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A Career in Optics
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A Career in Optics...

What is an Optical Technician?
For centuries people have been wearing glasses to help them to see better. In Great Britain over 25 million people wear glasses either for distance, reading or both. Spectacle frames are generally made by mass production.  However, many lenses have to be individually made and complete spectacles produced in thousands of permutations to correct individual visual requirements.

It is the job of the optical technician to make these lenses and fit them to frames.

How are lenses made?
In the past, lenses were made by hand from glass.  This was a long process as each surface of the lens had to be ground and polished, using differing grades of abrasives until the final highly polished surfaces were achieved.

In the 1950's the introduction of plastics for lenses started a revolution in production techniques and now around 80% of lenses are made from modern plastic materials.  Many of the simpler lenses are produced, ready finished, by moulding processes but more complicated ones still have to be individually made.

High technology computer-controlled machinery has taken over from the old manual methods and technicians have to understand how to use these machines as well as understanding the principles behind them.

What do I have to learn?
Much of the training is of a practical nature but it is also essential to understand the theory behind the practical work so that, when qualified, a technician will be capable of seeing a lens through from its initial "blank" stage to fitting it into a spectacle frame.

Do I need any academic qualifications and how do I learn?
Academic qualifications are not necessary to enter this career but some knowledge of mathematics would be an advantage. Training can be undertaken by any one of three routes:

1)      By attending the City & Islington College in London one day per week during term time over a two year period.
2)      By attending the SMC modular courses which are held at various venues throughout the year.
3)      By correspondence course in your own time over two years.

It is assumed, of course, that you would be working in an optical laboratory or practice at the same time, or have access to one in order to obtain practical experience.

Would I have any recognition at the end of my training?
At the end of your training you would be expected to sit the Spectacle Makers' examination and, if successful, would be awarded the Optical Technician’s Certificate and be entitled to use the initials SMC(Tech.) after your name.

Holders of the certificate are eligible to apply for the Freedom of the Spectacle Makers' Company and, if of British nationality, the Freedom of the City of London.  In fullness of time you may also wish to become a Liveryman of the Company.

What are the career prospects?
There are a number of options for employment as a qualified technician.

Some single practice opticians employ technicians to 'cut, edge and fit', in other words edging surfaced lenses to the spectacle frame shape and fitting them in the frame.

Larger practices sometimes have an 'in house' laboratory where lenses are surfaced to prescription on the premises.

Then there are also the comprehensive prescription companies, some being independent and some owned by optical groups.  They are situated throughout the country and provide a total service to their customers ranging from finished uncut lenses through to the making of complex lenses.

Many holders of SMC(Tech) have gone on successfully to train as dispensing opticians, whilst others are today's optical industry training officers and management team members.

 

The Spectacle Makers Company
The Company is a Livery Company of the City of London founded in 1629 by Royal Charter.  Its original function was to ensure high standards of quality and service.  As optical knowledge and organisation has changed over the 350 years since the Company was formed so has the role of the "Spectacle Maker”.  Originally one person made and supplied spectacles and gave such advice as was available about them - now different people are involved and all are represented amongst the Liverymen and Freemen of the Spectacle Makers Company, many, despite their title, being ladies.

The Company is held in high regard in the City of London as a Livery Company which is very active and forward-looking and which has produced more than its fair share of Lord Mayors over the years.

The Company, as a progressive Livery Company, has probably the largest number of Freemen of any City Company.  The connection with the City of London is complete in that the Freemen of the Company (of British nationality) may apply for the Freedom of the City and indeed must become Free of the City before admission to the Livery.

In encouraging you to learn about your job and to become highly skilled in your chosen career the Company has the same objectives which it has followed for over 350 years.

If you are in any doubt about whether this career could be for you, try and speak to your local optician, arrange for some work experience and see first hand the type and variety of work performed.

For more information contact the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, Apothecaries Hall, Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EL or telephone 0207 236 8645 or visit them online at www.spectaclemakers.com

 

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The site was last updated on 1st November 2003. The latest issue of our newsletter and an overhaul of all areas of the site feature in this update.



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Issue 10 (autumn/winter 2003) contains details of the science behind your glasses, news on the latest optical products and an outline of some of the causes and treatments for dry eyes.

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