Following a significant increase in graduate intake numbers by Specsavers and Luxottica this year, Specsavers will soon release a report that it believes will support the company’s assertion that the sector faces an undersupply of optometrists.
The announcent places Specsavers at odds with Optometry Australia (OA), which has previously warned the current number of optometry students would lead to an oversupply of Australian primary eyecare professionals.
Increased optometry school numbers have been a key driver behind a record number of graduates joining Specsavers stores across Australia and New Zealand in 2018-19. More than 120 new employees commenced at the optical chain this month, joining 25 others who began in the later half of 2018.
The numbers represent a 50% increase over the previous year, and raise fresh questions over whether the sector faces an impending oversupply problem, or not.“Thankfully there are more graduates available to the profession due to increased student numbers within the optometry schools,” Mr Peter Larsen, optometry director of Specsavers told Insight.
“That said, even this year we still have 75 stores who would like to have ployed a graduate who were unable to secure one – and that’s because the competition for graduate signatures is hotter than ever, right across the country and not just in regional areas.”
The supply of new optometrists has become a divisive issue, with the large optical chains and representative bodies at loggerheads over modelling data and the number of graduates necessary for a sustainable future.
Specsavers has been steadfast in its belief that the sector faces an undersupply of qualified professionals. This contrasts with OA’s view that, at the current rate, supply will outstrip demand, particularly in Australia’s eastern states.
In reporting its 2018-19 graduate numbers, Specsavers revealed to Insight that it expects to publish a new report in June updating its 2012 study Optometry Workforce to 2036, conducted by Deloitte Access Economics. The company anticipates the report will show significant undersupply issues for the foreseeable future in both metropolitan and regional areas.
“It is our firm belief – and we have clear and mounting evidence to back this up – that we still have a significant undersupply in the optometry workforce,” Larsen said.
“Consequently, optometry needs to come together to work ever more closely with the optometry schools to factor in an optimal supply of graduates based on future demographic and geographic needs.”
Meanwhile, Luxottica has ployed 85 graduates for its OPSM and Laubman & Pank stores, a slight decrease on the 100 graduates who joined last year, but significantly higher than its typical intake of between 50 and 60.
The company’s Australia and New Zealand director of eyecare and community Mr Peter Murphy said the recruitment environment was competitive for ployers and graduates, dependant on circumstances.
“We are finding a good pipeline of talent graduating from the universities. This year  we recruited to specific vacancies and are very happy with the calibre and number of new graduates on-boarded,” he said.
“We have a number of vacancies in regional areas and we would like to serve our patients better in those locations. There is still a dand for more graduates until regional and rote parts of Australia and New Zealand are well served.”
In November, Insight reported on an Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency report that revealed registered optometry student numbers increased nearly 28% in the year to 30 June 2018, increasing from 1,516 to 1,936.
This came in the wake of University of Canberra’s decision to introduce a Bachelor of Vision Science course, which commenced last year. It was designed for an eventual intake of up to 60 students, making it the sixth optometry course in Australia.Reiterating her statements at the time, OA CEO Ms Lyn Brodie said despite an ageing population and increasing rates of myopia, indications were that, without change, there would soon be more optometrists than required to meet community demand
“We continue to advocate for government funding of university places to consider community need for optometrists, and are hopeful that recent changes in university funding may st the growth in optometry student numbers,” she said.
“Projections studies we have commissioned suggest we are close to optimal supply currently in the eastern states, and tracking toward greater supply than demand in these regions.
“Whilst anecdotal evidence suggests that some regions that have experienced shortages in the past may now have improved access to optometric care, we know some communities rain without the optometric access they need. There rains a need to incentivise and support optometrists to practice in regions of identified need.”
OA treats its membership numbers as confidential, however, the organisation does claim to represent 80% of optometrists.
As of 1 February 2019, Specsavers had 330 stores in Australia and 52 in New Zealand, while Luxottica’s store count was 363 in Australia (OPSM 324, Laubman & Pank 39) and 26 OPSM stores in New Zealand.