Workforce crunch: solving the shortage of optical room staff

Mr Philip Rose, national business development manager for Eyecare Plus, said the industry had seen the “writing on the wall” with shortages of ward staff, but little could be done due to limited representation and advocacy for optical distribution. He thinks that is about to change with the launch of the ODA this year, which he says will raise the profile of the profession and increase public awareness.

Philip Rose.

“It is high time that the public was made aware of dispensation opportunities. I think there are many outlet managers who would love the opportunity to take their career and salary to the next level,” he says.

“A skilled distributor can often earn more than a retail worker and a skilled distribution practice manager can earn more than a retail manager. Many experienced retail workers understand fashion and can talk to all kinds of people. It is one of the fundamental skills of a provider.

Rose says staff retention is more important than ever – and employers should think about ways to provide opportunities such as staff development through in-house training or enrolling them in courses to become qualified providers. . Practices could also offer to cover the cost of membership fees for organizations like the ODA that offer CPD.

In other sectors, companies offer rights or incentives such as additional annual leave, paid parental leave and birthday leave, but such measures may not be possible everywhere.

Rose says practices can do better by offering performance bonuses to teams and/or individuals.

“Employers need to prioritize the retention of staff, especially high performers, because once they’ve left it’s very difficult to find a replacement,” he says.

“It doesn’t just apply to distribution – it applies to almost every field, including optometrists. They have to ask themselves: are my employees happy to work here? Are they happy and do they feel rewarded and recognized? And do they have the opportunity to find out more?

Hampton says OV/SA has discussed the matter with the ODA and is working on ideas to help optometric practice owners attract the right kind of people to front-of-house roles.

She says working in an optometry practice is about more than sales, and it’s a great job for someone looking for more complexity in their day-to-day life than hospitality or retail and a more meaningful work that contributes to the quality of life for thousands of people.

“We are thinking about potential collaborators to help our members at the local level. We are also looking at the kinds of initiatives we can take with state governments, who should be partners in the solution, given the importance of optometry to our communities,” says Hampton.

In terms of what business owners could do differently to attract and retain staff, she encourages practice owners in metropolitan areas to take opportunities to pitch positions and think about how they explain the importance of work.

“We know of a number of successful practices that also focus more on getting the right kind of person than on training them. It’s a great opportunity for personal and professional development that so many people may not be aware of,” says Hampton.

“Practices could look at their region and ask themselves where the potential staff are – for now and for the future – and then find a way to get the message out to them. It’s also a good idea to make sure your business is COVID-Safe and that all potential hires understand what you’re doing in the space to keep them and patients safe.

At G&M, Campbell says the company used the recent BAC government wage subsidy to fund and support its team to train for Cert IV in distribution, but that had to end before this issue went to print.

“We also encourage our team to share with the G&M community to move team members and support them. Longer term, we are creating more flexibility in our workforce,” she says.

“So much depends on engagement and culture – what is it about your company that makes people want to work there?”

Even though the power is now in the hands of the employees, Petrusma has some sage advice for those looking to take advantage of multiple job openings.

“Don’t make unreasonable demands or make your decision based solely on compensation,” she says.

“Think about your short and long term career goals and discuss them with any future employer. Make your decision based on each role’s potential to achieve your goals and where you’ll achieve the best work-life balance for your situation.

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