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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 9,347 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:

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

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. In terms of employment levels, the largest occupational group is Science Technicians. Between 2001 and 2021, Science Technicians’ employment levels have fluctuated, reaching a low of 10,100 in 2016 before peaking at 24,200 in 2018. In 2021, the employment level was 19,200 and is projected to decline to 17,100 by 2025.

Comparatively, the employment levels are considerably lower in the two other occupations – Agricultural Technicians, and Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians (not further defined). However, employment projections between 2021 and 2025 indicate the levels will grow to 3,200 and 800 respectively.

Training trends

Training snapshot

Between 2016 and 2020, program enrolments in Laboratory Operations-related qualifications declined to their lowest point in 2018 to approximately 5,780, before increasing in 2019 and 2020 to more than 7,460. Annual program completion numbers between 2016 and 2018, from approximately 3,150 to 2,710, before increasing in 2019 and 2020 to 3,840.

Training delivered as part of a nationally recognised program dominates this industry compared with training not delivered as part of a nationally recognised program. In 2020, there were more than 55,180 enrolments in subjects delivered as part of a nationally recognised program compared with approximately 310 enrolments in subjects not delivered as part of a nationally recognised program. Enrolments in both types of training increased between 2019 and 2020.

Most program enrolments in Laboratory Operations-related qualifications in 2020 were spread across the certificate II (29%), certificate III (26%) and certificate IV levels (31%). The remaining 14% were in Diploma or higher qualifications. Nearly a third (31%) of program enrolments are in the Laboratory Techniques qualification group, with 29% in Sampling and Measurement group and over a quarter (26%) in Laboratory skills. The main intended occupation from training in this sector is Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians (71%).

In 2020, just more than half (53%) of training in this sector was delivered by private training providers, with TAFE institutes delivering 34% of training. However, there was considerable variation depending on the different qualifications, with Laboratory Operations delivered solely by private training providers and TAFE institutes delivering nearly half (49%) of Laboratory Technology qualifications. Overall, approximately 81% of Laboratory Operations related qualifications were government funded. However, the funding was nearly equally split between government (51%) and domestic fee for service arrangements (49%) in Community education providers in 2020.

Queensland (45%) had the highest proportion of students enrolled in Laboratory Operations related qualification in 2020, followed by Victoria (17%), Western Australia (15%) and New South Wales (14%). Approximately 45% of training in this sector was delivered in Queensland, followed by 18% in both Western Australia and Victoria, and 14% in New South Wales.

Apprenticeship and traineeship commencements declined considerably between 2011 and 2017, from approximately 1,210 to 390, before increasing to nearly 950 in 2020. Over the same period, apprenticeship and traineeship completions increased between 2011 and 2014, from approximately 510 to 1,100 before declining to 220 in 2019. In 2020, completions rose to nearly 340 in 2020.

Apprenticeships and traineeships had the intended occupation of Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians. In 2020, approximately 37% of apprenticeships and traineeships were undertaken in Queensland, followed by 30% in Western Australia and 14% in New South Wales.

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, visit NCVER’s Data Builder.

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 the top five generic skills as:

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

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested skills by employers were communication skills, detail-orientated and problem solving. The most advertised Laboratory Operations occupations were Laboratory Technician followed by Laboratory Assistant, with the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland the top employers.

In the course of developing the IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast, research and consultations identified future skills priorities were emerging in the pathology sector, specifically surgical cut-up skills and genetic and molecular testing.

In sectors other than Pathology, food testing skills were emerging, in response to compliance with health and safety standards and quality standards in the food processing industry. Further, the growing overseas markets, particularly in Asia, meant this area was becoming increasingly important.

Metallurgical skills were also changing and the need for the development of a skill set focused on gravity separation, flotation, hydrometallurgy was raised by some stakeholders from the mining industry.

Accordingly, the IRC identified three priority areas for training package development, which were:

  • Point of Care Testing (PoCT) skillset
  • skill requirements for surgical cut-up
  • skills requirements in genetics and molecular testing and diagnostics.

A Case for Change in Laboratory Operations to review and redevelop five qualification and units of competency, develop new units and identify skill sets to meet contemporary job requirements was approved in late 2021. Specifically, the project will review and redevelop:

  • Certificate II in Sampling and Measurement
  • Certificate III in Laboratory Skills
  • Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques
  • Diploma of Laboratory Technology
  • Advanced Diploma of Laboratory Operations
  • 60 existing units of competency.

It also proposes to develop:

  • Five new units: ‘Simple transfers in surgical cut-up’, ‘Simple surgical cut-up’, ‘Perform histological cut up triage and allocation’, ‘Molecular testing’ and ‘Operate automated laboratory equipment’.

In late 2020, the Australian Government released its Modern Manufacturing Strategy as part of its economic recovery response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Strategy aims to help manufacturers to scale-up, become more competitive and build more resilient supply chains. Investment is targeted to drive productivity and create jobs through six national manufacturing priority sectors, which reflect Australia’s competitive advantage.

In response to the Strategy, increasing changes in workforce skills requirements and ongoing disruption caused by COVID-19, the IBSA Group conducted an extensive series of research and consultation activities culminating in Scaling up: developing modern manufacturing through a skilled workforce. This report draws together insights (based around six main themes) from industry leaders on the challenges facing the manufacturing sector and proposes skills-focused responses to support the development of a highly skilled workforce to underpin the future of manufacturing in Australia. Further, it identifies the Laboratory Operations supply chain industry skill areas and their relation to the six Modern Manufacturing Strategy priority sectors.

Links and resources

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2021, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2025
    • 3110 Agricultural, Medical and Science Technicians (nfd)
    • 3111 Agricultural Technician
    • 3114 Science Technician.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021, 6291.0.55.001 - EQ08 - Employed persons by Occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), Sex, State and Territory, August 1986 onwards, viewed 1 August 2021, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia-detailed/may-2021

  • Employed total by ANZSCO, 2001 to 2021, 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
    • PML30104 - 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
    • PML40104 - 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
    • PML50199 - Diploma of Laboratory Technology
    • PML60104 - Advanced Diploma of Laboratory Operations
  • Sampling and Measurement
    • MSL20109 - Certificate II in Sampling and Measurement
    • MSL20116 - Certificate II in Sampling and Measurement
    • MSL20118 - Certificate II in Sampling and Measurement
    • PML20104 - 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:

  • 2016 to 2020 program enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 subject enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 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:

  • 2011 to 2020 commencements
  • 2011 to 2020 completions
  • apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2020 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2021, Labor Insight Real-time Labor Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2021, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2018 and June 2021 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: 21 Jan 2022
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