Education lab technicians help teachers, lecturers and learners to make the best use of laboratory facilities in schools, colleges and universities. They set up, test and use scientific equipment, ranging from basic microscopes to sensitive research equipment.
Their roles can vary considerably from school to school. In general terms, they support the practical and technical aspects of the science curriculum. They prepare and provide the resources, as well as maintaining, organising and managing all of the equipment required for healthy, safe and secure, exciting practical activities to be carried out by staff and students.
Depending on the size of the school or college, technicians may be involved in all areas of science (mainly biology, chemistry and physics) or specialise in a single subject. They are not classroom assistants.
Tasks may include:
Lab technicians are responsible for meeting health and safety requirements, and may need to provide first aid. Sometimes they have other tasks outside the science department, such as setting up computers and audio-visual equipment.
A significant amount of science technicians' working time is spent in the preparation (prep) room. Often the only school staff, other than technicians, who go into the prep room are the science teachers. They may work alone or in a team with other technicians.
Full-time education lab technicians usually work Monday to Friday. Early start and late finish times or weekend work may be necessary. A significant number of lab technicians work part time or term time only. Working throughout the year is more common in colleges and universities.
Working conditions are varied. Technicians spend most of their time in laboratories, computer rooms and preparation rooms. These may be modern and spacious or cramped and cluttered. The job involves a lot of standing, walking, bending and carrying.
Technicians work with various chemicals, so they need to wear protective clothing such as lab coats, gloves and goggles. The job may not be suitable for people who suffer from skin or chest conditions.
Starting salaries may be around £11,800 a year. Experienced technicians may earn from about £13,500 to £23,000.
The highest salaries may be over £25,000 a year.
There is no standard national pay scale for lab technicians, many of whom work part time. Local government pay scales are often used. Salaries in universities tend to be higher than elsewhere.
There are over 5,000 secondary schools and colleges employing lab technicians, and over 300 universities, institutes and colleges of higher education. Overall, there are around 20,000 technicians employed in the UK. Jobs can be found throughout the country.
There may be competition for jobs, but there is an overall shortage of experienced technicians.
Vacancies are normally advertised in national and local newspapers, Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices. Local government and higher education job vacancies can be viewed at www.lgjobs.com.
There are no set entry requirements, although many employers ask for four or five GCSE's (A*- C) including English, maths and at least one science subject.
Young people may also be able to start on an Apprenticeship for laboratory technicians. Generally, applicants should have at least three to five GCSE's (A*- C) including English, maths and science. GCSE's in engineering may also be available. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.
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.
Some applicants have A levels and BTEC qualifications in science subjects, while approximately 40 per cent of education lab technicians have a Higher National Diploma/Certificate (HND/HNC), a foundation degree or degree in a science or technology subject. As it is common to work part time and during term time only, some lab technicians fit the job around domestic or study commitments.
As a guide, minimum requirements for entry onto a foundation degree or Higher National Diploma course are normally one A level and three to four GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent; for a degree course, the minimum requirements are normally two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), usually to include English and maths, or equivalent. As entry requirements to courses are likely to vary, candidates are advised to check with individual institutions.
To work with children, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).
Training is normally provided on the job and through external short courses, sometimes provided by equipment manufacturers or the Association for Science Education (ASE). Health and safety training is provided, covering subjects such as handling hazardous substances, and many technicians complete training in first aid techniques.
The Institute of Science & Technology (IST) offers a range of technical skills courses including:
NVQs are available in laboratory and associated technical activities at Levels 1 to 4.
Membership of a professional body is not essential, but it may enhance job prospects. It is possible to become a member of the IST at various levels, depending on qualifications and experience.
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.
Education lab technicians should:
An assistant technician may progress to work as a technician, a senior or lead technician and eventually a laboratory manager, possibly covering several departments. Progression is based on qualifications and experience.
In universities, laboratory technicians may become research assistants or administrators.
Promotion prospects are often limited, but may be increased by gaining experience in a variety of different laboratories.
Some technicians train to become teachers, lecturers or research scientists.
The Association for Science Education
Tel: 01707 283000
Institute of Physics (IOP)
Tel: 020 7470 4800
The Institute of Science & Technology (IST)
Tel: 0114 276 3197
Royal Society of Chemistry
Tel: 020 7437 8656
SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies)
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167
Society of Biology
Tel: 020 7936 5900
Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.