Jessica James shares how an apprenticeship helped her find her career path
The apprenticeship at Specsavers offered structure for my future. I stumbled into it, really. And I’m glad I did. Like many people, I didn’t know what career path to choose or where my interests really lay and the last time I had been in an opticians was when I was 12 and went to get my eyes tested. I’ve previously worked in a variety of jobs such as pubs, restaurants, hotels and cleaning so no specialist roles before, just things anyone can do and that I enjoyed. I knew I would enjoy learning more and challenging myself, in a good way. The apprenticeship at Specsavers gave me a structured path but I still had the choice of which routes to take. It was exciting, at the start, not knowing where I would end up! The stores are a lovely environment to work in – and great if you’re not sure what you want to do as you can try a little bit of everything on the apprenticeship. I got lots of help from my colleagues when I started, and now I am helping to lead the way for an apprentice that started after me.
Following the journey of a customer
The Optical Assistant Apprenticeship takes 13-months is based around the customer journey through Specsavers. So, you start with the basics – answering the phones and greeting people at the door – which are the first places the customers encounter Specsavers too. Then you go on to learn about health and safety, the rules and what to do in an emergency. Next you learn about the glasses, the lens materials and frame materials and how glasses are dispensed to customers.
On my first day, I shadowed a colleague in the “pre-test” area which is where the customers come before their eye test. I worked closely with customers, helping to use the machines, and learning how to get the readings. The colleague I shadowed was really good at his job, so I was able to put my nerves to one side and start learning. Every day you progress a bit more and build your confidence until you’re comfortable in each area. There’s never a dull moment!
Learning at your own pace
You work 5 days a week and within that time you have 4 hours of study time for your apprenticeship. You’re not expected to do the studying outside of work time, which I think is great. You are assigned a coach to help you with your studies so you always have someone you can ask if you have questions, and you have regular calls with your coach to go through your progress and feedback. So, it’s a nice simple structure to get everything done – learning at your own pace.
Over time, you slowly build up your work until you’re ready for the final assessment and that’s just a culmination of everything you’ve learnt in your day-to-day. You do a case study and a professional discussion and then you’re observed working in the store, just doing your normal job. My coach guided me through it all and we did a practise run where I got lots of feedback on what I could improve months before the real thing, so I felt I had loads of time to prepare. After my assessment, I got the results within two weeks to say I had passed with distinction!
Looking to the future
I had no idea what career was ahead of me on day one but through this apprenticeship I have developed an interest in becoming an optometrist myself as it’s a good balance of customer service but also having to use your brain a lot and it’s just seems like something that would keep me on my toes. Now that I’ve been here for over a year, I’ve got customers coming back in that I dispensed my first ever glasses with and it’s lovely building those community connections. I’m now on the next stage of my learning career and have just started the course to become a Dispensing Optician.
What advice would you give someone else looking at an apprenticeship with Specsavers?
Everyone has doubts but you won’t know if you like it or not until you try. When I first started, I had no idea if I would even like the optics sector and I wondered whether I was too old or doing it at the wrong time, but I soon realised that I was developing an interest in a career at Specsavers and now every day is different and challenging and it’s such a good place to be. So just go for it! I don’t believe you can lose anything by starting an apprenticeship and you might just find out about a career that you’d never even considered.