy to the Senior Technician (today’s equivalent of a Technical Manager).

I am currently working as a Technical Manager but still feel I have a lot to learn, thankfully I have a job where learning is essential to the role.



Technical Staff Profile: Kara Simpson

Trainee Research Technician
School of Medical Sciences, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Gastroenterology

Describe your work area and its importance.

I am a technician for the Piper-Hanley Research Group. The group focuses their research on fibrosis mainly in the liver.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

On a typical day I send a lot of time conducting immunohistochemistry stains using different antibodies and polymer kits to identify where different antibodies are in relation to different forms of scarring.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

From finishing high school I went on to study Alevels ( Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Psychology). From the second week of my biology course the teacher told me I was going to fail the year… This comment was then repeated multiple times throughout the year. So I put all of my effort into my biology revision and none of the other subjects. Subsequently my grades in the other subjects began to slip and I went on to fail 3 of the 4 subjects at the end of the year (Biology was one that I failed). This meant that I could not enrol onto the second year.
The day after I got my results I applied for the Laboratory Technical Apprenticeship Scheme at the University and was one of 6 successful candidates. Over the last two years I have been on rotations around different parts of the university varying from 3 month placements to 6 months. At the end of my second year I applied for my current post in the Piper-Hanley Research Group and was successfully appointed due to the experience I gained whilst on the scheme. This is currently my third year at the university. And most importantly I am working in a biology environment. A career path with didn’t seem possible three years ago.

What drives you?

The motivation to push myself and improve both my knowledge and my skills to further my career.

Tell us a funny story, work-related or not:

I don’t have any…

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

Don’t Give Up




Technical Staff Profile: Harry Wardle

Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technician
Faculty of Science & Engineering

Describe your work area and its importance.

The main aim(s) of the apprenticeship is to provide an apprentice with a transferable skills set that will afford the opportunity to develop a rewarding career as a specialist laboratory support technician, upon successful completion of the apprenticeship program.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

Everything form the ground up! As an apprentice I rotate 3-4 times a year around different labs and disciplines to gain a broad skill set. I am provided with instruction, information and training from senior laboratory staff and managers, so that I am able to independently and competently undertake many key chemical procedures, and prepare a broad-range of geological and biological materials used in both teaching and research, within the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Life Sciences and Faculty of Humanities. So as you can se, my job varies from day to day, month to month.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

After leaving school I studied A ‘levels. During my first year of A ‘levels I applied for an Apprenticeship in Engineering at the University of Manchester. My application was successful and I started Trafford College in Sept 2015 where I studied a level 2 Btec in Mechanical engineering. During my second year on the apprenticeship programme I moved into the workshop on campus where I realised that Engineering was not for me so I applied to be transferred onto the Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technician programme. I was able to do this because I had good Biology and Chemistry GCSE’s and AS Levels.

I am currently studying at Level 3 Btec in Chemistry on day release while I rotate through different labs to gain some practical experience.

Low point – realising I was on the wrong career path

High point – being given the opportunity to switch from Engineering to Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technician


Technical Achievements

Yvonne Duxbury, Sally Ashe and Loris Doyle passed the IOSH course this year, congratulations!

Green Technicians team (Green Impact) Gemma Chapman, Patricia Turnbull, Shahla Khan and Roy Kershaw won a bronze lab award for Lab B23. Well done!

Clare McManus from CRUK Manchester Institute has won the Proteintech Group Best Lab Manager Award 2017, Clare was  the only UK nomination to make it into the top 5 selected for the voting! Fantastic achievement!





Optometry Technician praised for ‘playing’ with Lego!

Dr Andy Gridley, Optometry Lecturer and Lead for Clinical Teaching in the Division of Pharmacy and Optometry and Optometry Technician, Stephen Craig, have been recognised by Optometry Today for their innovative use of Lego in teaching their year 2 Optometry students.  Selina Powell, columnist for the award winning monthly journal wrote:

May the fundus be with you

In an optometry class far, far away a shared passion for Lego has seen students learn with a slit lamp constructed from a Millennium Falcon Star Wars kit

Manchester University lecturer, Andrew Gridley, was inspired to help students learn about the slit lamp with the aid of Lego after attending a Higher Education Academy Conference in July.

“A couple of academics from Salford University ran a Crystal Maze-style session where one of the challenges was to build something out of Lego. I thought this is brilliant. I started thinking about how I could do this in my teaching,” Mr Gridley told OT.

After coming up with the idea of creating a slit lamp from the blocks, optometry technician and fellow Lego enthusiast, Stephen Craig, was on hand to see the project through to fruition.

“His work has been incredible,” Mr Gridley added. “I had the idea but he is the one who made the final design and sourced all of the pieces.”

The initial slit lamp prototype was created with a Millennium Falcon Star Wars Lego kit. After the pair worked out which pieces were required for the design, they sourced enough blocks online to create 10 slit lamps.

The course of 100 students were split into groups and tasked with building the model ophthalmic instruments.

“When they are finished, they hopefully have a bit of an idea about the different elements of the slit lamp. There is an observation system, an illumination system and a base unit. It is quite hard to describe those to students without having something physical in front of them,” Mr Gridley explained. The models are able to move forwards and backwards, side-to-side and pivot from a point like a real slit lamp.

Optometry student, Tamara Hasan, told OT that she thought building the Lego slit lamp was a great teamwork exercise.

The activity also helped with visualising different components of the equipment, she observed. “The fact that it was original and hands on made it more memorable,” Ms Hasan added.

Image credit: Andrew Gridley


TEaM celebrates Technical Excellence at Manchester

Nearly 200 technical staff gathered together on Tuesday 12th December to celebrate TEaM (Technical Excellence at Manchester).  Created by technical staff, for technical staff, the group aims to raise their profile across campus, ensure their contributions to the University are recognised, and empower them to develop their careers.

The event featured presentations from Dr Elaine Bignell ‘breaking the mould’ and Dr Emily Grossman ‘Too sensitive for STEM’ both were very interesting.

The event also featured a feedback and interactive session based on the recent Technical Excellence at Manchester workshops, this provided a fantastic opportunity to discuss ideas and provide additional feedback to help shape the future of TEaM.

There were also technical stands showcasing the work of brilliant technicians across the University, from Histology to Geography, as well as stand for Manchester University Apprentices.