This cohort is now over 1,800 people strong and serves as a significant national asset in its own right. These highly skilled staff are a major contributor to the effectiveness of Australian national research infrastructure. It should also be noted that these 1800 specialists support around 65,000 Australian researchers.
The critical role of the national research infrastructure expert workforce has been appropriately acknowledged in the 2021 NRI Roadmap. The need for better recognition of the importance of these research infrastructure specialists is essential if we are to continue to attract, retain and reward the talent required to maximise our national research infrastructure system.
These Research Infrastructure Specialists (RIS) are frequently employed within the university system and are therefore, under the institution’s Enterprise Agreement, either classified as Professional or Academic staff members. While this can sometimes be appropriate for some staff, more often neither classification is a good match. The nature of RIS job roles and responsibilities often do not correlate well to the performance measures applied in the university Professional and Academic streams, resulting in a failure to recognise and reward RIS staff and provide appropriate career development opportunities.
In a Position Paper prepared by a working group of NCRIS Directors, they propose the creation of a new, simple, and fit-for-purpose classification for RIS roles in higher education. This would be similar to the current academic scales, with the possibility for staff to pursue promotion without the need for a job reclassification or a substantial change in core duties. The KPIs for promotion should be tailored to the specific responsibilities and development pathways for RISs.
Signed by 22 NCRIS Projects, the Position Paper sets out the supporting arguments and presents case studies and overseas examples of ways that some institutions are currently tackling this issue. “NCRIS projects, like Microscopy Australia, are dependent on our highly knowledgeable staff to support world class research and innovation. We look forward to future discussions and to developing solutions that recognise the contributions by our expert research infrastructure specialists”, said Dr Lisa Yen, Microscopy Australia’s Chief Operating Officer and a member of the NCRIS working group.
The Position Paper will provide a strong basis from which to advance conversations with NCRIS, the university sector, representative bodies and lobby groups to bring about positive change.