Most optical technicians learn through on-the-job training. There are courses prospective optical technicians can take in high school and college that will be helpful to their careers.
How will I be trained as an optical technician?
Optical technicians typically serve as apprentices to experienced technicians and learn how to perform the job under their supervision. An apprentice may begin with simple tasks such as marking lenses for grinding before graduating to more complex work like grinding, cutting and edging lenses.
What education do I need?
Optical technicians do not need any formal education, although employers usually require a high school diploma or GED and may prefer candidates who have earned a two-year associate’s degree at a technical or vocational college.
High school students who are interested in becoming an optical technician should take classes in math, science, technology, industrial arts and health.
If you choose to pursue an associate’s degree, the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation lists some accredited two-year programs on its website. Check to see if there is one available in your area. The classes these programs offer may include ocular physiology and anatomy, medical optics, ophthalmic laboratory. medical terminology, ophthalmic lenses and ocular pathology.
You can also check to see if your local community or technical college offers a certification program for optical technicians, which can usually be completed within six months to one year and typically covers basic and advanced ophthalmic optics.
Check with local companies that employ optical technicians to find out what is standard practice for your area. Search for optical technician jobs on job search engines to compile a list of companies hiring for this position and call their human resources department. Some questions to ask:
- What training does the company offer for optical technicians?
- What are the company’s education requirements for entry-level optical technicians?
- Does the company cover all or part of the cost of becoming certified?
The answers you receive should give you a better idea of the training and education you need to succeed with local employers.
You may also find it helpful to speak with experienced optical technicians to find out what training and education they have received and what they consider necessary. Local community and technical colleges can help put you in touch with graduates of their programs.
You can also search online to find the names of local optical technicians. Go to Google and enter a company name and the words optical technician in the search field. Search results should include the resumes of people who are working or have worked as an optical technician for that company.
Do I need to become certified as an optical technician?
Certification as an optical technician is voluntary as optical technicians are not licensed professionals. However, certification may improve your career opportunities and help you negotiate a larger salary.
You can obtain certification through the American Board of Opticianry and the National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO-NCLE). These national, non-profit organizations administer voluntary certification examinations for dispensing opticians and contact lens technicians. They offer basic and advanced certification as well as a master’s program in ophthalmic optics.
The basic certification exam is administered by computer and contains 125 questions which must be completed within two and a half hours. The exam fee is $225. You can download the basic exam handbook or find a location near you to take the exam on the organization’s website.
If you decide certification would be beneficial, be sure to check with your employer to find out if the company will cover part or all of the cost.
How can I advance within my career?
The easiest ways to advance in your career as an optical technician are through certification or management.
You can become certified at a basic or advanced level or complete a master’s program in ophthalmic optics to demonstrate your commitment to your career and exceptional knowledge and skill level. For more information, visit the American Board of Opticianry and the National Contact Lens Examiners website.
If you work in a laboratory, you can gain experience that qualifies you for a supervisor or training role overseeing new optic technicians.
Another way to advance within your field is to pursue a career as an optician.