Have you ever wondered who keeps your school or college’s science labs so well stocked with sulphur dioxide, litmus paper and safety goggles? You’ve probably seen someone hanging around in the science department, wearing a white coat, but never actually teaching any lessons or lectures! Maybe they have something to do with it? Well, yes, they do actually!
Teaching laboratory technicians are employed by all types of academic institutions, including schools, colleges and universities. Their main responsibilities include managing laboratories and ensuring that the right equipment, tools, chemicals and other materials are adequately stocked and kept in working condition.
These guys also provide guidance to teaching faculties and students on how to use laboratory facilities in an appropriate and safe manner. They also get involved in setting up the experiments and practical demonstrations which will enhance people’s theoretical learning.
Furthermore, they help to maintain compliance with health, safety and security regulations. Without these guys, science lessons would be a lot more boring or a lot more dangerous, and nobody wants that!
Experienced technicians employed by larger academic institutions are also tasked with managing support staff, providing training, managing budgets and planning procurement activities.
Salary & benefits
Starting salaries for teaching laboratory technicians range between £14,000 and £17,000 per annum, which may increase to between £17,000 and £28,000 as you gain more experience.
The nature of the job, however, lends itself towards part-time or term-based employment, and therefore a significant percentage of teaching laboratory technicians actually take on two or three jobs simultaneously.
Job security is much better in higher education institutions, where lab work is required throughout the year, either as part of the teaching curriculum or through helping research students and faculty members with their dissertations or research projects.
Your working hours will be determined by your particular institution’s operational schedule. However, you may be required to start early and finish late from time to time to make sure the lab is in order and materials are set up or stored away as required.
You don’t necessarily need a degree to enter this profession, so this is a great way for young people to break into the exciting world of academic science.
Some employers, however, may require applicants to have a scientific degree, although many positions will simply require you to have A-levels (or equivalent) in science subjects, such as biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics.
Since you may be working in close proximity to children, you may be required to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS, formerly CRB [Criminal Records Bureau]) check.
Training & progression
Training in small and medium-sized labs is mainly delivered through gaining hands-on experience, while a structured programme may be offered in larger academic institutions.
In order to progress and take on more responsibility, you’ll need to develop a sound understanding and knowledge of how to handle hazardous materials, chemicals and equipment and how to implement necessary health and safety protocols.
Some institutions may sponsor you to attend training courses, which will teach you to use specialist computer systems and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment.
Teaching laboratory technicians can move up the ladder within their own organisation and take on managerial responsibilities, where they’ll be training and supervising junior technicians.
Smaller institutions, however, may only hire one technician for their entire campus, so you may be required to apply for posts with bigger organisations if you want to get a promotion.
Alternatively, you could move into the commercial sector and work as a scientific lab technician for a pharmaceutical company or healthcare organisation.