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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
An optical technician should:
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.
The Association of Contact Lens Manufacturers Ltd (ACLM),
PO Box 735, Devizes SN10 3TQ
Tel: 01380 860418
Federation of Manufacturing Opticians,
199 Gloucester Terrace, London W2 6LD
Tel: 020 7298 5123
The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers,
Apothecaries' Hall, Black Friars Lane,
London EC4V 6EL
Tel: 020 7236 2932
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.