Spreading the news about optical careers

Tony Harvey is a STEM Ambassador, going into schools to tell young people about careers in optics

Being an optician is a bit of a Cinderella job – careers teachers often don’t know anything about it and most of the kids have never thought of it as an option.

I visit schools and colleges to promote optical careers as a STEM ambassador (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). I get invitations to careers evenings, science workshops or interview training.

You might be talking to 40 parents and young people who have no idea about the profession. Many 15 year-olds don’t know what they want to do after GCSEs. Part of the role of the ambassador is to help them understand the real-world applications of their studies. They are surprised when I explain that you can earn while you learn, with remote learning. I can advise them about the right subjects to choose for GCSE or A levels. Next time I go in, if one of them has got a Saturday job in an opticians I take pride in that.

Some teenagers are squeamish and say they could never touch an eye. I ask them if they wear eye make up! They don’t realise the range of roles – that you can be work in retail or be a practice manager or lab technician.

At careers evenings you often have local employers, industries, universities and colleges. Everyone has a table. I take a couple of props, including a plastic eye that you can disassemble to see the anatomy, as well as ABDO leaflets giving more information. I also like to move around the room. Chatting to young people is so enjoyable. I often find that I get approached by other careers teachers asking me to come and talk to their students.

The schools always welcome me and I feel supported. You often get lunch or refreshments.

Showcasing careers in our sector and unveiling different roles and pathways into eyecare opens the students’ eyes to so many opportunities.

It’s not a massive commitment. You sign up online at STEM Learning and you only have to do one event a year. Just create an account, complete an induction, and apply for a free enhanced DBS check (Disclosure and Barring Service) or PVG in Scotland. You pick and choose which sessions you want to do. You log your hours over the year and you can accrue CPD points.

Optics has given me a good career so I enjoy encouraging the next generation. You can really help to raise aspirations.

  • Tips for talking to students about STEM from Careers in Eyecare
  • Find out how to volunteer as a STEM ambassador
  • Tony was regional franchise partnership manager and clinical lead for Boots Opticians Franchise until 2020. He’s now a self- employed DO locum , a member of the General Optical Council Registration Committee and Advisory Panel, and the DO member of Nottingham Local Optical Committee