COMBINE online transacting with jobs moving offshore, an already challenging unemployment rate, and tech innovations that replace humans with computers, and you’ve got a recipe for jobs stagnation; a scenario that doesn’t look very promising going forward.

Recently in the New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that these factors have made one thing very clear: Average is over. In order for U.S. workers to survive this onslaught, they have to be better qualified, better educated, and more proficient than they’d been previously. And they have to be recognized as such by their customers.

This message actually underscored many efforts in 2011 to shine light on the opticianry field and find ways to improve it. At last year’s Vision Expo East, First Vision Media Group sponsored a “town hall” discussion called “The Hope and Future of Opticianry,” during which a number of opticianry’s leading lights, both from the stage and from the audience, all voiced the same imperative: Opticianry has got to get better in order to survive.

If consumers can’t experience the difference between a pair of glasses dispensed via the Internet and a pair of glasses dispensed by a living, breathing optician, then something is terribly wrong. During the meeting last year, many voiced this concern, pointing out that for opticianry to survive, it has to reassert itself as a profession, and not just a stop between working at the Gap and working at Bloomingdale’s. While opinions varied on how to accomplish this, many pointed to greater education, more certification, and the need for a more formalized mentoring program.

There was also talk of building the profession’s status at the consumer level, admittedly an expensive proposition, and exposing high school kids to opticianry’s opportunities as a solid career option.

But the first step seemingly is a campaign to extend certification/licensure beyond the 22 states that currently support it. Again, it won’t be easy to come up with the right formula of personal experience vs. education, but it has to be done.

Right now, The Vision Council is assisting in taking these efforts forward by hosting a series of meetings among opticianry’s opinion leaders to create some consensus and action plan. These efforts will accelerate throughout 2012 and hopefully yield positive results.
Make no mistake, this issue affects everyone in the optical distribution chain and will profoundly impact the future of optical for everyone. Opticians are the front line of our industry, the ones dealing with the patients at that critical moment when purchasing decisions are made. They must be the best they can be, and they must be respected as such. Otherwise, they will go the way of the dinosaur.

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