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Sector LMI - Science

The UK has a strong position in the international science sector. Scientists use observation, experimentation and research to make discoveries, add to our knowledge and solve problems related to almost every aspect of our lives. There are an estimated 191,000 people employed in the sciences in Great Britain, which includes those involved in research and development with other qualifications and job roles that are not science related but are essential to the business.

Science is used in a wide range of areas, including health and medicine, the food and drink industry, engineering and education. Consequently, there are many opportunities to find employment in the sector, particularly in: research and development (R&D); biotechnology; and environmental science. The majority of careers in this sector are mainly at technician and professional levels. Most employees specialise in a particular field, such as ecology or forensic science.

Some major industries within the UK science sector include:

  • The chemical industry directly employs around 200,000 people in 3,100 companies
  • Biotechnology employs 21,830 people in approximately 450 businesses in the UK
  • The food and drink sector employs around 500,000 people
  • The pharmaceutical sector employs around 73,000 people, 27,000 of whom work in research and development

Key facts

  • The science sector in the UK is growing and has a high level of recruitment activity.
  • The sector encompasses a wide range of companies, from large multinational enterprises to micro companies with fewer than 10 employees.
  • There are an estimated 2,895 scientific research and development organisations in the UK.
  • The UK is Europe’s top location for investment in pharmaceutical and biotechnology research and development.
  • Around 6% of those in science occupations are self-employed.

Science workforce

  • Women are well represented in the workforce (42%), but their proportion is smaller at senior levels and in the higher scientific grades.
  • The workforce has a relatively young profile; 56% of the workforce is aged 25-44 years.
  • Some ethnic minority groups are under-represented in science, engineering and technology.

Education and training

Training and continuous professional development activities are high across the sector. With scientific developments proceeding rapidly, employers will be looking for some highly specialist skills, which require specialist training and courses. 71% of science establishments recruit graduates with a Science degree and 60% recruit those with doctorates.

A number of qualifications are offered in this sector to help meet employers’ growing demand for skilled professional workers, including: a range of specialist vocational qualifications (NVQs) such as forensic science; and applied GCSEs in science. There is also a range of further and higher education opportunities (at degree, foundation degree and HNC/HND level) in science subjects.

Graduates from non-science backgrounds can find many opportunities in science-based organisations. For science-based roles, graduates are recruited from different subject areas, including applied, physical, material and life sciences.

Currently, there are insufficient numbers pursuing technical courses, making it difficult for sector to recruit good quality technicians.

For those entering the science sector, there are many opportunities for further training and career development, particularly as a structured career paths are often offered. Employees can progress in the sector by getting further qualifications or professional accreditation, changing roles, and/or taking on significantly more responsibilities, usually in management.

Salary levels

A range of salary levels are available, the average income for a few occupations are listed below as a guideline only:

  • In the NHS, Biomedical scientists can earn around £20,200-£26,200 a year. Whereas, specialists, team leaders and managers can earn between £32,600-£38,300.
  • A Research biologist earnings start at around £20,000 a year, a university lecturer can earn around £40,000 and Professors can earn up to £60,000.
  • Starting salaries for Ecologists can be between £20,000-£24,000 a year, rising to £25,000-£35,000 with experience. Consultant ecologists can earn around £40,000.

Future prospects

The number of science and technology professionals (which includes engineers employed in the sector) is expected to increase over the next ten years. Climate science, drug discovery and new technological developments are increasing the education, training and work opportunities available in the science sector. Spending is expected to increase in the future and new research positions will be created. However, university doctoral and post-doctoral positions are likely to become more competitive.

In the future, scientists will need a whole range of skills and be able to work in a multidisciplinary environment collaborating with scientists from across the world. Scientists with the ability to speak different languages will become increasingly important and could have better employment prospects.

Future science professionals will need to have even greater strengths in both IT and mathematical analysis, alongside their knowledge of biology and chemistry. These are already being identified as areas that some new graduates are lacking.

Government legislation and funding policy will continue to play a major role in shaping the direction of the science sector.


NGRF - LMI Futures Trends


National Careers Service - job profiles

Graduate Prospects


Institute of Biomedical Sciences

The Chemical Industry

The Science Council

Manufactuing Sector Skills Assessment 2012

icould careers videos

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