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Dispensing Opticians - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
A few experienced dispensing opticians open their own optical stores. Some become managers of optical stores or sales representatives for wholesalers or manufacturers of eyeglasses or lenses.

Dispensing opticians held about 59,800 jobs in 2008. About 40 percent worked in offices of optometrists. Another 33 percent worked in health and personal care stores, including optical goods stores. Many of these stores offer one-stop shopping where customers can have their eyes examined, choose frames, and have glasses made on the spot. Some opticians work in optical departments of department stores or other general merchandise stores, such as warehouse clubs and superstores. About 13 percent worked in offices of physicians, primarily ophthalmologists, who sell glasses directly to patients. One percent were self-employed and ran their own unincorporated businesses.

Job Outlook
Employment of dispensing opticians is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through 2018, as the population ages and demand for corrective lenses increases. Very good job prospects are expected.

Job Growth
Employment in this occupation is expected to rise 13 percent over the 2008–18 decade. Middle age is a time when many individuals use corrective lenses for the first time, and elderly persons generally require more vision care than others. As the share of the population in these older age groups increases and as people live longer, more opticians will be needed to provide service to them. In addition, awareness of the importance of regular eye exams is increasing across all age groups, especially children and those over the age of 65. Recent trends indicate a movement toward a “low vision” society, where a growing number of people view things that are closer in distance, such as computer monitors, over the course of an average day. This trend is expected to increase the need for eye care services. Fashion also influences demand. Frames come in a growing variety of styles, colors, and sizes, encouraging people to buy more than one pair.

Somewhat moderating the need for optician services is the increasing use of laser surgery to correct vision problems. Although the surgery remains relatively more expensive than eyewear, patients who successfully undergo this surgery may not require glasses or contact lenses for several years. Also, new technology is allowing workers to make the measurements needed to fit glasses and therefore allowing dispensing opticians to work faster, limiting the need for more workers.

Overall, the need to replace dispensing opticians who retire or leave the occupation will result in very good job prospects. Employment opportunities for opticians in offices of optometrists—the largest employer—will be particularly good as an increasing number of ophthalmologists are expected to utilize better trained opticians to handle more tasks, allowing ophthalmologists to see more patients.

Job opportunities also will be good at general merchandise stores because this segment is expected to experience much faster than average growth, as well as high turnover due to less favorable working conditions, such as long hours and mandatory weekend shifts.

Nonetheless, the number of job openings overall will be somewhat limited because the occupation is small. Also, dispensing opticians are vulnerable to changes in the business cycle because eyewear purchases often can be deferred for a time. Job prospects will be best for those who have certification and those who have completed a formal opticianry program. Job candidates with extensive knowledge of new technology, including new refraction systems, framing materials, and edging techniques, should also experience favorable conditions.

Median annual wages of dispensing opticians were $32,810 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,170 and $41,930. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,250, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $50,580.

Benefits for opticians are generally determined by the industries in which they are employed. In general, those who work part-time or in small retail shops have fewer benefits than those who may work for large optical chains or department stores. Self-employed opticians must provide their own benefits.

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