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Position yourself in photonics

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2010
Caren B. Les, caren.les@laurin.com

LEXINGTON, Mass. – For job hunters trained in the photonics/optics fields with an associate’s degree to a PhD or beyond, experts in photonics job recruiting and hiring trends provide some insight into what they see on the employment radar, where one might look for jobs and how best to prepare for the 2010 job market.

“Oftentimes companies affected by an economic downturn tend to cut deeper into their human capital resources, so during a recovery they find themselves even more shorthanded, which can lead to a positive bubble in hiring. My expectation is that we will start to see this in the first and second quarter of 2010,” said Howard Rudzinsky. He is a representative of Louis Rudzinsky Associates, a photonics, electronics and software job recruitment and placement firm based in Lexington, Mass. Rudzinsky is a 25-year veteran in optics and photonics recruitment and placement.

“The demand for jobs in most aspects of the photonics industry will be on the rise. Those who will be most successful in the re-emerging photonics job market will be those who are most versatile. If you are a PhD or soon to be one, be more pragmatic; be more ‘applied’ in your research,” he advised.

“People will need to be more interdisciplinary and multiskilled. For example, if you are an optics or lasers person, pick up some optomechanical skills, or a computer-aided design package, such as ProE or Solidworks, or Matlab or Labview software for test. Become a better communicator and a technical resource to sales and marketing and/or customers,” he said.

There is likely to be a rising demand for photonics in defense/aerospace, industrial laser applications, photovoltaics and optoelectronics, optical test and measurement, and some aspects of telecommunications, Rudzinsky noted.

Designers and engineers of biomedical devices – “There is a great demand for biomedical devices that will drive down the cost of health care – and thus for the people that have the training and ability to design them. The intersection of optics and biology is an important field right now,” according to Duncan Moore, who is a vice provost for entrepreneurship and professor of optics, optical and biomedical engineering, and business administration at the University of Rochester in New York. Moore also serves as chairman of the International Commission for Optics Committee on Regional Development of Optics.

Small- to medium-size photonics companies – “There are jobs available in small- to medium-size companies for people trained in photonics-related fields, Moore said. “These jobs are harder to find, however, and more networking and research will be necessary on the part of the job hunter.” Hit hard by the recession, the big corporations have downsized and aren’t as likely to be found recruiting at college fairs or otherwise reaching out for candidates to the extent that they have in the past, according to Moore.

Engineering and manufacturing – “I would like to put a plug in here for good engineering and manufacturing talent. It makes the difference between winning share coming out of the recession or collapsing just when opportunity opens up. It’s critical, and in the US, it’s undervalued, especially in academia and in certain parts of the country. It’s my view that the demand for those workers is always a little greater than for the other types,” said Tom Hausken, director of components practice at Strategies Unlimited, a market research firm for advanced technologies based in Mountain View, Calif.

Rudzinsky noted that engineering professionals with manufacturing design skills and the ability to implement cost-saving operational strategies, processes and techniques will be in greater demand as companies control costs, and margins become smaller.

Cyclic and growing industries – Cyclic industries, including the semiconductor tool business, contract manufacturing and anything related to commodities, are likely to be rehiring, Hausken said. He added that growing photonics industries are rehiring, too, to meet the demand for products such as high-brightness LEDs, LED lighting, image sensors, biomedical equipment, various sensing subsystems, and components in the field of energy and energy conservation.

Marketing and salespeople – “Both large and small companies cut back on these positions until the market warms up, so there may be more openings when revenues are growing again,” Hausken said. He emphasized that it is important to have cross-education in an aspect of the business that isn’t your field.

Photonics technicians – Results from a photonics industry survey released in September 2009 by the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (Op-Tec) in Waco, Texas, indicated that 2100 new photonics technicians will be needed over the next year in the US, particularly in the areas of research and development as well as production and manufacturing. The center says that the average starting salary for these positions exceeds $39,000 and is even higher for those who hold an associate’s degree in applied science.


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