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Future of science: Shortage of well-trained lab technicians beckons

To address the shortfall in lab technicians, governments must invest in the talent of the future to gain capability across a range of disciplines.

Bacteriologist taking a bacterial culture from a Petri dish. Image: Tim Sandle
Bacteriologist taking a bacterial culture from a Petri dish. Image: Tim Sandle

The CEO of a U.K. technology training firm has warned of a looming crisis facing laboratories, such as those at the forefront of COVID-19 lateral flow and PCR testing, due to a significant shortage of qualified and skilled laboratory technicians.

The person making this call is Andy Lord, who is the CEO of Manchester based Credersi. His firm is a technology talent training incubator and think tank producing the data scientists, laboratory technicians.

Laboratory technicians are the bedrock of analytical and diagnostic testing, carrying out essential tests for safety in areas like medicine and patient health. Lab technicians will collect samples, study and perform tests on body fluids, teeth, chemical compounds, biological specimens, or other fields of science.

According to Lord, the coronavirus pandemic has already placed a strain on many testing bases, leading many contract test facilities to be at capacity and hence struggling to keep up with demand.

Lord places his observation in the context of Boris Johnson’s typically vague statement, where the Prime Minister declared an aim to “cement the UK’s place as a science superpower”.

For Lord, this goal remains someway off. He notes: “At the moment, there are simply not enough trained and skilled lab technicians across the UK. This is a particularly acute problem within the COVID testing laboratory sector, which is struggling to keep up with the increasing demands on the testing system.  Laboratories are understaffed and some are at crisis point; they simply cannot get enough lab technicians through the doors and into key roles.”

As to what is required, Lord sees the government as needing to play a bigger and more forthright role: “The Government and the Prime Minister need to commit funding from the new Office for Science & Technology Strategy and light the fuses of the tech training providers in the private sector to make technology accessible to all.”

Training is not a one-size-fits all competency. Lord adds that it is essential that the training is of a suitable standard. He states that the government must “ensure that the training they receive is fit for purpose, built by business for business and world-class.”

According to the Institute of Science Technology, which provides a global scheme for the register of laboratory technicians, what is needed in terms of an effective outcome from any training is one that:

  • Showcases the breadth of knowledge and skills
  • Demonstrates commitment to personal and professional development
  • Identifies improvement opportunities and pathways
  • Connects you to professional and support networks

Lord offers examples of high-level training in an immersive way using VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) technologies as a technology first in training campuses.

For Lord: “The more serious longer term issue is not just in providing the training and qualifications, but the innovation behind the tech training courses. More and more lab technicians, for example, will need to bolt on other complimentary skill sets, such as data analytics in lab testing”

This delivers: “A lab technician who is also trained and qualified in key tech skills such as data analytics. This then expands the capability offering of a lab technician who can not only do lab-based testing, but also extrapolate the data sets, investigate and conclude the results.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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