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Job: Chemical laboratory technician

Role: The role of a chemical laboratory technician is to conduct analytical or lab-based tests on a variety of chemicals, materials or products. They typically receive samples and conduct testing for the purposes of quality assurance, safety inspection, regulatory adherence, environmental impact or sample testing.

Chemical laboratory technicians either work in designated labs that receive samples from outside sources or in-house within one of the many industries where they are employed. Some key employers of chemical laboratory technicians include the pharmaceutical, mining, food and consumer products industries as well environmental organizations.

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"Primarily they receive samples, and make sure they document the lab tests that they're running," Margot Wassenaar-Faber, co-ordinator of the School of Biological Sciences and Applied Chemistry at Seneca College, said. "If it's a biological sample, sterile techniques would have to be adhered to."

Education: While there are no legally mandated educational standards for chemical laboratory technicians, a vast majority of employers require a postsecondary degree in a scientific field, such as chemistry or biology.

"They're looking for the lab skill set, and that not only means from a technical side, like the instruments they can handle, but also are they thorough in their documentation of samples or reagent they need to run those samples? Are they following protocol practices in terms of cleaning glassware?" Ms. Wassenaar-Faber said.

Furthermore, some employers may require more specialized training in a particular field such as water sanitation, food processing or pharmaceutical production technology.

Salary: The salary of a chemical laboratory technician will depend on their level of experience and education, the industry that they work in, as well as their geographical location.

According to the Government of Canada's Job Market Report, the national average starting salary is $14.83 per hour, or approximately $30,800 annually, while more senior chemical laboratory technicians earn an average of $40.87 per hour, or approximately $85,000 annually. The national median salary is $23 per hour, or approximately $48,000 per year.

Job prospects: Since laboratory testing is required in a wide variety of industries, the more flexible chemical laboratory technicians are, and the broader their areas of expertise, the more job prospects are available to them. That is because when there is a downturn in one industry, they can easily acquire training to pivot their career towards one that is expanding.

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"These various disciplines are utilized in broad industries, so they are flexible in that regard," Ms. Wassenaar-Faber said. "The skillset is broad enough that they can take a sample from a specific field area and adjust because of the training they've had."

Ms. Wassenaar-Faber adds that being willing to relocate within Canada also increases job security within the industry, as career opportunities arise in various markets across the country at different times.

Challenges: Among the greatest challenges for chemical laboratory technicians is keeping up with rapid changes in equipment and technology.

"Once you leave an academic institution where you learn a piece of equipment, the industry is going to keep pace with change and the equipment that they have, so it will require ongoing learning," Ms. Wassenaar-Faber said.

Why they do it: Chemical laboratory technician is an ideal career path for those who enjoy scientific study and prefer to work with their hands in a laboratory environment.

Furthermore, depending on their employer, many chemical laboratory technicians are able to provide vital information through their testing and make a significant impact on people's lives.

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"It's the satisfaction that you're contributing information that's required by society," Ms. Wassenaar-Faber said. "Whether it's to provide information that a company needs to improve on something they developed, or to ensure safety in terms of water testing to determine if it's safe to go swimming."

Misconceptions: Most people fail to realize just how much chemical laboratory technicians affect their day-to-day lives. From the water in their tap to the food in their fridge, cosmetics, consumer products and raw materials, most items found in the average home were tested by a chemical laboratory technician at some point in their development.

Give us the scoop: Are you a chemical lab technician? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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