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Career Guide: Opticians, Dispensing

Bureau of Labor Statistics


Dispensing opticians held about 66,000 jobs in 2006. About one-third of dispensing opticians worked in offices of optometrists. Nearly one-third worked in health and personal care stores, including optical goods stores. Many of these stores offer one-stop shopping. Customers may 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. Eleven percent worked in offices of physicians, primarily ophthalmologists, who sell glasses directly to patients. Two 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 2016, as the population ages and demand for corrective lenses increases. Good job prospects are expected, but the occupation will remain relatively small.

Employment change. Employment in this occupation is expected to rise 9 percent over the 2006-16 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, more opticians will be needed to provide service to them. In addition, awareness is increasing of the importance of regular eye exams across all age groups. A small, but growing number of States require children as young as 5 to get eye exams, which is expected to increase the need for eye care services in those States. Fashion also influences demand. Frames come in a growing variety of styles, colors, and sizes, encouraging people to buy more than one pair.

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 people with minimal training to make the measurements needed to fit glasses and may allow dispensing opticians to work faster, limiting the need for more workers. There also is proposed legislation that, if passed, may require contact lens manufacturers to make lenses available to nonoptical retail outlets, which may allow them to be sold over the Internet, reducing the need for opticians to provide contact lens services.

Job prospects. Job prospects for entering the profession should be good as there is a regular need to replace those who leave the occupation or retire. Nevertheless, the number of job openings will be 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 taken formal opticianry classes and those who master new technology, including new refraction systems, framing materials, and edging techniques.

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