The technicians’ Blue Book

I am relatively new to the university technical profession, having been in my current role for only five years. So, when I hear technicians talk about the ‘Blue Book’ I have only a vague understanding of what it means. Typing “Blue Book” into Google leaves me none the wiser so I have started a very brief history of the Blue Book. I would love to hear from anyone with more information.

The Blue book or Manual on Implementation

After the Second World War technicians became an increasing part of universities as their university research activity expanded. As universities became large scale organisations they developed what all such organisations do, a complex promotions system. The Blue Book was an attempt to formalise that system for technicians. It seems to have been mostly forgotten about now but I have heard other technicians say that its effects are still present in the promotion system for university technicians.

The Blue Book, or more properly the “Manual on the Job Evaluation Grading Scheme for Universities’ Technical Staff Structure” was introduced in the early 1970s as a result of:

“An agreement made in July 1969 between the Universities’ Committee on Technicial Staffs and the Association of Scientific Technical and Managerial Staffs, the National Union of Public employes and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers provided for an enquiry by the Manpower and Productivity Service (MPS) of the Department of Employment into the pay, grading and conditions of work of university technical staffs.”

It included nine job factors (Education, Experience, Supervision Received, Supervision Given, Relationships, Work Complexity, Accuracy & Dependability, Mental Strain, and Hazards) each broken down into levels on which the grade (from A to I) of any job description could be judged. Unfortunately, the Blue Book set out a promotions structure premised on taking supervisory responsibilities and increased administrative skills rather than technical proficiency.

cover

Most research technicians started out on a ‘career’ Grade D which could move up to E or F if the role was more specialised / complex. The higher grades (G, H, and I) were reserved for management level roles. The reality seems to have been that most technicians were squeezed into the middle grades with few opportunities for technicians to take on administrative or supervisory roles and so get promoted. This left a stagnant workforce of middle grade technicians with little opportunity for promotion. Universities also failed to employ young trainees at the lower grades resulting in our present position of having an aging technical workforce.

It seems unlikely that there will be a new version of the Blue Book but hopefully the Technicians Commitment will lead to a fairer system for technical promotion – whatever that looks like.

References & Acknowledgments

A big thank you to Mel Leitch from the University of Newcastle for sending me a copy of his Manual on Implementation. This was a great source of information Blue Book [PDF].

I have also used this piece from a HEFCE report (see below). However, if you have any more information, please let me know.

Highly Skilled Technicians In Higher Education [PDF], A report to HEFCE by Evidence Ltd, September 2004.

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