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Technicians: Stories from behind the scenes

Published: 23 September 2021

Technicians play a fundamental but often unseen role in our everyday lives.

Discover stories from technicians working behind the scenes to save lives, make energy greener, provide entertainment, create everyday items we couldn’t imagine life without and more. 

Healthcare Laboratory Technicans

Mahmooda Begum, Greta Budreikaite and Anita Pun Magar are technicians in the Blood Sciences department at The Royal London Hospital. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this critical team faced their biggest challenge to date, whilst being required to maintain business as usual.

Front left to right, Anita, Greta and Mahmooda in the Blood Sciences Department at the Royal London Hospital © Science Museum Group
Healthcare laboratory technicians, Anita, Greta and Mahmooda, at The Royal London Hospital.

 

Tell us about your roles

We work in the Blood Sciences department which specialises in biochemistry (exploring the chemical processes within and related to living organisms), haematology (diagnosing and managing blood disorders) and other disciplines. Working alongside other scientists we carry out a wide range of tasks to ensure the lab and its services work efficiently.

Mahmooda: I analyse blood samples, carrying out tests using lab equipment before updating records. If blood is not kept at exactly the right temperature, it can’t be used. So I have to keep a constant eye on the fridges that store the blood bags, checking that the temperature is within the right range. Precision and accuracy is essential for patient results, so I undertake quality control procedures, which include assessing equipment and highlighting when it does not pass quality control measures.

Greta: I work in blood transfusion and am responsible for booking in and processing incoming samples using the lab computer system. I have to decide whether samples are urgent, priority or routine. I also regularly monitor and top up our bloodstock, sort out any problems with our analytical equipment, and freeze and unfreeze specimens, among many other tasks.

Anita: I manage the day-to-day maintenance of point of care testing (POCT) devices. These devices help to provide quick reliable results for rapid diagnosis or treatment in clinics or at the patient’s bedside. There are many different sorts of devices used throughout the hospital, from simple ones used to test glucose in the urine of maternity patients or check blood in A & E for telltale signs of a heart attack, to much more complex ones like the blood gas analysers seen in intensive care.

Accuracy and reliability is critical and my job involves checking these devices daily, making sure that they will continue to work correctly throughout the day. I also have to check that devices are working properly before they get issued to all the different departments and ensure that they are being used correctly. I know that what we do is potentially lifesaving. Without us, patients might get inaccurate results which would lead to them receiving the wrong treatment.

“Our roles rapidly shifted during the pandemic to keep blood gas machines up to standard to meet the demand of monitoring patient oxygen levels.“

How did your day-to-day role change during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our roles rapidly shifted during the pandemic. Many more critical care beds were created, which meant lots of new blood gas machines were needed. But each of those machines had to be ‘verified’, that is checked to make sure they were working properly before they could be used. We were selected to be part of a verification task force. Without this support, intensive care units would not have been able to do what they did for patients.

Anita: The Royal London Hospital converted two floors into dedicated state-of-the-art intensive care units called the Queen Elizabeth Unit. The unit had room for more than 170 beds for critically ill patients. Blood gas analysers were needed urgently as they are essential for COVID-19 patients. They enable rapid monitoring of blood gas status—for instance, how much oxygen blood contains. This information is used to decide if a patient needs oxygen ventilation.

Mahmooda: Normally, the intensive care teams wait to get lab results back before they decide what to do. By having these analytical machines in the intensive care unit (ICU), treatment decisions could be made almost immediately. We don’t normally go on the wards but our new roles meant we had to spend time on intensive care. It felt so surreal seeing critically ill patients. One of the reasons that we were on ICU is we needed to check that both older machines and new ones gave identical results for the same sample.

Greta: We had an extremely short timeframe of three months to verify the machines to be deployed to the wards. We worked tirelessly and communicated so well as a team that we were able to finish in time to help the nurses, doctors, and other health professionals to treat patients as quickly as possible.

What would you say is the best part of your job?

Mahmooda in the Blood Sciences lab © Science Museum Group
Mahmooda in the Blood Sciences lab

Greta: The best part of my job is knowing that I make a difference to numerous people’s lives every day by providing blood test results that lead to diagnosis and treatment. I really like that I am constantly able to learn new things, as professional development is a key part of my role, and I would like to progress my career within scientific research.

Anita: Teamwork is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. Working as a team has such a positive impact on patients’ lives and this gives me a great sense of pride and satisfaction in my work. I’ve learned so much in this role about how to adapt which will aid me in progressing my scientific career and professional development.

Mahmooda: Knowing that I have helped critically ill patients to get better is a motivational driver for me. I also love that every day is different, we’re often faced with high-pressured challenges, and it’s helped me to develop my resilience and keep calm in a crisis.


To find out more about becoming a healthcare technician visit the Technicians Make It Happen website.  
 
Thank you to NHS workers for their dedication to saving lives.  

Wind turbine technicians

Ian Wilson, Tom Baker and Jonathan Marsh are wind turbine technicians for the green energy company Orsted. Their work keeps the turbines spinning to create green energy for residents and businesses across the UK.  

Wind turbine technician working on an offshore wind turbine © Orsted 
Wind turbine technician working on an offshore wind turbine

It’s exhilarating working to fix a problem 100m in the air and knowing that with every wind turbine we fix, we’re helping the planet.” 

Ian, Wind Turbine Technician 

Tell us about your roles

Wind is a renewable energy source that helps to tackle climate change, just a light breeze is needed for the turbine to start generating energy. Our work is critical to the efficient running of the wind turbines as we ensure that they run at maximum capacity and extend their life span.

Ian: As technicians, we carry out regular maintenance and repairs on our offshore wind turbines. We could be changing oil filters in the morning and identifying a fault in the system to bring the turbine back up to working order that afternoon. Our working environments differ as we work at height with various specialist equipment, so part of my job is to ensure the team follow strict procedures to ensure their safety.

Jon and Tom: We also do a lot of retrofit work; this is where we have a team of specialists who monitor the turbines and find improvements that will help to make the turbines safer and more efficient. We then make these recommended improvements, which can sometimes mean rewiring panels and circuits to make it work.

What are some of the most important parts of your jobs?

Jon: Our number one priority is to keep the team safe. There are many inherent dangers involved with working on a wind turbine, these include working at height, with high voltage electricity and in confined spaces. Weather situations are also a risk, this can rapidly change whilst working offshore so we are required to constantly monitor weather conditions from the control room onshore.

Tom: Teamwork is essential. We typically only work in small teams of three or four, and everyone has their part to play. The team is made up of technicians with different skills and backgrounds, which means we get the job done efficiently.

What is your favourite part of being a technician?

Tom: This job is so different to anything I have ever done before. You are working at height with amazing views across the ocean and land. On a nice clear day there is no better place to work.

Ian: The variety of tasks and challenges we may face is one of my favourite aspects of the job. It's also exhilarating working to fix a problem 100m in the air and knowing that with every wind turbine we fix, we are helping the planet.

Jon: I love the sense of adventure being a wind turbine technician brings. We work in remote places and face new challenges every day, from the weather to technical faults we’ve not come across before. Working in renewable energy also makes me feel like I am doing my bit to help make the planet greener for future generations.


To find out about other maintenance and repair technician roles, visit the Technicians Make It Happen website.  

Advanced manufacturing technicians

Rebecca Wright and Bethany Cousins work for the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). The AMRC is a world-leading cluster of centres for research, innovation and training, working with industrial partners such as Boeing and Rolls-Royce. 

Rebecca Wright © University of Sheffield AMRC
Advanced manufacturing technician, Rebecca Wright

It’s easy to have a fixed idea of what a technician is, this job shows that technicians do so much more than people might think .

Rebecca: As an engineering technician, I have a varied role working on different projects, from major aerospace companies to smaller businesses. My main areas of work are using CAD (computer-aided design) systems to create digital drawings and design bespoke fixtures and robotics to help demonstrate our technology. I also update and monitor the health and safety documentation for our machines, play an active role as a mental health champion and support the AMRC’s wider STEM activities.

Bethany: As a project engineer, I get to see the project from planning the activity, working on computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing systems or digital machining, through to on-machine trials, analysis and presenting to customers. A manufacturer will usually come to us with a problem, or something they would like to improve—that can be cost, efficiency, sustainability and much more. The development work gives me the opportunity to develop new techniques with cutting-edge technology and equipment.

What is surprising about your job?

Bethany: The pace of change in technology means my role is constantly evolving. Our focus is the move towards more digital and sustainable manufacturing, and this often involves learning new skills, which is something you never stop doing.

Rebecca: What has surprised me is the responsibility that I have in this role. It’s easy to have a fixed idea of what a technician is, this job shows that technicians do so much more than people might think, we don’t just plug wires into things. I'm currently working on a big visual inspection project for an aerospace company—it is a highly skilled job with lots of responsibility.

Bethany Cousins © University of Sheffield AMRC © University of Sheffield AMRC
Advanced manufacturing technician, Bethany Cousins

What would you say is the best part of your job?

Rebecca: I love the fact that I’m doing something different every day. There’s always something new to learn and I really enjoy the problem-solving side of it, finding new ways of doing things to make things better, greener, cheaper or faster. You’re not limited either, I’m always being encouraged to push myself and upskill.

Bethany: My favourite part of the job is how versatile it is. The projects I get to work on are all exciting, innovative and are making a direct impact to a company and their customers. My apprenticeship allowed me to meet, and learn from, a great network of engineers all at different stages of their careers, specialising in a range of engineering areas who I can reach out to or work alongside to get the best results possible.


To discover more engineering and manufacturing roles, visit the Technicians Make It Happen website. 

Flys Technicians

Sophie Gorrod and Henry Desmond are flys technicians and Lauren Taylor is a flys and automation apprentice for the Royal Opera House. The theatre hosts over 500 performances a year and this technical team brings the shows to life by operating the scenery from backstage.  

Sophie Gorrod, Flys Technician working backstage at Royal Opera House © Royal Opera House
Flys technician, Sophie Gorrod, working backstage at Royal Opera House

 

We get to do fun things, like make the trees grow and the snow fall in Nutcracker, but the audience would never know we’re behind the scenes making it happen.

Tell us about your roles

The term ‘flying’ in theatre refers to anything suspended over the stage, this can range from scenery and lighting to people. We use a fly system (also known as a theatrical rigging system) to move scenery, lighting and anything else which needs to be suspended over the stage for rehearsals and live performances. 

Sophie: Using the fly system, we operate over 100 mechanical bars which are each 24 meters long and able to take a ton of weight. The bars are suspended above the stage and allow us to hoist the curtains, scenery and lights to provide the full theatrical experience during a show. Using an automated system that is pre-programmed, each performance runs precisely so the cast and crew know exactly what is happening and when.  

Henry: We often have multiple shows in one day, so we start by changing over from the previous evening's performance to the show the cast are rehearsing for that morning. Then, we might be setting up for the matinee and then the evening shows. There will be different scenery for different shows, so we bring the current set up down from 37 meters above the stage to 15 meters, which is the height we work at, and then swap the set over.  

Lauren: Alongside operating the fly system, we need to maintain it by finding faults and fixing them. It’s essential that we monitor the mechanics to ensure the safety of the crew, cast and audience. It’s chaotic as there’s always something to fix or improve and even if it’s the same show there could be a different sequence to follow that needs to be checked.  

What is your favourite part of being a technician

Lauren: I love the chaos behind the scenes; no day is the same. The skills I’ve learned are invaluable and there’s a lot of science behind the fly system that really interests me.  

Sophie: The instant job satisfaction is huge as there’s so much we’re in control of, including operation of the system, the safety of the cast and communicating with the stage crew. We also get to do fun things, like make the trees grow and the snow fall in Nutcracker. Even though the audience would never know we’re behind the scenes making it happen, when you finish a big show, the applause feels like it’s for you as well. 

Henry: Being a part of creating the magic that the audience loves never gets old. Most of the things we do make an impact somewhere in the show—from the curtain lift to the small movement of a cloth, to the whole room being lifted out. Seeing school children who have never been to the theatre experience a show is so rewarding, we’re inspiring the next generation. 


To explore more production technician roles, visit the Technicians Make It Happen website. 

Find out more

An interactive gallery dedicated to showcasing the intriguing and diverse world of technicians is opening at the Science Museum in 2022. Find out more about Technicians: The David Sainsbury Gallery.  

To discover more technician stories and to find out how to progress a technical career, visit the Technicians Make It Happen website. 

 

Part of the Science Museum Group