Optical Technician: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Research what it takes to become an optical technician. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Electrical Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Optical Technician?

Optical technicians, also known as ophthalmic laboratory technicians, create eyeglasses and contact lenses as well as lenses for binoculars and other optical devices. They fill prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists, ensuring that the lenses refract light at the proper angle to permit optimal vision. While hand made lenses are possible, more often than not optical technicians use automated equipment to manufacture lenses. See the table below for more information about the career of optical technician:

Degree RequiredH.S. Diploma or G.E.D. at minimum; some postsecondary programs are available
Education Field of StudyOphthalmic technology or closely related field
Training Required On-the-job training is common
Key ResponsibilitiesWork with newly produced lenses to assemble complete eyeglasses
Manage and sometimes use machinery for grinding, cutting and polishing lenses
Keep records as required by laws and regulations
Job Growth (2014-2024)10%*
Median Salary (2015)$29,860*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of an Optical Technician?

If you're an optical technician, your primary duty is manufacturing eyeglasses and contact lenses. As an optical technician, you'll fill prescriptions given to you by ophthalmologists and optometrists, ensuring that the lenses refract light at the proper angle to allow the wearer to see more clearly. The creation of the lens involves the precise use of automated equipment and machines known as grinders and lensometers, which shape the curvature of the lenses and measure them for accuracy. In some cases, optical technicians also craft lenses for telescopes, binoculars and other optical instruments. Your work as an optical technician could take place in medical equipment laboratories, optometrists' offices and in some health stores.

What is the Projected Career and Salary Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that rapid growth was expected for ophthalmic lab technicians, with the market expanding by about 10% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The growth was attributed to expanding elderly and middle-aged populations who require vision correction, creating the need for new optical technicians. However, it was estimated that the prevalence of automated technology in the field could slow the overall job growth. In 2015, the median salary for all ophthalmic lab technicians was $29,860, per the BLS.

What Education Prerequisites Must I Complete?

Aspiring optical technicians have no set educational requirements to meet other than earning a high school diploma. However, taking classes in math and science could aid you in your career. Potential employers also prefer candidates who have manual dexterity and computer skills. You will find that many optical technicians begin as on-the-job trainees with simple responsibilities, such as marking lenses for the grinder, and then progress to grinding lenses personally and assembling eyeglasses. The length of on-the-job training will depend upon the specific laboratory in which you work.

Some vocational schools and community colleges offer certificate and associate's degree programs, which can take one or two years to complete. In 2016, the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation (COA) listed 20 degree programs and two certificates that met their standards for essential education. Programs found in community colleges may consist of classes such as ocular physiology and anatomy, medical optics and ophthalmic laboratory. You might also take classes in medical terminology, ophthalmic lenses and ocular pathology. The skills of an optical technician can also be learned in the military.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Optical technicians are often confused with dispensing opticians. While they both work with lenses, they are different in what they do. Optical technicians work in the creation of lenses while dispersing opticians help customers select eye glasses, adjust glasses and fit contacts. Medical equipment repairers are comparable to optical technicians because of the need to work with sophisticated equipment in a medical setting. Another related career, though it requires a lot more education, is that of an optometrist. Optometrists conduct eye exams, make lens prescriptions, and diagnose and treat patients with visual health problems.

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