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Overview

This page provides information and data on the Laboratory Operations sector, which is a component of the broader Manufacturing and Related Services industry.

Laboratory Operations is not an industry sector as such. It refers to a diverse group of certain technical and scientific occupations such as Samplers, Testers and Laboratory Personnel that appear across industries. At least 9,362 organisations are involved in the sector, with 96,200 people employed in 2018 and the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) have accredited 3,973 laboratories in Australia.

Laboratory Services play a critical role in the safety, quality and compliance of many industry sectors. Consequently, the sector is highly regulated.

Nationally recognised training for Laboratory Operations sector is delivered under the MSL – Laboratory Operations Training Package.

For other information on manufacturing and related services, visit the following cluster pages:

Information sourced from the Process Manufacturing, Recreational Vehicles and Laboratory IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

IRC and Skills Forecasts

Employment trends

Employment snapshot

Laboratory Operations does not fit into any specific industry sector(s). There are however some occupations that are relevant to those undertaking Laboratory Operations qualifications in the VET sector.

The largest in terms of numbers employed is Science Technicians. Employment numbers for this occupation fluctuated between 2000 and 2019. The employment level more than doubled between 2017 and 2018 from around 12,000 to around 24,200 but decreased again in 2019 to around 15,900. Employment in this occupation is projected to increase by 2024 to around 17,100.

There are only small numbers of people employed in the two other occupations – Agricultural Technicians, and Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians (not further defined). Numbers are projected to remain small to 2024 (3,200 and 800 respectively). 

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were just under 5,780 program enrolments in the Laboratory Operations-related qualifications during 2018, down from approximately 6,960 enrolments in 2015. Annual program completion numbers have decreased from 3,150 in 2016 to approximately 2,540 in 2018. Over the last four years there have been few subject-only (no qualification) enrolments, with 220 during 2018.

Program enrolments were fairly evenly distributed across the qualification levels from certificate II to diploma and above. There were no enrolments at the certificate I level. In terms of qualification clusters, again enrolments were fairly evenly distributed, with the exception of Laboratory Operations where there were very few (1%). The areas of Sampling and Measurement and Laboratory Techniques had the equally highest level of enrolments at 27%. The intended occupation for Sampling and Measurement qualifications was Science Technician, while the qualifications in other areas had the intended occupation of Agricultural, Medical and Science Technician.

For enrolments during 2018, less than half of the qualifications were provided by TAFE institutes, with a further 37% being delivered by private training providers. In terms of subject enrolments; 76% were government funded, with the rest split between domestic fee for service (16%) and international fee for service (9%). Just under a third of enrolments (31%) were by students from Queensland, with similar proportions from New South Wales (19%) and Victoria (19%), and 14% from Western Australia. 

Approximately one third of training was delivered in Queensland (32%), followed by Western Australia (21%), Victoria (21%) and New South Wales (19%).

Apprenticeship and traineeship commencements have declined considerably from around 1,710 during 2012 to less than 430 in 2018. Apprenticeship completions peaked at 1,090 during 2014 and have also declined considerably since, down to approximately 280 in 2018. Apprenticeships and traineeships had the intended occupation of Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians, and during 2018, nearly two thirds of apprenticeship activity was reported from either Western Australia (32%) or Queensland (31%).

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, visit NCVER’s VET students by industry. If you are prompted to log in, select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

For more data specific to your region visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

If you are interested in extracting NCVER data to construct tables with data relevant to you, sign up for a VOCSTATS account.

Industry insights

Industry insights on skills needs

The Process Manufacturing, Recreational Vehicles and Laboratory IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast identified Point of Care Testing (PoCT) skillset, skill requirements for surgical cut-up and in genetic and molecular testing diagnostics as top priority industry and occupation skills for the pathology sector. In other sectors, food testing skills that ensure compliance with current health and safety standards and quality standards in the food processing industry, and metallurgical skills focused on gravity separation, flotation, hydrometallurgy (leaching, salt roasting solution refining, solvent extraction, ion exchange resin, precipitation) in the mining industry are skills priorities.

In addition, the five most important generic skills were listed as:

  • Technology
  • Learning agility/Information literacy/Intellectual autonomy and self-management (adaptability)
  • Design mindset/Thinking critically/System thinking/Solving problems   
  • Data analysis
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) skills.

The workforce challenges and opportunities driving these skill development priorities include:

  • Technology – automation and robotics is likely to have a significant impact, particularly as the complexity and cost of the machinery is typically beyond the means of training organisations
  • Increased demand for Australian food and beverage exports – there is a heavy reliance on laboratory testing and analysis to ensure exports meet the highest standards
  • International sustainability action – a key trend within the sector, testing to ensure Australian businesses meet international standards, for example regarding emissions targets, is a key focus of work
  • Standards/regulations – the sector is highly regulated and changing standards includes changes to the skills required by laboratory personnel
  • Ageing population – with changing demographics expected to create an increased demand for health services, higher demand for laboratory services will likely follow.

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested skills by employers were communication skills, research and detail orientated. The most advertised Laboratory operations occupations were Laboratory Technician followed by Laboratory Assistant, with the governments of New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria as the top employers.

Point of Care Testing (PoCT) was identified as a challenge for learners and training package development in the Process Manufacturing, Recreational Vehicles and Laboratory IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast. Training currently involves only non-accredited options, which includes trained PoCT coordinators, operational staff and vendor or manufacturer provided training. The Australian PoCT Practitioner’s Network (APPN), established by the Australian Government Department of Health and now managed by iCCnet Country Health SA Local Health Network, states Australia’s wide geographical area and the growth in use in rural areas makes training and certification of operators an expensive exercise. The article Economic evaluation of point-of-care testing in the remote primary health care setting of Australia’s Northern Territory demonstrated that when used to aid decision making for acutely ill patients in remote health centres, significant cost savings can be achieved through preventing unnecessary emergency medical retrievals. The Point of Care Testing (PoCT) Project currently underway will develop a new unit of competency and skill set, enabling pathology sector workers to upgrade their skills and training organisations better meet employer requirements.

Links and resources

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2018, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal  

  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2023
    • 3110 Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians (nfd)
    • 3111 Agricultural Technician
    • 3114 Science Technician.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Employed persons by occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), sex, state and territory, August 1986 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 - EQ08, viewed 1 November 2018 http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/6291.0.55.003May%202018?OpenDocument

  • Employed total by ANZSCO, 2000 to 2018, May Quarter
    • 3110 Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians (nfd)
    • 3111 Agricultural Technician
    • 3114 Science Technician.

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training package or qualifications:

  • MSL (includes PML) Laboratory Operations Training Package
  • Laboratory Operations
    • MSL60109 - Advanced Diploma of Laboratory Operations
    • MSL60116 - Advanced Diploma of Laboratory Operations
    • MSL60118 - Advanced Diploma of Laboratory Operations
  • Laboratory Skills
    • MSL30109 - Certificate III in Laboratory Skills
    • MSL30116 - Certificate III in Laboratory Skills
    • MSL30118 - Certificate III in Laboratory Skills
  • Laboratory Techniques
    • MSL40109 - Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques
    • MSL40116 - Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques
    • MSL40118 - Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques
  • Laboratory Technology
    • MSL50109 - Diploma of Laboratory Technology
    • MSL50116 - Diploma of Laboratory Technology
    • MSL50118 - Diploma of Laboratory Technology
    • PML50104 - Diploma of Laboratory Technology
  • Sampling and Measurement
    • MSL20109 - Certificate II in Sampling and Measurement
    • MSL20116 - Certificate II in Sampling and Measurement
    • MSL20118 - Certificate II in Sampling and Measurement.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 program enrolments
  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 subject enrolments
  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document. 

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

MSL (includes PML) Laboratory Operations Training Package apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2018 commencements
  • 2010 to 2018 completions 
  • 2018 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2018 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority and generic skills data have been extracted from the Process Manufacturing, Recreational Vehicles and Laboratory IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2019, Labour Insight Real-time Labour Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2019, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2016 and June 2019 filtered by ANZSCO classification levels listed below. ANZSCO occupations have been used as industry filters because they provide more relevant job vacancy data for this sector.

  • 3111 Agricultural Technicians
  • 3114 Science Technicians
  • 311 Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians.
Updated: 31 Mar 2020
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