Optical Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Many of us need to wear spectacles or contact lenses to improve our vision at some time in our lives. Because everyone's vision is different, most spectacles and contact lenses are prescribed by optometrists and ophthalmologists to suit individual patients' needs. It is the optical technician's job to prepare high-quality spectacles and lenses that meet the specifications on the prescription.

While some lenses are made from glass, over 98% are made from plastics. Simple lenses are often produced by moulding processes, but more complicated ones are individually made.

Job descriptions vary but can include:

  • Producing spectacles and contact lenses using computer-controlled machinery.
  • Glazing and finishing lenses for individual prescriptions.
  • Applying special finishes to lenses, such as tinting and scratch-resistant coatings.
  • Inserting lenses into spectacle frames.
  • Adjusting and repairing spectacles.
  • Making contact lenses in high volumes using moulding techniques.
  • Making contact lenses for individual prescriptions using lathe-cutting techniques.
  • Receiving, storing and controlling stock.
  • Talking to customers about lenses and frames if working in an in-store laboratory.
  • Understanding the principles behind the manufacture of spectacles and contact lenses.

Some optical technicians produce eye prostheses, which involves producing, colouring, curing and finishing artificial eyes.

Optical technicians making spectacles use a range of specialist tools, including computer-controlled surfacers and edgers. Factories making contact lenses may use sophisticated production techniques where lenses are not touched by hand during the entire manufacturing and packaging process.

Optical technicians usually work between 37 and 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. In in-store laboratories attached to high-street opticians, weekend working may be required. Some employers operate shift work.

They are usually based in clean, well-lit laboratories and wear protective clothing such as white lab coats and, sometimes, eye protection. The work may involve sitting or standing for long periods.

Salaries may start at around £11,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Optical technicians are employed in optical laboratories. Some are independent laboratories offering services to a range of clients, while others are owned by national chains of opticians. Branches of national chains sometimes have in-store laboratories offering a rapid service. There are opportunities throughout the UK.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers, at Connexions centres and Jobcentre plus, and in Optician magazine.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements to become an optical technician, although some GCSE's/S grades or equivalent in subjects like English, mathematics, science and IT may be an advantage.

Some people enter this career through Apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training may combine on-the-job training from an experienced colleague with specialist courses.

NVQ's/SVQ's in Optical Manufacturing are available at Levels 2 and 3.

The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers offers vocational qualifications aimed at optical technicians:

The Level 2 Certificate in Optical Production Processes is available by distance learning and covers an industry overview and specialist modules aimed at technicians producing spectacles, contact lenses or eye prostheses.

The Level 4 Certificate for Optical Technicians is also available by distance learning. It builds on the Level 2 certificate and is aimed at those with a minimum of two years' experience in the industry. Successful candidates are entitled to use the letters SMc(Tech) after their name.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An optical technician should:

  • Be confident using computer-controlled machinery and software packages.
  • Be able to work quickly and accurately and meet exacting production standards.
  • Be able to concentrate for long periods.
  • Be able to understand prescriptions and produce lenses that meet individual specifications.
  • Be numerate.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be able to work well on their own and as part of a team.
  • Have customer service skills if working in an in-store laboratory.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced optical technicians may be promoted to team leader or supervisory posts or, with further training, to training officer or management positions.

Some take further qualifications to become dispensing opticians.

Get Further Information

The Association of Contact Lens Manufacturers Ltd (ACLM),
PO Box 735, Devizes SN10 3TQ
Tel: 01380 860418
Website: www.aclm.org.uk

Federation of Manufacturing Opticians,
199 Gloucester Terrace, London W2 6LD
Tel: 020 7298 5123
Website: www.fmo.co.uk

The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers,
Apothecaries' Hall, Black Friars Lane,
London EC4V 6EL
Tel: 020 7236 2932
Website: www.spectaclemakers.com

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