The Careers Adviser

I want to work for a charity - but not unpaid. How do you train for a job as an optician?
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Charity hope

Q. I am interested in working for a charity but am worried about working unpaid when I leave university. Which charities offer paid graduate training schemes?

A. You need to start preparing for entry into the few graduate training schemes or paid internships that do exist, as they will be highly competitive. The charity sector is rapidly professionalizing but doesn't offer a large number of paid schemes. Some are listed in the chapter on trainee schemes and internships in Working for a Better World, which costs £5 and is published by the UK Voluntary Sector Workforce Hub ( They include Cancer Research UK, Barnardo's and World Vision. Graduate recruiters in this sector have plenty of choice, so they will be looking for a good academic record, and, according to Cancer Research, evidence of work experience where the candidate "has shown they are commercially aware or has held a position of responsibility". So the wisest thing to do is to become a volunteer either while you are still at university, or just after graduation. It might be difficult to work for a long period without money but remember unpaid internships last for a fixed short-term period, often six months or less, and you don't only get work experience. Crucially, you get a chance to make the contacts that can lead you to a job. There are other opportunities - Groundwork Oldham and Rochdale has a Voluntary Project Assistant (VPA) scheme. It runs for up to six months and isn't paid, but often leads to direct job offers, and VPA's can apply for job seeker's allowance and for accommodation with the local housing association.

Future vision

Q. I would like to study to become an optician, but don't know where to start. I can't seem to find courses near me in Newcastle. Would I need to go to university or can I get a job at an opticians and work my way up?

A. There are two kinds of jobs you might mean. Optometrists or ophthalmic opticians carry out eye tests and identify defects. They make a diagnosis and can prescribe, fit and supply spectacles. Dispensing opticians put together the prescriptions as specified by an optometrist. They fit and supply spectacles but don't examine the eyes. To become an optometrist, which is becoming the more popular description for an ophthalmic optician, you need a three-year degree in optometry followed by one year's supervised experience, then you are eligible for registration with the General Optical Council (GOC). The list of GOC approved course providers is on

Your nearest optometry courses would be in Manchester or Bradford. All three routes to becoming a dispensing optician - by full time, day release or distance learning - also take three years and each involve a minimum of a year's practice based learning, linked to employment with a qualified optician. The nearest dispensing optician course is likely to be in Bradford. If this is too far, it might be possible to find work with an optician and study with the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) by distance learning. Go to for more detail.

ABDO says students starting out can come from very different backgrounds and may not have studied for a while, so they have designed special access courses in key subjects including maths and optics to help students meet entry requirements. Trainee jobs may be advertised in the local press or the weekly The Optician.

Careers adviser: the learndirect advice service at

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to