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. They could be involved in:
Duties vary from job to job but could include:
- Checking, cleaning, sterilising and maintaining equipment
- Checking stock levels and reordering supplies
- Collecting samples or specimens
- Preparing cultures or specimens
- Carrying out safety checks
- Setting up experiments or investigations
- Measuring results
- Using computers to record, calculate and present data
- Testing the quality of materials or products
- Giving demonstrations
- Providing technical advice and assistance
- Managing resources, work areas and teams
Laboratory technicians work closely with scientists, technologists and managers as well as other support and administrative staff.
Most laboratory technicians work 37 hours a week, during the daytime, from Monday to Friday. Some employers operate shifts or on-call rotas covering early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays.
Laboratory technicians are based in laboratories which are usually clean and may require sterile conditions. They may wear protective clothing including coats, gloves, masks, goggles, or all-over sealed protective suits. Some jobs involve working with hazardous substances materials and equipment, such as chemicals, bacteria and radiation, so it is essential that health and safety precautions are followed at all times.
Fieldwork may involve working outdoors in all weather conditions and travelling to different sites.
Salaries for laboratory technicians may start at around £11,000 a year.
There are over 80,000 laboratory technicians working in the UK. Employers include national and local government, the National Health Service (NHS), manufacturing and service industries, research laboratories, charitable organisations, universities, colleges and schools, and forensic science laboratories.
Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, Connexions centres, Jobcentre Plus offices, recruitment agencies, specialist publications, and on internet recruitment sites such as www.directgov.gov.uk/Employment/Jobseekers and www.jobs.ac.uk. It is also worth checking the websites of individual employers.
Entry requirements vary from job to job. It is possible to join the NHS as a laboratory technician without formal qualifications, but many employers look for people with at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including science, maths and English, or equivalent qualifications. Some candidates have higher level qualifications including A levels/H grades, BTEC national or higher national certificates/diplomas, or degrees in science subjects.
Some people enter this career through Apprenticeships.
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.
Laboratory technicians usually receive training from their employers. This normally involves on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced laboratory technician, which may be supplemented by internal or external courses.
There may be opportunities to work towards NVQ's/SVQ's in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities at Levels 1-4 (2-3 in Scotland). There is also an NVQ/SVQ in Clinical Laboratory Support at Level 2, and PAA/VQ-SET (Process Awards Authority/Vocational Qualifications for Science Engineering and Technology) Certificates in Laboratory Technical Skills at Levels 1-3. Some laboratory technicians study for national or higher national certificates or diplomas, or degrees in their subject.
A Diploma will help you make a more informed choice about the type of learning that best suits you and about what kind of work or further study you may want to do afterwards.
Throughout their careers, technicians need to keep up to date with developments in their field, new health and safety requirements, and new technology.
A laboratory technician should:
Laboratory technicians working for large organisations may have opportunities for promotion to supervisory roles. Promotion prospects in smaller organisations may be more limited.
There may also be opportunities for experienced technicians to work in specialist areas, for instance, as an education laboratory technician, or, after gaining further qualifications, they could move into research work, teaching, or health and safety.
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.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI),
12 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
Tel: 020 7930 3477
The Association for Science Education (ASE),
College Lane, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL10 9AA
Tel: 01707 283000
Biochemical Society, Third Floor,
Eagle House, 16 Procter Street, London WCIV 6NX
Tel: 020 7280 4100
British Pharmacological Society,
16 Angel Gate, City Road, London EC1V 2PT
Tel: 020 7239 0171
The Forensic Science Society,
18A Mount Parade, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 1BX
Tel: 01423 506068
The Genetics Society, Rosline Biocentre,
Wallace Building, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9PP
Tel: 0131 200 6391
The Geological Society,
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG
Tel: 020 7434 9944
Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS),
12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214
Institute of Food Science & Technology,
5 Cambridge Court, 210 Shepherds Bush Road,
London W6 7NJ
Tel: 020 7603 6316
Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3),
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300
The Institute of Science Technology,
Kingfisher House, 90 Rockingham Street,
Sheffield SE1 4EB
Tel: 0114 276 3197
NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Royal Geographical Society,
1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR
Tel: 020 7591 3000
Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC),
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: 020 7437 8656
SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT
SEMTA Learning Advice Line: 0800 282167
WISE (Women Into Science, Engineering and Construction)
6th Floor, 10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER
Tel: 020 7557 6426
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL),
Outer Circle, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY
Tel:020 7722 3333
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.