How to Become an Optical Technician in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an optical technician. Learn about education requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Electrical Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information At a Glance

An optical technician is a specialist who assists optometrists and ophthalmologists by producing eyeglasses according to their specifications. Although you might perform the cutting, grinding and polishing of lenses for glasses by hand, precision machines increasingly handle these functions. Consider the information in the following table to determine if a career as an optical technician is right for you.

Education Required High school diploma, professional certificate available, associate's degree recommended for advancement
Training Required Moderate on-the-job training
Key Skills Detail oriented, dexterity, technical
Job Growth (2012-2022) 12% (for all opthalmic laboratory technicians)*
Median Salary (2014) $28,890 (for all opthalmic laboratory technicians)'*

Source: *U.S. Department of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma or GED is often enough education to become an optical technician. O*Net OnLine reports that about 76% of technicians have a diploma (www.onetonline.org). Math, science, wood and metal shop, drafting and computers are examples of high school classes that might help you develop the mix of tool-handling and technical skills you need for this position.

Step 2: Consider Earning a Certificate

Although a relatively small number of technicians have a postsecondary education, certificate programs in optical technology, optometric technology or related titles are available from community and technical colleges. Such programs teach you to interact with customers, interpret prescriptions, use lens fabrication equipment and maintain equipment. Courses may also cover optical physics, optical materials and contact lenses.

Step 3: Consider Certification

It isn't mandatory, but you can obtain certification from the American Board of Opticianry by passing their National Opticianry Competency Examination (NOCE). To be eligible you must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma. The exam tests your ability to fit glasses and other devices, interpret prescriptions and use ophthalmic equipment.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical equipment manufacturers are your leading employment prospect (www.bls.gov). You may also find positions with optometrists, retailers, hospitals and equipment wholesalers. In 2012 about 31,000 people held jobs as optical technicians. Over the years 2012-2022, employment is projected to rise twelve percent. Estimated figures for 2014 show employment at 27,610, excluding any technicians who were self-employed. As of May 2014 you could have potentially earned a median annual salary of $28,890.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Your advancement options depend on how much additional education you're willing to consider obtaining. In settings with multiple employees, work experience might be enough for you to become a manager or supervisor of other technicians. Otherwise you could earn an associate's degree in opticianry to become a dispensing optician or in optometric technology to become an optometrist assistant. If you earned a certificate your may be able to apply your credits towards a degree.

For any career beyond those you need significantly more education. Becoming an optometrist requires a Doctor of Optometry degree. Ophthalmologists must earn an M.D. degree and then specialize in ophthalmology.

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