Here is some input from a young-ish person who has taken and passed the ABO -
My only complaint with the ABO was that it is too archaic. Instead of multiple questions about glass lenses, how about some free-form questions? I assume this will happen in time.
I also realize that there is so much that I don't know that used to be common knowledge. The troubling thing is that I am more knowledgeable than the vast majority of so-called "opticians" I encounter (I am also from the same area as Darryl, apparently. The level of education around here is absolutely atrocious).
Mandatory licensing is a very good idea, but I seriously doubt this would ever happen. The chains are too big now and would never allow this. As others have mentioned, the trend is towards de-regulation as opposed to more regulation. And even if a few states mandate licensing, I'm sure the chains would just work around the laws and have the "optician" dispense and inspect eyewear while everyone else rings up sales and cuts jobs.
Online opticals are a joke but of course people are making money off it. Your independent shop may refuse to adjust outside frames but then the 'net buyers would just go to the chains for free adjustments.
The underlying issue here is that companies can still turn a profit without having knowledgeable opticians. Hire a good salesperson to style people into frames that look nice and then contract the work to an outside lab. Or employ lab techs who only know how to push buttons. If a customer complains, just convince them to go into a different lens or frame style. Eventually they will be satisfied or may take their business elsewhere. The slight loss in business to upset customers is more than offset by the low wages you pay.
It's unfortunate, but the above pattern seems to be happening everywhere (chains and independents).
I'm not saying that opticians are not needed, but with digital equipment, lenses, and even measurements, the skills of a good optician are not required as much as they once were. Of course, with free-form and the adaption issues posed in a previous thread, good opticians will always be needed to some degree. But one person to troubleshoot per office is probably all that is needed. That is what makes me sad. I've worked hard and learned a lot over the past decade, but it just doesn't seem right to have so many uneducated colleagues in our midst. When a customer walks into an optical shop, she should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she will be encountering good, knowledgeable opticians.
So we have the problem, what are the steps necessary for a solution?
I guess we could start at Darryl's #1. Unify opticianry organizations, in particular the ABO and NAO, and then strengthen this organization. Actively promote membership. Charge members enough to allow the organization to work towards our common goals, while showing members the results of that work.
Whoever is in charge of the ABO and NAO will you please unify and promote membership so that we can actively promote our profession?