Laboratory technician job

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Alison Pemberton is an optical technician, helping to make lenses and fit them into frames for the 30 million people who wear spectacles in the UK. She operates from a workshop sited in a high street retail store.

What does your Laboratory technician job involve?

I take a patient's prescription and spectacle specification from an optical assistant or dispensing optician and manufacture the spectacles. It takes about an hour to make in the on-site workshop.

How do you make the spectacles?

The process involves tracing the frame shape, selecting stock lenses and cutting them precisely, taking into account the patient's facial measurements provided with the specification.

Once the lenses have been cut to the required shape, the spectacles have to be assembled in the frame and then checked to British and European standards. Lenses for sunspecs would also go through a tinting process before checking.

What equipment do you use?

I work with specialist equipment. This includes a surfacing generator, focimeter, lens washer, blocker and a tint bath. The generator is the largest piece of equipment and cuts the lens to the correct specification, which starts as just a large block of plastic material. Also, I need a variety of specialist pliers and screwdrivers.

What training do you receive?

All new laboratory technicians receive six weeks training at the company's technical laboratory. The company operates bronze, silver and gold training levels leading to an outside qualification – Spectacle Makers Certificate Tech – which is administered by the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers.

Do you have a typical day?

All days are dependent on the flow of customers through the store and the number of spectacles sold.

What hours do you work?

Retail hours which depend on the location of the store – whether it is in a shopping centre or a high street. I work 39 hours per week, 9am to 5.30pm in this store. Saturday is our busiest day and involves about a third of the week's workload.

What was your route into your Laboratory technicians job?

I started part-time whilst at university and continued fulltime after my degree.

What are the skills and qualities needed?

You need practical skills, to pay attention to detail and take pride in your work. The optical skills you can acquire through training and experience. You need to be a team player and work well in a multi-skilled workplace.

Amanda's route to becoming a Laboratory technician

  • 8 GCSEs.
  • 3 A levels.
  • BSc(Hons).

Amanda's tips

  • Whatever you do ensure that you get the best training available.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice.
  • Realise that starting a job at the lowest level or undertaking routine tasks often provides valuable experience that you can put to good use at a later date.

Laboratory technician related jobs

  • Optician: dispensing
  • Biochemist
  • Sterile services technician

Salary of a Laboratory technician

  • Salaries depend upon the sector in which the technician is employed. For example, in the NHS a trainee medical technical officer (MTO) – a term used to describe healthcare scientists who undertake a wide range of work using equipment to diagnose and treat patients – may receive between £8,000 and £10,000, rising to £25,000 with experience.
  • In the private retail sector, you can expect a higher starting salary of up to about £15,000 whilst training.

Getting in

  • You do not need any particular academic qualifications to begin a career as an optical technician, but some knowledge of science and mathematics is an advantage.
  • The job is good for school leavers and there is scope for career progression into laboratory management, store management, or as a dispensing optician.
  • 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.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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