A technical support person is responsible for supporting computer users with any technical issues. They aim to resolve any hardware or software problems, either over the phone or in person.
They may provide in-house technical support for a company, or work on a client telephone help desk or at a high street retailer, providing after-sales support and advice.
Depending on the environment they are working in, a technical support person may be referred to as a help desk operator, analyst, engineer or technician, as first or second line support, or as PC technical or field support. The job is similar in each case.
Technical support can vary from answering basic enquiries, such as someone forgetting a username or password, through to more complex technical issues such as dealing with a virus or a system failure. Tasks may include:
Technical support people work between 37 and 40 hours a week. They are likely to work a shift pattern to give 24-hour support, particularly the core business hours of 9am to 5pm. Weekend and evening work is common. It may be possible to work part time.
They may work in a retail outlet or in an office. A telephone technical support person is likely to work in a busy open plan office, sitting at a work station with a monitor.
The work may involve carrying equipment, sitting, standing and moving to different workstations to provide support. A driving licence is often required for non-office- based staff. The dress code is likely to be smart casual. In a retail outlet the employer may provide a uniform.
The average starting salary may be between £13,500 and £15,500 a year. With experience, staff may earn about £20,000 a year.
The IT industry is a rapidly expanding global marketplace. There are around 68,000 people employed in technical support in the UK, across all industry sectors, from finance, retail and IT consultancies to public organisations and local government. There are job opportunities with large and small businesses.
Currently there is an increase in the number of companies that are outsourcing their technical support services. These businesses are turning to IT companies that specialise in providing an external service and can supply the relevant staff.
Jobs are advertised in trade publications such as Computer Weekly and Computing. These publications also have vacancy website's such as (www.computerweekly.com. Local and national press also advertise positions. Recruitment agencies are another way of finding job opportunities.
There are no set entry requirements for technical support staff but employers would expect sound technical knowledge. Some staff will be educated to degree level. There is a range of qualifications which provide a good grounding in IT, including:
BTEC National Diploma in computer studies or IT. Applicants typically need four GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications and courses normally last two years full time.
BTEC Higher National Diplomas (HND's). Colleges normally ask for one A level and four GCSE's (A*-C) or a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in a relevant subject. Courses can be full time or part time.
Degrees in IT, computing, programming, software engineering and other subjects. Applicants need at least two A levels or equivalent qualifications.
Some universities offer sandwich courses, with a year's work experience. Degree courses usually last three years full time or four years for sandwich courses.
BSc information technology management for business (ITMB). This degree is offered at 13 universities across England. The course combines IT with business and project management skills and has been designed in partnership with leading national and multinational companies.
The Diploma in information technology and society may be useful for this area of work.
Employers consider applicants from other academic degree courses such as computer science, maths and physics as well as graduates of other business and arts/humanities degrees who have a flair for logical problem solving and some relevant work experience.
Applicants should check with individual universities and colleges for their entry requirements. Access courses are available for people with no formal qualifications who want to work towards a degree.
Apprenticeships may be available.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Training is a mixture of learning on the job and in-house or external training courses.
As the IT industry continues to develop, it is vital for technical support people to keep up to date with new technologies.
Professional qualifications can be obtained from various professional bodies, including the British Computer Society (BCS). A number of private sector companies also offer training courses and computing qualifications.
The Service Desk Institute (SDIe) offers a variety of qualifications for help desk professionals. These are aimed at those with some help desk experience who want to develop their skills and progress within the industry.
Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) offers qualifications to those wanting to progress within the IT profession.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A technical support person should:
Technical support people can choose whether to stay in a technical, hands-on role and develop their skills or move into people or team management. Career structures vary from one organisation to another.
Experienced technical staff may use the combination of their product knowledge and customer service skills to move into technical sales. They can also move into training, or become self-employed and work as contractors.
The British Computer Society (BCS),
1st Floor, Block D, North Star House,
North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1FA.
Tel: 01793 417424
1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR.
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL),
ILX Group, 115 Hammersmith Road,
London W14 0QH
Tel: 01270 611600
Service Desk Institute (SDIe),
21 High Street, Green Street Green,
Orpington, Kent BR6 6BG
Tel: 01689 889 100
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.