My role as a Named Training and Competency Officer

The Operations Manager in the Institute’s Biological Support Unit (BSU) also fulfils the requirement for a Named Training and Competency Officer (NTCO). The NTCO position is one of the Named Persons roles required by any organisation working under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Based in our animal facility, the NTCO works closely with the other named positions: Named Information Officer, Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS), Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWOs) and the Home Office Liaison Contact as well as our AWERB, research teams and BSU staff members.


What is a Named Training and Competency Officer?

As you might guess from the title, overseeing training provision is the main part of the role but there are lots of different aspects to this. The purpose of the NTCO is to ensure that anyone working with animals is trained and competent to perform that work. I review personal licences to make sure that the applicant has the correct training. These are licences obtained from the Home Office that anyone who will carry out regulated procedures on animals needs to apply for and have granted. Personal licences are valid for five years and then reviewed to ensure they remain relevant.

Our training policy for working with animals requires working under supervision with a trainer, then having an assessor observe and review competency before staff are allowed to work unsupervised. Once our staff are trained, the work doesn’t stop there. Ongoing training takes into account new learning in the field, including the adoption of new techniques that provide welfare gains. All competencies are re-assessed at least once every five years.

The NTCO role involves identifying training needs and also keeping records of training, coordinating training review reminders, and undertaking quality assurance work of the notes submitted by trainers to ensure that full records are captured. Part of my NTCO role has involved working with database developers to make sure that our system captures the different aspects needed for our training records. Home Office inspectors can ask to see training records so it’s important that they capture all training and are up to date.

I’m also involved in making sure that the training is consistent. Training can be delivered by a variety of different trainers, people from our facility, researcher-led training, and people from companies. Despite who the trainer might be, they all need to meet the required standard, be aware of regulations and cover the 3Rs (reduction, refinement and replacement), and incorporate technique refinements.

It's important to formalise this provision so I’m also responsible for writing the site policy for training requirements for anyone working with animals in the BSU.


How did you come to take up this role? What was your career route?

I have held the NTCO role since it was established as a requirement in 2013 (by European Directive 2010/63/EU). At the time I was the manager of the facility’s import unit. The Head of the Facility and the Establishment Licence Holder at the time thought I’d be a good fit for the requirements.

In terms of my career route into animal research. I joined the Institute’s animal facility as a casual member of staff in 1991 when I was in sixth form. I kept it on as a summer job all the way through university, worked as a casual worker after graduation and then became a permanent animal technician not long afterwards.

I’ve really appreciated the training and career development I’ve received and the opportunities I’ve had access to so I get a great deal of satisfaction from supporting others to approach their career and personal development in the same way.


What is involved in your role from day to day? Who else do you work closely with?

I’m pleased to say that the role has become a lot less labour intensive thanks to the development of an improved record system. Alongside my daily role, I probably spend about a day or two a month tracking the training requirements and undertaking associated work. Of course, I’m always on hand to chat to the facility’s animal technicians if they have any questions.

The assessment of the training quality is an important part of the NTCO role. By this I mean that the training doesn’t just cover the practical elements but that the trainees receive the knowledge and understanding that goes alongside those. I’m also involved in revising our training provision to make sure that we keep developing what we’re doing to meet needs and expectations.

There is tight coordination between the NTCO and other named roles. For example, if someone has requested a new procedure, the Named Veterinary Surgeon will assess this procedure for whether it’s the most effective and acceptable method and will also approve individuals as trainers so that they can train others on that procedure. I meet regularly with our Establishment Licence Holder and the other named roles to learn about updates and share perspectives.

As NTCO I am a member of the Institute’s AWERB (animal welfare and ethical review board) so I review animal research applications and report to the AWERB on training matters and I also participate in wider networks for those working with animals in the UK.


What is important to you about your work?

To me, what’s most important about the NTCO role is supporting our ethos: that the animal work performed here is done in a caring environment and making sure that the work is carried out by people who are skilled and empathetic to the animals. The more skilled the person doing the work is, the better the experience for the animal and the result for the science. I think that it’s also important to arm people with a good level of information and understanding. This also becomes important should they take up a trainer role in the future.

I’m proud that there's a learning mentality across the facility. Giving people the background knowledge means that they can identify where things might go wrong and have the right information to know what to do if that happens. We focus a lot on troubleshooting to assess and plan for potential issues.


What are you proudest of achieving at the Institute so far?

In general, I’m proud of working with a good team of people and making a contribution to the Institute’s science. One project I’d especially point to is using the aged mice colony in the Institute’s work on studying the Oxford –AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Another highlight is the move of the facility into the building where we are now, both designing how we wanted the facility to work (for our animals and also our staff) and planning out the migration into the building. 15 years on, it’s still an exemplar of how a facility can run and is helping to shape ideas of how other facilities might operate.

More relevant to my NTCO role, I’m proud of building the training programme over the last decade and a bit. When the NTCO role was first established, it meant rolling out a whole new system of training to people for whom this was a different way of working but they were very receptive, and it was well received.

Looking forward we’ll continue to operate a dynamic programme, constantly developing and reassessing, to meet the demands of our researchers, animal technicians and above all, progressing welfare.