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HomemibusinessTraining for Dispensers Why it Matters

Training for Dispensers Why it Matters

In Australia, three quarters of the staff who work in retail optometry and dispensing practices have insufficient training for their roles. Very often they have received no formal or accredited training at all. In fact, in recent years, enrolments into the official Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing have been in decline (although recent statistics suggest they are now again on the rise). How has it come to this… and how can we make a change?

I think we all agree that quality training for all employees in our optical industry, whatever their capacity and role, is important, common sense and should be highly valued. Indeed, there is no doubt our ophthalmologists, optometrists and orthoptists are some of the most highly trained and qualified in the world. However for optical dispensing, it’s a different story and this is for historical reasons that are often misunderstood.

I think we all agree that quality training for all employees in our optical industry, whatever their capacity and role, is important, common sense and should be highly valued. Indeed, there is no doubt our ophthalmologists, optometrists and orthoptists are some of the most highly trained and qualified in the world. However for optical dispensing, it’s a different story and this is for historical reasons that are often misunderstood.

In Australia, optical dispensing was only ever regulated in three states. Regulation was perceived important in principle because it made formal training compulsory for anyone wishing to practice as a dispenser, and the industry would have healthy numbers of qualified practitioners to service it.

During the 1990s, it was felt that many Australian industries were over-regulated, creating unneeded levels of administration and additional costs. There was a move to review these industries and de-regulate them where appropriate. We feel optical dispensing was inappropriately caught up in this review, and after a combination of aggressive ‘politicking’ from certain quarters, coupled with poor representation of our dispensers’ interests, optical dispensing was de-regulated – first in Western Australia, then in South Australia, and then finally in New South Wales in 2009. As a result, formal and accredited training for optical dispensing became voluntary overnight, and enrolments began to fall.

Additionally, although the optical dispensing associations had expressed a commitment to providing the industry with clear self-regulation, very little has ever come of these good initial intentions. However, career minded optical assistants and conscientious employers continued to value training, and the Certificate IV has continued to be offered.

Fast forward to today, and everyone agrees we now have a dearth of qualified optical dispensers, and the need for quality training has never been higher. Employers are starting to realise this more widely, therefore we are finally seeing a renewed interest in the Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing.


It is important to understand how much more a trained optical dispenser can offer a practice over an optical assistant. I don’t mean to devalue the role of the optical assistant in any way, as our industry depends on them, but it is the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing’ (ACOD) view that anyone who engages in any form of dispensing – whether that be advising clients on lenses, commenting on frame choice or taking any facial measurements like a PD, should be on a training pathway which should always arrive at the Certificate IV – the launching pad if you like, for every optical dispensing career.

An optical assistant may engage in some helpful basic practical dispensing tasks, but without training, they cannot really understand prism or basic lens theory. Similarly, they will be unable to apply the Australian Standards for Mounted Spectacles when doing a final check of customers’ glasses to make that crucial call on whether they pass and are ready to be handed over, or whether they fail to meet the prescription requirements. These are just a few of the skills and abilities the trained and qualified dispenser has.

There are five main benefactors of a qualified optical dispenser:

  1. The practice owner,
  2. The prescriber,
  3. The client,
  4. The work colleagues, and
  5. The dispenser themselves.

The qualified optical dispenser will provide a higher quality of optical advice, will be able to showcase lenses and frames with more expertise, and provide customers with more professional service. This will lead to an increase in the highly valuable and sought after ‘word of mouth’ recommendations by satisfied customers. At the same time, the improved dispensing standards will lead to a decrease in non-adapts and remakes. These all contribute to increased sales and revenue.


If the prescriber is working on-site, then a qualified dispenser needs less time and direction during the ‘handover’ of the customer, when they proceed from the testing room to the dispensing and frame display area. Additionally, the prescriber can have confidence that the dispenser will interpret the prescription correctly, will note major sight conditions, foresee potential dispensing problems, make appropriate lens and frame recommendations, and take accurate facial and frame measurements. This way the dispenser is actually building on the good ground work laid by the optometrist and is not undermining it.


The customer is also a direct beneficiary of a qualified optical dispenser. They are on the receiving end of quality, professional service, they are given clear and appropriate advice, the spectacles are well dispensed with accurate measurements, they enjoy comfortable spectacles having received good frame adjustments, and they receive excellent follow up service. And a happy satisfied customer not only comes back, but recommends your services to their friends and family – this is the wonderful and profitable bonus of a job well done!


Everyone loves working with professional, capable, and dependable colleagues – it makes the whole work experience so much more enjoyable and rewarding. The qualified optical dispenser is not only an awesome practitioner in dispensing up front, they are great at problem solving and on their way to gaining valuable optical management skills. Equally important, they are able to provide induction, initial training and supervision of the next generation of staff, ensuring this cycle of training and professionalism continues.


Of course, the Optical Dispenser who receives the training benefits in all sorts of ways. As they notice their own knowledge and skills increase, they gain more confidence in their work and their role in the practice, and they enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction from their work life generally. This in turn leads to a greater personal sense of belonging and value, and will lead to a deeper engagement, loyalty and commitment to the practice in return.


At the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD) we advise students of the wonderful benefits they gain by completing the course, which they are sometimes unaware of. We also remind both students and employers that students gain knowledge and skills which transfer immediately to the workplace, to everyone’s benefit. And we also remind the students that they are gaining a qualification for life. Wherever they go and whatever they do in the future, this valuable qualification will sit on their work resume forever, and it will open doors and support them in potentially countless ways. When students appreciate this they invariably gain both a greater motivation to complete the course at a high standard, and to express appreciation to their employers who have helped this to happen.


Practice owners that promote their intent to provide training have potential to improve the quality of their position applicants. We advise employers to include, in their job advertisements, that the position they are offering is not just a job, but a career, and that the successful applicant will be expected to complete the optical dispensing qualification. This will help screen out less appropriate job seekers who may only be after a short term position (but wouldn’t otherwise reveal this in the interview). At the same time, it will attract a higher calibre of applicant who is genuinely seeking a career in our attractive industry.


One thing we have noticed, and are increasingly concerned about, is the lack of awareness in our industry of the generous state and federal government subsidies and traineeships that exist to assist employers with staff training. These subsidies, which vary from state to state, can drastically reduce the cost of training. For more information on subsidies available in your state, please contact your dispensing training provider.


When discussing dispensing training, employers often express the following concern:

“If I train my staff, they might leave.”

We understand this concern, where it is coming from and that it is a complex issue. But ultimately it is not valid in the big picture and has been addressed multiple times in multiple ways. As two particularly well known employers and doyens of industry would say…

“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay”- Henry Ford.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to” – Richard Branson.

Training your optical assistants to become qualified optical dispensers is now more affordable than ever with our government subsidies. Importantly, it is needed more than ever with our shortage of dispensers and our increasing lens sophistication. And finally, training your optical dispensers can be a win-win for everyone involved.

So come on, Australia and New Zealand’s wider optical industry, let’s get training!

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. 

The Problem of ‘Non Adapts’

Everyone agrees that lens designs are now better than ever, and prescribers’ refractions usually spot on. If not, they are very close and only occasionally in need of a little tweaking. Yet all labs confirm we still have far too many customers failing to adapt and love their new progressive lenses. So where are the problems coming from?

Without a doubt, it is poor dispensing. A mono PD only needs to be out by a millimetre or so, a lens height by a couple of millimetres, or a frame misaligned, throwing out the pantoscopic tilt. These are the reasons for most of our non-adapts today.

The next question is… when the customer is not happy with their new progressive spectacles, where do they think the problem lies?

Our experience tells us they either hold themselves responsible for not being able to adapt, or they think the prescriber has got something wrong in the original test. Rarely do they think it was the dispenser. It is the dispenser who flies under the radar in these interactions, and yet can be the most responsible for our non-adapt problems of today.