How to become a lab technician

Updated 16 August 2023

Laboratory technicians support scientists from various disciplines in performing examinations and analyses. They're responsible for ensuring the proper condition of the laboratory and all materials, allowing scientists to concentrate on their research work. Through their work, they contribute to medical and scientific research and development. In this article, we show how you can become a lab technician, and we provide important career advice including the typical tasks and skills in this role.

What does a lab technician do?

A lab technician performs quantitative and qualitative analyses, tests and measurements in a laboratory. They're also responsible for drafting the reports, recording processes and procedures and noting results. They assist scientists, such as chemists, biologists, engineers, technicians and researchers, in their work.

Lab technicians can work in a medical setting, research lab or industrial sector. For example, some technicians conduct chemical analysis or quality control testing for products, including:

  • textiles

  • plastics and polymer

  • petrochemicals

  • food

  • cosmetics companies

They often collaborate with researchers to develop innovative materials or fine-tune production systems. In educational institutions, they can provide laboratory support to science teachers and their students. There are also lab technicians working in the environmental sector, performing chemical and microbiological analyses on soil, water and air samples.

Lab technician responsibilities

As a lab technician, your tasks can vary depending on the area in which you work. The primary responsibilities of a laboratory technician include:

  • planning and setting up experiments and controlled trials

  • setting up and preparing equipment and materials for experiments, including centrifuges, pipettes and pH meters

  • preparing solutions, cultures or samples of organic and inorganic materials

  • operating laboratory equipment

  • carrying out prescribed qualitative and quantitative measurements and analyses

  • ensuring sterile and stable conditions for samples and equipment

  • collecting and analysing samples

  • collecting and recording data, analysing documents and producing reports

  • presenting results and findings

  • performing maintenance on laboratory instruments, for example, calibrating and adjusting, cleaning and sterilising and testing the instruments

  • applying security protocols

  • conducting risk assessments

  • ensuring the availability of materials, chemicals, reagents and tools

  • managing inventories and making timely purchase requisitions

  • managing laboratory waste and chemical disposal

  • providing technical support to scientists

Related: How to become an optical lab technician (with skills)

How to become a lab technician

A certain amount of scientific training is essential to becoming a lab technician. If you're interested in this career path, consider following these steps:

1. Explore your education options

Although there's no specific laboratory technician degree, most employers require some training in science. You can earn a university degree, attend a technical college or complete an apprenticeship. The more prepared you are before you apply for your first job, the better your employment prospects. Consider your personal preferences, goals and background when choosing one of the educational pathways.

2. Earn a degree

Earning a degree is one way you can train to become a laboratory technician. Consider earning a bachelor's degree in one of the following areas:

  • Chemistry

  • Biology

  • Biotechnology

  • Materials science

  • Chemical engineering

These topics can help you develop specific scientific knowledge and skills. You can also complete lab classes to learn about standard laboratory techniques. A bachelor's degree can take three to four years to complete. During this time, you may complete an internship or part-time job where you can gain technical experience in a lab.

Read more: What is a bachelor's degree?

3. Consider earning a diploma

Alternatively, you can enrol in a Higher Diploma (HND), Higher Certificate of Education (HNC) or a Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualification. This can be a helpful pathway if you have a bachelor's degree in a different topic unrelated to science, are interested in switching careers or want to complete your education and training at the same time. These programmes typically take three years to complete for laboratory technicians. During this time, you may take classes while also working or assisting in a lab.

Read more: Vocational training: definitions and examples

4. Explore an apprenticeship

If you didn't finish high school, but want to start a career as a lab technician, you might consider completing an apprenticeship. Some apprentice programmes require a certain number of GCSEs or a minimum set of grades. This can vary depending on the location and the company. Consider researching programmes in your area to learn more about their specific qualifications.

An apprenticeship typically takes at least one year to complete, although there are longer options available that might qualify you for a more advanced role. During the programme, you may complete courses and gain practical experience working in a lab.

Read more: How to become an apprentice in 3 simple steps

5. Gain professional experience

There are entry-level laboratory technician positions you can start applying for, but some of these can be competitive. Highlighting relevant professional experience on your resume may help you qualify for more roles and earn an interview for a competitive position.

Some aspiring lab technicians complete an internship. You may complete this during your education or immediately after graduating. You may also find a part-time or volunteer job while studying.

6. Continue to develop professionally

Science protocols and lab techniques can change over time, so try to stay abreast of innovations in the lab technician sector or the specific industry you're interested in working in. You may also become a member of relevant associations and organisations, like the Institute of Science and Technology. Through an association, you can attend networking events, training sessions and conferences. These can help you develop your skills and gain experience, which can benefit you in your career.

7. Find and apply for jobs

Consider creating or revising your CV to show your education, training and experience. You may also draft a cover letter, explaining why you're interested in the position you're applying for and why you'd be the best fit.

Companies may use different terms to relate to a lab technician position. When applying, consider any of the following titles:

  • junior laboratory technician

  • laboratory support technician

  • research and development laboratory technician

  • quality control laboratory technician

Related: How to write a lab technician CV (with template and example)

8. Prepare for technical questions

In this type of role, it is common for the interview to include some technical questions. Consider practising common interview questions and preparing answers in advance, especially where they demonstrate your knowledge of technical and material properties, laboratory equipment and procedures and statistical data analysis. You may review the initial job posting to learn more about the specific skills and technical knowledge the employer is seeking. When preparing, think of examples from your own work and education you can use to show you possess these traits.

Read more: How to prepare for an interview

What's the average salary for a lab technician?

The national average salary for laboratory technicians is £21,472 per year. Your salary can vary depending on your company, location, education and experience. The sector you work in, such as pharmaceutical research or manufacturing, can also affect your salary.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and the candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Lab technician work environment

Lab technicians can work in a variety of sectors because the quality control and testing work they do is vital to developing many essential and everyday products.

Some organisations that hire lab technicians may include:

  • environmental agencies

  • government research departments and agencies

  • private research institutions or specialised consultancies

  • universities

  • hospitals and health centres

  • utility companies, including water, gas or electricity

  • pharmaceutical companies

  • chemical plants

  • industrial companies, including cosmetics, textiles, metal or petroleum and plastics

  • food and beverage companies

These professionals typically work in laboratory environments, in hospitals, research centres or universities. If you work in a multinational corporation, you might get the opportunity to travel or even live overseas.

Some lab technicians work independently, as contractors. For example, you could work as an agricultural researcher conducting water and soil analysis for various rural clients. This position offers a lot of flexibility and variety because you can work across companies and clients or build a team to bid for government projects.

Related: How to write a lab technician cover letter (with example)

Important skills for a lab technician

A laboratory technician needs to combine technical or complex skills with various interpersonal skills. As a lab technician, you may use the following soft skills:

  • oral and written communication skills to interact with other team members and write analysis reports

  • problem-solving and critical thinking skills

  • thoroughness, attention to detail and the ability to concentrate for long periods

  • administrative and resource management skills

  • initiative and the ability to work unsupervised

  • precision and accuracy in your work

  • ability to work as part of a team and leadership skills

  • time management skills

In addition, lab technicians may also need the following hard skills:

  • knowledge of testing procedures and protocols

  • data entry

  • data analysis

  • report writing

  • mathematical skills

  • computer literacy

  • knowledge of lab equipment and tools

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