Animal technicians are responsible for the welfare of laboratory animals that are used for scientific research. Most of these animals are rodents such as mice and rats, but they can also include guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, monkeys and farm animals.
Nearly three million animals are used in research each year in the UK. The industry is tightly regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Act acknowledges the necessity of using animals in research, but demands a high level of protection for them in order to minimise their suffering.
The daily responsibilities of an animal technician may include:
Technicians are expected to keep accurate records and input data onto computer systems. Some animal technicians are also involved in breeding animals and setting up scientific studies.
Most animal technicians work normal office hours, although some work shifts. Animals require treatment and care every day of the year, so some jobs may involve weekend and bank holiday work. Part-time positions and overtime may be available.
Research work is carried out in laboratories, which may be purpose built. The environment can be warm and humid, often with carefully controlled artificial lighting systems.
Animal technicians are provided with protective clothing and overalls to help to maintain a hygienic environment. Depending on the work, disposable masks, gloves and shoe covers may also be worn.
The starting salary for a trainee animal technician is approximately £12,000 to £15,000 a year.
Animal technicians work for a variety of organisations within the academic and commercial sectors. These include pharmaceutical companies, universities, hospitals and government funded and private research institutes.
There are approximately 5,000 animal technicians employed in the UK and employment prospects are good. Opportunities may be found throughout the UK, in towns, cities and rural areas. There is a high concentration of pharmaceutical research in the South East, London and East Anglia.
Vacancies are advertised in Animal Technology & Welfare, Lab Animal Europe and New Scientist, as well as in the Institute of Animal Technology's (IAT) Bulletin. Positions may also be found through recruitment agencies and in local and national newspapers.
Experience of looking after animals, either paid or voluntary, is useful in demonstrating a commitment to working in this area. This may include experience at farms, kennels or in veterinary practices.
There are no formal entry requirements, but it is usual for entrants to have at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English, maths and a science subject. Some employers may require A levels/H grades, or equivalent qualifications.
Training is considered vital to ensuring a continually high standard of care for animals involved in research and is closely monitored and regulated. In-house training is likely to cover subjects such as animal husbandry, health checks, handling animals, and animal behaviour and welfare.
In conjunction with technical and further education colleges, the IAT offers a selection of courses for animal technicians. These include:
NVQ's/SVQ's in Animal Technology at Levels 2 and 3 are also available.
The Home Office insists on all research centres holding appropriate certification, with additional licences required for each research project. If an animal technician is directly involved in testing procedures, they may also need a licence. Their licence is usually gained after a minimum of one year's work experience in the laboratory and after a Home Office module course has been completed.
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.
An animal technician should:
Most employers encourage additional training to help animal technicians progress. With experience, animal technicians may be promoted to supervisory or management positions.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI),
12 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY.
Tel: 0870 890 4333
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra),
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR
Tel: 0845 933 5577
Home Office, Direct Communications Unit,
2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
Tel: 020 7035 4848
Institute of Animal Technology (IAT),
5 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JL
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.