A guide to lab technician careers

By carrying out routine laboratory tests and providing technical support for scientists, lab technicians play a key role in the STEM sector.

Employed across a wide range of industries — from environmental agencies to pharmaceutical companies — the work of lab technicians affect almost every aspect of our lives.


With lab technicians in high demand, the role offers plenty of scope for continuing professional development and travel. As a result, it’s one of the most highly sought-after careers in the life sciences. 


To assist you in your job search, we’ve put together this lab technician job profile looking at the ins and outs of working in this dynamic profession.


What does a lab technician do?

Laboratory technicians typically support senior scientists with various tasks and carry out tests, research, and investigations. Working as part of a scientific team, you’ll play a key role in sampling, testing, measuring, recording, and analysing results.


As a lab technician, you’ll likely work within the fields of biological science, chemicals, or life science. 


Work environment

Lab technicians, as you may have guessed, spend most of their time in a laboratory environment. Lab technicians can also be partially based in offices or onsite at large-scale industrial or manufacturing plants. 


Working predominantly in sterile lab conditions, you’ll also have to wear protective clothing such as lab coats, safety glasses and gloves.


Most lab technicians work a 9-to-5, full-time schedule. Depending on your employer and industry, you may be required to work weekend shifts or be on an on-call rota.


Roles and responsibilities

As a lab technician, you’ll ensure the laboratory functions effectively by providing all the required technical support, closely following quality procedures, and strictly adhering to health and safety guidelines.


Other responsibilities include:

 

  • Conducting experiments or investigations 
  • Collecting and analysing samples
  • Carrying out routine and one-off tasks according to strict methodologies
  • Preparing solutions, culture or specimens
  • Capturing reliable and precise data
  • Presenting data to senior stakeholders
  • Ordering stock
  • Safely disposing of chemicals
  • Regularly cleaning and maintaining lab equipment
  • Keeping up to date with the latest technical improvements and lab technology

What skills does a lab technician need?

  • An analytical mindset
  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Good hand-eye coordination and steady handling of equipment
  • Technical competence
  • Time management skills
  • Advanced research skills
  • Flexibility
  • Excellent verbal communication
  • Teamworking skills
  • Patience
  • Commercial and business awareness

Industries and employers

Lab technicians can readily find work across for public and private organisations across a range of STEM sectors that offer a variety of career paths.


Major employers of lab technicians include:

 

  • Specialist research organisations
  • Hospitals and public health organisations
  • Government agencies
  • Government-funded research institutions
  • Environmental agencies
  • Chemical companies
  • Food manufacturing companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Oil and gas companies
  • Utility companies
  • Textiles companies

Tip: Lab technician vacancies are in high demand but also hyper-competitive. When applying for lab technician jobs, we recommend getting your application in as early as possible. 

How much do lab technicians earn?

According to TotalJobs, the national average lab technician salary in the UK is £23,480. Starting salaries for entry-level laboratory roles usually start around £19,000, though this depends on factors such as industry, employer and location. More experienced lab technicians can expect to earn in excess of £30,000. Again, this can vary according to your level of expertise and the industry that you work in.


In the US, the average laboratory technician salary is $40,000. Salaries range from around $27,000 and the entry-level to $60,000 at the senior level.


How do you become a lab technician?

There are two primary routes or pathways into work as a lab technician: obtaining academic qualifications; or a lab-based apprenticeship.

University or college

Relevant academic qualifications include:

 

  • Biology
  • Biomedical science
  • Biotechnology
  • Chemistry
  • Environmental science
  • Forensic science
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics

Tip: Gaining experience while studying can enhance your employability. You can obtain this by either doing a placement year in industry as part of your degree, or by applying for part-time laboratory work to supplement your study.

Apprenticeship

Increasingly, it’s possible to find lab technician work without university or college experience by enrolling onto an advanced apprenticeship scheme. The entry requirements vary according to your country, but you’ll usually need high school-level A to C grades in mathematics, English, and science.


Career progression

With additional experience, you could progress to become a team manager or lab supervisor. Some lab technicians also go on to specialise in complex analysis work.


With an academic qualification and experience, there are ample opportunities for progressing into a senior research role.


Take the next step in your career. Apply for the latest lab technician jobs >