Winning a Vice-Chancellor’s (VC) Service Excellence Award has thrust the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Scientific and Technical Officers Association (STOA) into the limelight. Winning this honour in their 75th year makes it even more memorable for the team, a skilled group that ensures UCT’s myriad laboratories and technical workshops are efficient, safe and healthy workspaces.
The award is one of two VC’s Service Excellence Awards, the other going to the Disability Service team. These and a host of other academic awards will be made at the annual awards gala evening, to be hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 30 November.
The STOA award marks a special milestone in service excellence: the relaunched and accredited Laboratory and Technical Skills Course. Designed to upskill staff and introduce new knowledge, participants learn modern, everyday laboratory techniques, practical skills, and best practices.
STOA was formed in 1947. The present courses were instituted in 2008, but post-COVID-19, the programme has been given a new lease of life.
One of three nominators, Monique Muller, a laboratory health, safety and infrastructure specialist in the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, said that STOA had “revamped, refreshed, re-initiated and re-energised” the original three Laboratory and Technical Skills Course modules and added a fourth: Basic Fundamentals in Laboratory Health and Safety.
The course now presents these modules:
The proud winners are a large group of 15 members: Dr Dawood Hattas, Shakiera Sattar, Monique Muller, Dr Dalielah Jappie, Neil Bredekamp, Jürgen Geitner, Liesl Phigeland, Tatiana Millard, Marilyn Krige, Bronwyn Arendze-Bailey, Claire Lawrence-Naidoo, Laa-iqa Rylands, Dr Roxanne Mohunlal, Derick September and Dolly Marubelela.
These celebrations of excellence acknowledge “outstanding service by staff who have contributed to the delivery of exceptional and significantly improved services to UCT’s staff and students”. Excellence is one of the three pillars of UCT’s Vision 2030 and its massive transformative purpose: unleashing human potential to create a fair and just society.
There were no winners for the Global Citizen and Transformation awards.
Upskilling and fostering growth
Among those who will benefit from the STOA programme are UCT’s recently insourced Properties and Services Department members.
“Upskilling these individuals means that they are able to apply for entry-level laboratory-based positions.”
“Upskilling these individuals means that they are able to apply for entry-level laboratory-based positions, which fosters growth within the university,” said Sattar, STOA secretary and nominator.
Dr Hattas, the third nominator, added, “The STOA group has a wealth of knowledge it can share with the UCT community. Through this recognition we hope to inspire other groups and individuals to share their knowledge and upskill and empower our colleagues.”
The idea emerged after the COVID-19 pandemic, said Hattas. Reflecting on the impact, he saw the need to unearth potential, specifically among his colleagues. Breathing new life into the laboratory skills programme was one way of doing that.
He was also keen to include an in-service training component to the programme. Successful completion of these courses would mean that graduates could apply for entry-level laboratory assistant positions.
Here Geitner, a STOA fellow executive member, was able to provide invaluable information technology and audio-visual support.
This included creating videos of the laboratory skills course and making these available online as a learning resource for course participants.
“This has had such a positive impact on my career advancement, and of many of my scientific and technical officer colleagues too.”
The revamped programme has worked wonders for unleashing human potential, Hattas said. Citing an extract from the motivation for Faculty of Science accreditation, he added, “This series of courses supports UCT’s transformative purpose as outlined in our Vision 2030 strategy by providing laboratory-specific knowledge and training that has the potential to unleash human potential of untrained PASS [professional, administrative support and service] staff.”
Geitner added, “STOA also improved and streamlined the ad hominem promotion’s framework for scientific and technical officers at UCT. This has had such a positive impact on my career advancement, and of many of my scientific and technical officer colleagues too, as there is now a clear and fair process for career advancement at UCT.”
Building on success
Nominator Muller is no stranger to service excellence. She won the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Service Excellence in 2019.
It was important to recognise the role and importance of STOA’s work, through this programme, she said. STOA also went the extra mile by ensuring all four modules are UCT accredited. Attendees receive an official UCT certificate for each of the modules completed.
“STOA contributed towards uplifting our own UCT members and their families.”
Many attendees are UCT cleaning staff.
“The course not only gives them a better understanding of the laboratory environments, but also gives them an opportunity to successfully apply for departmental assistant or technical positions,” said Muller.
This was evident from testimonials STOA has received, she added.
“By instilling new life into this course series, STOA contributed towards uplifting our own UCT members and their families.”
There is scope for STOA to do even more with other initiatives that impact on South Africa where such knowledge and skills are dearly needed, said Muller.
“This is undoubtedly the first of many such contributions … STOA will bring towards UCT’s [Vision 2030].”
“For me, the lab skills workshops have been one of the most rewarding projects of my career at UCT.”
The award means a lot to the team, said Sattar.
“We are extremely proud of this achievement and grateful to members involved in the extensive planning and outstanding execution of such an impactful series of workshops.”
Sattar said that they plan to run these workshops annually and intend to develop advanced workshops for staff keen to expand their entry-level knowledge.
“We hope this recognition will create awareness about the role STOA plays at UCT and, more importantly, foster enthusiasm among colleagues to become part of UCT’s goal of transformation and upliftment.”
Geitner added, “For me, the lab skills workshops have been one of the most rewarding projects of my career at UCT. Seeing the attendees’ enthusiasm, pride and gratitude to have an opportunity to learn is wonderful.”
There is also joy in receiving letters of appreciation from course attendees who have been successfully appointed to new roles at UCT.
“This really validates our efforts. This feedback, together with the VC award, encourages us to implement further training courses for UCT staff.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Please view the republishing articles page for more information.