Optical Technician Education Requirements and Career Information

Optical technicians, sometimes called optical mechanics, work in laboratories to produce prescription lenses for eyeglasses and contact lenses. They also produce lenses for optical instruments, such as binoculars and telescopes. Some optical technicians receive on-the-job training while others acquire their training through programs offered at vocational schools and community colleges.

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Optical Technician Education Requirements

The basic level of education required for a career as an optical technician is a high school diploma or GED. Many optical technicians gain knowledge and skills through on-the-job training; however, vocational, technical and community colleges offer certificate or associate's degree programs for those interested in becoming optical technicians.

An optical laboratory technician certificate program prepares students for entry-level positions in wholesale, retail or independent laboratories. These programs, which can usually be completed in six months to a year, include classes and lab work in basic and advanced ophthalmic optics.

Students in an Associate of Applied Science in Optical Technology program receive instruction in theoretical and mechanical optics, eye anatomy, lens design, lens surfacing, optical testing and optical physics. A practicum or capstone course is generally part of the program requirements.

Career Information

Optical technicians typically work in ophthalmic laboratories, where they produce lenses according to specifications listed on optical prescriptions. After receiving a prescription, the technician obtains lens blanks and makes the calculations on grinding lenses to the desired specifications. The optical technician uses a lens meter to inspect completed lenses and may then apply protective coating before shaping the lenses to fit eyeglass frames, cameras or telescopes. Optical technicians also repair damaged eyeglasses.

Producing lenses requires the use of machines that perform tasks like cutting, grinding, edging and finishing. While many technicians still grind and edge lenses by hand, they are expected to know how to operate each machine. Optical technicians work with equipment such as computer-based generators, automatic edgers, lens measuring instruments and small hand tools.

Optical technicians are required to have manual dexterity, basic computer skills, knowledge of optical theory and lens production, and the ability to read and apply optical prescriptions and do precision work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 35,200 employed optical technicians in the nation in 2008 (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for optical technicians in 2008 was $27,210.

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