The National Apprenticeship Scheme has been in place since 2009, and apprenticeships have a long tradition in the United Kingdom, but some employers in the optical industry have yet to embrace them. Read on to hear how optical apprenticeships can benefit you, your staff and your business.
Mandy Boucher is a tutor on the level 2 optical assistant apprenticeship and says, “This is a way to empower learners to engage through hands-on learning.” As a dispensing optician (DO) with more than 20 years’ experience and former group manager, Mandy says, “I have seen first-hand that DOs are getting busier and busier. They are likely to be managing a practice, which makes it hard to be on the shop floor all the time. Being a buddy and teaching new OAs is time consuming and still a major part of many Dos’ job description, as they are the best people to train others.” She continues, “Offering in practice training can be a pressure. The time taken to train effectively is immense. Training is often done by shadowing, but knowledge and skills still must be checked to make the judgment if someone is competent.” There are costly consequences if training doesn’t work well for both the business and the individual. Mandy adds, “Lots of OAs, who could become a great asset to the business, end up leaving their job because they are bored or unchallenged, or overwhelmed and expected to know everything in the first few months.”
With an apprenticeship, the workload is set and spread over a 12-month period. Mandy says, “Everyone in the business knows the plan for learning and can work together to make that plan effective. We take the pressure of training away from the DO, yet still use them to complement the course with their involvement as the OA practices the knowledge and skills learned in their training sessions. Working over a minimum of 12 months, the learner is not rushed, or overwhelmed, with regular knowledge checks and on-site visits throughout their course. We build on their knowledge with foundation training first, they won’t run before they can walk.”
An optical assistant apprenticeship is a great way to start an optical career. Mandy says, “Young people can start their journey into their optical career this way. They don’t have to go down the traditional route for qualification of college or A levels etc. We can start with functional skills, traineeships and apprenticeships, to give the learner the foundation qualifications to enable them to step up to the ABDO Dispensing course. As a DO, I wish I’d had the opportunity to do the optical assistant course, as It would have prepared my basic knowledge to enable me to be ready for my Dispensing Optics course.”