Skip to main content

Sector LMI - Forensic science

Forensic scientists can undertake a range of jobs, including: scene examination; chemistry; biology; DNA; drugs; fingerprints; and specialist services, such as toxicology, firearms, documents and handwriting analysis. They provide impartial scientific evidence to aid investigative and criminal justice processes across the UK justice sector. This type of work is very popular, so it is very competitive. Employment in the Forensic Science industry has grown at an unprecedented rate over the last ten years, due largely to advances in technology, such as the National DNA Database. The police are also relying more on forensic techniques to help with minor crimes. Although the majority of forensic scientists are employed within the police force, there are some opportunities in the private sector, such as work for non-departmental government bodies and commercial providers.

Key facts

  • There are 8,947 people working in forensic science industry.
  • 62% of organisations employing forensic scientists are police forces and 38% of organisations are in the private sector.
  • For all entry routes there is a lot of competition, therefore a minimum of an honours degree and, in some cases, postgraduate qualifications are needed for entry.
  • The number of job opportunities available is restricted by the location of forensic science laboratories.

Forensic science workforce

  • 59% of the forensic science workforce is female.
  • 11% of the workforce is from a Black Minority Ethnic background.

Education and training

Direct entry as a forensic scientist is with a degree in a mathematical or science subject, or an equivalent professional qualification. A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is increasingly desirable as competition is intense. A relevant PhD or MSc, in, for example, forensic science, can be an advantage.

For those wishing to enter the forensic science industry, a good honours degree in a relevant subject is required, in areas such as: physical mathematical and applied sciences; life and medical sciences; agricultural and horticultural sciences; and engineering. Degrees in biomedical science, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology, materials science, plus crop and plant/soil science can be an advantage.

Most forensic scientists start as trainees and receive on-the-job training from experienced scientists, combining in-house courses with practical casework. Forensic scientists can take further specialist qualifications, such as the Forensic Science Society diploma course, specialising in, for example, crime scene investigation, document examination, fire investigation, firearms examination and forensic imaging.

Salary levels

  • Assistant Scenes of Crime Officers and Volume Crime Scene examiners start on around £16,000
  • Scenes of Crime Officers can earn around £17,000 and £26,000
  • Senior Scenes of Crime Officers can earn from £26,000 to £30,000
  • Starting salaries for trainee forensic scientists typically range from £16,000 to £20,000. With experience Forensic Scientist salaries range from £25,000 to £35,000.
  • Typical salaries at senior forensic scientist levels are £45,000 plus.

Future prospects

Currently, there are pressures to restrain government expenditure and cut costs, which mean increased productivity and efficiency will be essential. Whilst employment within forensic science has increased dramatically over the last ten years, recently, there have been significant job losses in Forensic Science Service as three main labs were closed. Over the longer-term, there are no forecasts on the number of opportunities in the forensic sciences. However, competition for jobs is expected to remain high. Short-term contracts and agency work are occasionally available and do often result in full-time appointments.


NGRF - LMI Future Trends

Skills for Justice

National Careers Service - job profiles

Graduate Prospects

Forensic Science Service

British Academy of Forensic Sciences

Home Office

Back to IER Sector Summaries here