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  • Wanted: Precision Optics Technicians
May 2009
ROCHESTER, N.Y., May 15, 2009 – There just aren’t enough precision optics technicians to go around these days. Also known as POTs, these specialists produce, test and handle the optical components used in lasers and electro-optical systems for a wide variety of fields, including defense, aerospace, biomedical equipment, displays, energy and nanotechnology.

And the shortage of POTS isn’t expected to end anytime soon, according to Thomas Battley, executive director of the New York Photonics Industry Association.

In a talk at Optifab 2009 in Rochester, N.Y., Battley pointed out that there are no two-year colleges with active programs to educate/train new precision optics technicians. Battley was filling in for John Souders and Daniel M. Hull of the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education, known as OP-TEC.

OP-TEC recently performed a needs assessment and found that, nationally, there are 19,000 people employed as photonics technicians; by next year, 2000 more will be needed, and 5900 more will be needed in the next five years. But there are only 25 two-year colleges in the US teaching photonics, with only 700 students enrolled. These programs produce about 280 workers per year.

Photonics industry associations requested a needs-assessment study on POTs in the US; this study found that there are 7000 POTs in the work force, and 3500 more will be needed in the next five years. However, there are only two colleges in the US that offer programs to train these workers: Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., and Irvine Valley College in Irvine, Calif.

It doesn’t add up. And OP-TEC is working to close the gap.

In a project begun in 2006 and funded by National Science Foundation/Advanced Technical Education National Center grants, the organization has developed a plan to build the nation’s photonics work force. The goals: to support and expand existing associate’s-degree photonics programs; to infuse photonics education into technical programs that are enabled by photonics; and to expand existing technicians’ skill sets and knowledge to include photonics.

To reach these goals, OP-TEC is helping colleges build labs, train faculty, and develop programs and curricula. And the organization also is building a high school “pipeline” to direct students toward photonics careers.

OP-TEC also has created standards: the National Precision Optics Skill Standards for Technicians. This document, released in January, is a detailed list of skills employers seek in POTs. From critical work functions and tasks to technical skills and even employability skills, the standards provide an employer’s “wish list” as well as a reference point for educating new technicians.

For more information, visit:   

Laura S. Marshall

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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