By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun
It's hard to resist saying that anyone who wants a career in a burgeoning health-care sector and who has a head for business and customer service should cast an eye over opticianry.
Linda Wren, an optician herself and a co-ordinator in the faculty of continuing education at Seneca College in Toronto, says employment prospects are very good for opticians. Graduates of Seneca's four-year part-time program or the two-year full-time course at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., will find themselves in high demand, Wren says.
"I've even heard people in the industry say there's actually a shortage of opticians," she says. "You'll notice a lot of major retailers are opening optical departments."
Students of Seneca College's opticianry program learn the details of fitting prescription glasses and contact
lenses, making adjustments to frames, and more. (Photo, Seneca College)
Lorne Kashin, a Thornhill, Ont., optician who's been running his own business for 27 years, agrees with Wren that the future is bright for students of opticianry.
"It's excellent," Kashin says. "There are lots of chain stores opening, and in the Toronto area it's sheer volume driving demand."
At least some of that demand comes from an aging population. Kashin, president of the Ontario Opticians Association, says that by 2005, all baby boomers will be presbyopic. That means they'll need corrective lenses to cope with their gradual inability to focus on close objects or see small print.
Another factor spurring the growth of opticianry is technology. Kashin cites progressive multifocal lenses, contact lenses for virtually any prescription or cosmetic whim and newer lens coatings as just some examples of what opticians can be expected to dispense these days.
Most people meet an optician at a retail outlet when buying corrective lenses. Anyone practising the profession in Ontario must be licensed by the College of Opticians of Ontario to order and fit prescription glasses or contact lenses, advise on coatings, make adjustments to frames and more.
Wren says the Seneca program is popular with mature students wishing to study opticianry because it allows them to work during the day and attend classes twice a week at night. She puts the age range of her student opticians at between 30 and 45, and says many have settled in Canada from abroad where they may have had some training in health care.
Anyone considering opticianry as a career must have an Ontario Grade 12 diploma with credits in English, math, and one in physics, chemistry or biology, whether they apply at Seneca or Georgian, Wren says. At Seneca, students can pay as they learn, she continues. Most courses cost $259 for 42 hours of instruction. Georgian's tuition fees are $1,660 a term. As well as the technical aspects of opticianry, Wren says students at Seneca and Georgian -- the only two colleges in Ontario to teach opticianry -- are also required to take general education courses such as communications, a social science, marketing and introduction to computers.
Both Wren and Kashin say how much new opticians earn depends on where they work, although they peg starting salaries in the high $30,000s to the low $40,000s. And for those so inclined, there is always the promise of starting your own business.
That's something Murtaza Janmohamed intends to do just as soon as he can. A Seneca student who will finish his program this year, Janmohamed says he comes from a business family background, but always wanted to combine that with a community-oriented profession, and opticianry fit the bill.
"What I like about opticianry is the field is vast," he says. "The clientele is different, from downtown to the suburbs. I know there is lots of competition, but at the same time, lots of people are coming to Ontario."
Janmohamed came to Canada two years ago after practising as an optician in Kenya. Once here, he was given advanced standing at Seneca, thanks to his training in Britain and his 12 years of practising in Nairobi, the East African country's capital.
For Sherry Salehi, a cosmetician and aesthetician in her native Iran, opticianry offers other rewards. Trained at Seneca and now a store manager in Woodbridge, Ont., she says it's highly rewarding fitting people with glasses so they can see properly "and with the little ones it's priceless."
(Reach freelancer David Chilton at firstname.lastname@example.org
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