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The University of Cambridge offers many employment opportunities in a range of roles that can help young people develop their skills and aspirations. A new technician development and apprenticeship project highlights some of the opportunities in technical and specialist roles at the University. The University employs thousands of technical staff in a wide range of different areas, from maintenance of scientific lab equipment to site logistics and conservation of historical artefacts. As well as its reputation for world-leading research and teaching, the University aims to recruit to a wide range of technical roles in the University.

The University Technical College (UTC) in Cambridge prepares 14-19 year olds for hands-on, technical and vocational career paths. One of the founding organisations is Cambridge University Health Partners. UTC Cambridge had its first student intake in 2014, and recently twenty-one UTC students were given an opportunity to discover more about apprenticeships and employment options at the University through a visit to the Department of Chemistry.

The UTC students were invited to tour the University Chemistry facilities. Groups of students were shown around many different areas of the department by current technicians and were introduced to many of the vital roles that technicians play within scientific research at the University. Tasks ranged from planning, constructing and maintaining apparatus for chemical reactions, atmospheric studies and biological chemistry to high precision micro-chemistry roles.

Many highly advanced machines are also carefully operated and maintained by specialist technicians within the University departments. Students were shown liquid chromatography, infra-red (IR) spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) devices used to analyse chemicals produced within the department. All of these machines cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and are essential to the research being done at the University of Cambridge.

The UTC students also heard from Amanda Lightstone of the Opening Doors project at the University of Cambridge Museums. The Museums offer a vast array of creative apprenticeship opportunities that encourage students to develop skills across multiple areas within the cultural sector. They have also had great success in producing highly skilled students that go on to other prominent cultural roles in Cambridge and beyond.

A personal perspective on the apprenticeship schemes at the University of Cambridge was offered by Tom Sharp, one of the current apprentices with the Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Physics. He spoke of the support that had been offered to him by his academic colleagues at the Department of Physics and how working with the University had helped to broaden his view of possible future career options and prospects. Speaking of his apprenticeship experience, he commented: “If you prove you can do the job, you can progress up the ladder.”

David Peet, who coordinated the event and is involved in managing the technician development and apprenticeships initiative at the University provided some additional advice to the students on successfully applying for technical positions. He said: “When interviewing for apprentices and technicians, I’m looking for candidates who have a positive attitude to work and will look me in the eye. Staff who are interviewing want to see that interviewees have a good ability to work with a wide range of people of all ages, and that they can be organised and manage their time.”

This visit was well received by UTC students and their teachers. Several students expressed surprise at the number and variety of roles provided by the University and the diversity of working sectors that these covered. They were shown the importance of having a solid educational base and the need for well-developed technical knowledge. The visit also helped to reveal just how much of the latest research advances are entirely dependent upon the diligent and conscientious work of a large number of technicians and apprentices.

Further information on the event including case studies is here