1. In the context of another wave of reform of technical education in England, this study set out to enhance understanding of the roles carried out by IT technicians, and the quali cations and training routes that prepare them for these roles.This was an in-depth exploratory study that was carried out in two stages. It consisted of documentary research and semi-structured interviews with sector-level bodies (Stage 1), and semi-structured interviews with employers, FE colleges, private providers, and apprentices (Stage 2).
2. Most of our study participants, notably employers and training providers, associated the term IT ‘technician’ with somebody carrying out relatively low-level support tasks, such as helpdesk or rst-line support.This is in line with popular understanding of the role of technicians. However, following the de nition of the BCSTechnician Standard as someone,‘who applies their technical knowledge and skills in an IT work environment with con dent competence’ (BCS, 2016), we found that technicians carry out a large variety of roles, potentially across all levels of the work organisation. While the focus of a technician role is applying technical knowledge, their roles may include elements of managerial and/or strategic responsibilities.
3. Technician roles at Small and Medium-Sized companies (SMEs) are generally broader than at large employers. At SMEs, technicians typically perform a range of activities, with high levels of autonomy and responsibility. An important requirement voiced by our SME participants was that technicians needed to be ‘flexible’ and able to ‘stand in for each other’. While roles at large companies are more specialised and clearly delineated, these employers also appear to value a broad skills base, which may be achieved by rotating trainees/apprentices to different business areas. However, while technician roles within SMEs may involve a wide variety of tasks, these companies tend to be highly specialised, focusing on particular products.As a consequence,technicians in SMEs are required to have broad skill sets alongside certain specialisms.
4. Job titles in IT are fluid, and across different organisations the same title may refer to different sets of tasks. Particularly at SMEs, roles that are labelled IT support may extend well beyond the support function, which in turn may be subsumed by a broader role. New entrants, regardless of their level of qualification, tend to start in support roles as a way of inducting them into the company and/or in order to identify their strengths, with a view towards progression to a more specialist area.
5. IT technicians tend to specialise as they progress. New entrants typically start in a generic support role (e.g. requiring an understanding of infrastructure and networking) and develop certain specialisms (e.g. in a particular product), moving up the organisational hierarchy (e.g. from first- to third-line support). Specialisation develops through a combination of experience and taking additional (vendor1) qualifications.