Technicians star in Science Museum gallery

03 November 2022

Technicians and apprentices from the University of Sheffield AMRC and AMRC Training Centre feature in a new national gallery that has opened at the Science Museum, celebrating the vital role technicians play in our everyday lives.

Technicians: The David Sainsbury Gallery opened to the public on Thursday, November 3. The free, interactive gallery has been designed with 11-16-year-olds in mind and seeks to change perceptions of technical careers and inspire tomorrow’s problem-solvers.

It allows young people to go ‘behind the scenes’ with technicians who work in advanced manufacturing, creative industries, health science and renewable energy to explore where they work, hear their inspirational stories and experience what it is like to be a technician.

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) helped bring the innovative gallery to life with large-scale illustrations of technicians and apprentices Rebecca Wright and Charles Oglesby at work; real-world stories from technicians including Bethany Cousins; and bespoke exhibits created with the expertise and support of technical leads David Kay and John Halfpenny. The AMRC and AMRC Training Centre cast stars alongside a stellar line-up of other inspirational technical superheroes from Marvel Studios, the NHS and National Grid.

Rebecca Wright says it is an honour to be part of the gallery. She said: “As a technician at the AMRC, I helped make other people’s jobs easier and less time-consuming, it’s a role that is constantly challenging and where you are forever learning new skills. The gallery is such a fantastic idea because now other people can see what technicians do and understand why our work is so important. 

“It feels amazing to know that others might be inspired by what I do; I hope that young people look at me and realise they can achieve something regardless of what they look like or their background. In some ways it’s overwhelming to think my face is going to be seen by thousands of people in a public gallery but it’s certainly a privilege.”

Visitors can use their skills to practise precision welding and weaving techniques like an AMRC manufacturing technician, control the film set lighting in a recreation of Shuri’s Lab from Marvel Studios’ blockbuster Black Panther, make life saving drugs as an NHS pharmacy technician or diagnose problems as a National Grid wind turbine technician. 

Professor Rab Scott, who is director of industrial digitalisation at the AMRC, attended the launch event at the gallery. He was blown away by what he saw and says it is a fantastic way to capture the imaginations of young people and inspire them to pursue a career as a technician.

He added: “For the AMRC to be alongside the likes of Marvel, the NHS and National Grid is an immense source of pride for us. It speaks to the role that advanced manufacturing plays in everyday lives across the UK.

“Technicians are absolutely key to moving forward. They are the people that take proven techniques and procedures and apply them to big industrial challenges, to improve productivity, to improve sustainability and to help us reach net zero. This gallery really does put a well-deserved spotlight on the vital role our country’s technicians play.” 

Although an estimated 1.5 million technicians currently work in the UK - from archaeological technicians to veterinary nurses - too few young people aspire to be technicians or know about these roles and the pathways to them. However, demand for these skills continues to increase, with 800,000 technicians and apprentices desperately needed across the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) sector. 

The Science Museum says recent research by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation illustrates the need for the gallery and its potential impact, with findings showing that once young people know more about technicians, 71 per cent feel that becoming a technician is achievable. It is hoped the gallery will help address demand for these important roles, providing a one-of-a-kind space for young people to explore 100 different technician roles, discover more about the varied routes into STEM careers and to imagine themselves as technicians. 

Sir Ian Blatchford, director and chief executive of the Science Museum, said: “Technicians are long overdue their time in the spotlight as one of the country’s most vital teams, driving economic growth in an amazing range of sectors. In generating excitement among 11-16-year-olds about technical roles, and challenging out-dated perceptions, this interactive gallery encapsulated our core mission of inspiring futures.

“We are hugely grateful to David Sainsbury and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation for enabling the Science Museum to shine much needed light on these important careers advice and the chance to shape a greener and more diverse economy.”

David Sainsbury said: “The purpose of the Technicians gallery is to tell young people that the country now has, for the first time, a high-quality system of technical education, and to showcase the personally fulfilling and economically critical jobs which this system can enable them to take up.

“It has been made possible by many people, including Sir Ian and his team at the Science Museum, the many industry partners involved and my own team at the Gatsby Foundation. I would like to thank them all for the creativity and enthusiasm they have brought to the project.”

On entering the Technicians gallery, visitors are greeted by a large sculpture: a beautifully crafted kit of parts showcasing the critical tools and equipment technicians need to do their work. As visitors move around the five areas of the gallery, the world of technicians is brought to life through large-scale illustrations featuring technicians in a wide range of workplaces. 

Interactive exhibits invite visitors to experience the work of technicians by completing a variety of tasks that technicians perform, guided by a senior technician mentor. Visitors can also touch objects made and used by technicians, from the safety harness work by technicians high up on a wind turbine, to the prosthetic leg made for a ballet dancer by engineering manufacturing technicians at Imperial College London. 

For more information visit the Science Museum.

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