AmeriCOM Unveils Blueprint to Bolster Optics Workforce

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The American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM) outlined its plans to support the growing manufacturing requirements of the nation’s optics industry. At the annual meeting of the NY Photonics Association in Rochester, N.Y., AmeriCOM President and CEO Jeff Ruckman said that AmeriCOM will focus on workforce training at the technician level, and will assess and address critical gaps in defense systems, the optics supply chain, and future industry needs.

The center announced this spring that it had been selected for a five-year, $34 million grant from the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Office of Industrial Policy program, to launch a nationwide public-private Defense Precision Optics Consortium partnership. The partnership is also known as the Defense Precision Optics Workforce Development and Technology Ecosystem Project.

AmeriCOM will use the activities of the Rochester optics and photonics cluster as a model for many of its planned initiatives for workforce training. Ruckman emphasized that the AmeriCOM-led effort is prepared to adapt its programming to meet the distinct needs of optics and photonics communities around the country, including those in Fla., Ariz., and Mont. — each of which features its own optics and photonics cluster.

From the platform established by the Center for Optics Manufacturing, Ruckman said AmeriCOM is positioned and prepared to partner with industry stakeholders.

AmeriCOM has already received funding for two of its five years. Education, particularly at the high school and two-year college level, is a critical component of its mission. Last month, Sussex County (N.J.) Community College became the first college to partner with AmeriCOM under the DOD-funded project. The Rochester training model, Ruckman said, with leadership from Alexis Vogt, professor of the Optical Systems Technology program at Monroe Community College, will serve as a guide for many opportunities that AmeriCOM hopes to create in its quest to scale up optics programs in the U.S.

The aim is to produce optics technicians at a rate fast enough to meet workforce demand. Vogt will serve as AmeriCOM’s director of workforce training.

Josanne DeNatale, AmeriCOM’s national marketing director, said that dual- and nondegree and certificate programs, educating nontraditional learners, and high school outreach are examples of successful initiatives AmeriCOM will put into place around the country. Though the Rochester model has proved successful — Vogt currently delivers curricula at 14 Rochester-area high schools to more than 300 students — other models will be developed to fit the needs of different students and regions. Community colleges will remain a focus, though AmeriCOM will look beyond two-year degree programs.

AmeriCOM expects to develop five additional degree and certificate programs in the next five years. The group identified two additional two-year colleges with which it expects to partner in the near term.

“We need to get the message out to industry stakeholders that the technician workforce capacity of the optics base in the workforce is a concern, and that AmeriCOM is already funded and positioned to help,” Ruckman said.

Ruckman also laid out AmeriCOM’s first wave of technical development activities, which includes creating DOD and industry advisory and review boards to oversee the execution of its research agenda. AmeriCOM initiatives will address manufacturing and design challenges in directed energy and hypersonic optics, such as the need to design military systems at greater scale.

Additionally, a session entitled “AmeriCOM: A new optics manufacturing and workforce training consortium,” will be available to attendees at the Optifab conference and exhibition running Oct. 19-21 in Rochester.

Published: September 2021
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