State government subsidies and Federal government funded traineeships are available for new entrants to optical dispensing, yet many practice managers remain unaware of them. The business building opportunities that traineeships offer are immense – employers gain dispensers who are more productive, engaged, and equipped with skills that transfer to the workplace quickly. Employees gain a qualification that will stand them in good stead for life. It’s a win win!
Training for optical dispensing throughout Australia has had its ups and downs in recent years, depending on where a person lives and who they work for. Generally speaking, enrolments into the accredited Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing HLT47815 throughout Australia are lower than they used to be. This is bewildering when you consider the need for training in order to provide patients with the best outcomes from today’s complex ophthalmic lenses. Even more so when you realise there are some generous government subsidies available to make staff training financially viable, even for small practices.
there is one central rule that must be noted upfront… most traineeships are for new entrant trainees only
The Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing HLT47815 has been the ‘go to’ course for optical dispensing for many years and until recently, was offered by multiple colleges throughout Australia. However deregulation of the dispensing industry, coupled with changes to government funding, led to falling enrolments and a reduced number of courses on offer. Consequently, there are currently only four course providers in Australia and New Zealand.
TRAINING BRINGS SUCCESS
There is absolutely no reason why interest in, or the need for, quality training should be low, just because an industry is unregulated. Arguably, it should be more!
Yet educators and academics are constantly amazed to hear from optometrists who hand a patient’s finely tuned prescription to an unqualified optical assistant for lens design recommendations, frame selection, and recording of facial measurements.
Don’t they realise that mismanagement by an untrained optical assistant can undermine their work and result in a non-adapt? Or that the patient who is presented with an unsuitable frame and lens package will likely assume either they are unsuited to the lenses, or the optometrist got something wrong in the eye test… when in fact most non-adapts are the result of poor dispensing?
Fortunately, there is finally growing awareness of these issues and optometrists are beginning to realise their profession needs a well trained, vibrant body of dispensers to support it… but who will pay?
WHO PAYS THE COSTS?
Course fees for vocational education around Australia (and the world) have risen significantly in recent years, but thankfully, some very generous government subsidies and traineeships continue to be available, depending on the state, the applicant’s background, and college in question. While a standard state government subsidy can reduce the enrolment fee significantly, a federal government funded traineeship can be even more helpful.
Variations can exist from state to state and college to college, but the benefits of a traineeship can include:
- The enrolment fee is further reduced to approximately AU$1000,
- The employer may receive up to $4000 in support,
- Payroll tax exemptions may apply for the student for the life of the course, and
- Travel allowances may be available for trainees to travel to workshops.
STIPULATIONS AND GUIDELINES
There are various straightforward stipulations and guidelines regarding traineeships that must be followed, and a local apprenticeship network provider can advise you of these. However, there is one central rule that must be noted upfront and, which if overlooked, can rule out an employee’s eligibility: most traineeships are for new entrant trainees only. This means the employee must be signed up for the traineeship in their first three months of employment if full-time, or within 12 months if they are part-time. If this obligation is met, then the traineeship is usually approved. But if it is not observed, and the employee applies after these time frames of employment, the traineeship will most likely not apply. While other government subsidies may be available, applicants who are not eligible for any subsidy at all will be presented with escalated fees. Currently we have colleges in Australia that will charge anywhere from $9,800 through to more than $12,000 for unsubsidised, full fee delivery of the Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing HLT47815.
HOW TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITY
State government subsidies and Federal government funded traineeships present an exciting opportunity for your practice to attract long term, career driven staff if you work strategically.
The first thing to think about, when you need to employ a new optical assistant/dispenser, is whether to look for someone who is already trained or for a great applicant and then provide the training needed.
Your first line of thought may be to take on a trained dispenser however, remember that ‘soft skills’ and personality/character attributes of an applicant are critical for dispensing roles and are far harder to teach and develop than optical theory and practical dispensing skills. With this in mind, the answer is obvious – seek out the right person first, employ that person, and then provide them with the right training.
One way to help find the best person is to specify in the advertisement that the position is for a traineeship. Additionally, make it clear that the chosen candidate will be enrolled into a recognised course which will lead to a significant, valuable qualification.
This will have a twofold effect. Firstly, it will attract applicants who respond to an opening that is more of a career opportunity than just a job. And secondly, it will help screen out those applicants who are only looking for a short term job (who may not disclose this in their interview).
The fact that you are looking for a long term employee who is interested in training and establishing a career in optical dispensing should be emphasised again in the interview. This will help you ascertain how motivated the applicant is regarding this wonderful training opportunity.
Other opportunities to maximise the traineeship will come when you discuss remuneration. The offer of incremental pay rises, linked to course progress, will incentivise the employee to focus on their study and gain the qualification in a timely fashion. Sponsorship for the student to attend their graduation event when the course has been successfully completed – and even attending with them to help celebrate this significant achievement – will add weight to the value with which you uphold the course and build your staff member’s loyalty.
Training our dispensers of tomorrow is a critically important issue for our industry that deserves more attention than is currently being received. The fact that some generous government subsidies and traineeships around Australia continue to be available will, if we avail ourselves of them, make training all the more attainable. I encourage you to consider the advantages of optical dispenser training for your practice.
James Gibbins is a director and senior trainer at the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing, which delivers quality training and continual professional development to meet the growing needs of the optical dispensing industry.