Why are Optics Technicians in high demand

News Article Published in August 2021

Hundreds of high-paying, skilled technician jobs go unfilled each year in the United States, some of which are in Northern New Jersey at companies such as Thorlabs, Esco Optics, and Inrad Optics. The American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM), a nationwide organization working with the Department of Defense (DoD), has recently embarked on a $34 million project to help strengthen and boost the domestic precision optics industry, including helping more people get into these high-paying jobs.

With the S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) sector industries facing a shortage of skilled workers, the first step AmeriCOM is taking is to partner with community colleges in key areas of the nation. This will secure educational opportunities for students, making them eligible for employment in the Optics industry.

Sussex County Community College is the first community college in the nation to come on board as an AmeriCOM partner and to expand these educational opportunities. Sussex received $2 million to support the College's Optics Technology program, creating a state-of-the-art lab, distance learning courses, and dual-credit programs at regional high schools.

"The 21st Century is the century of the photon," stated Tom Battley, Vice President of Government & Partnerships at AmeriCOM. "There is not an industry on the face of the planet that is not using optics & photonics in capacity. Semiconductors, car backup cameras and collision avoidance, mobile phones, medical diagnostics, G.P.S. imaging, and hundreds of applications in Defense and Aerospace are used. Night vision, laser defense, and much of what is on aircraft — the Apache Helicopter alone has over 300 optical systems. Every one of these systems needs optical engineers, and every optical engineer needs several optics technicians to create the optics and build something that will work in the real world. So the demand for these skilled workers is very high."

The Associate Degree in Applied Science and the Professional Certificates in Optics Technology at S.C.C.C. both focus on the manufacturing end of the industry. Moreover, they include courses in many other aspects of the industry. Students in the program apply the study of optics and the behavior of light to a manufacturing setting, readying them to embark on careers as optics professionals. In addition, students will learn advanced skills in understanding technical drawings. 

Students in these programs learn about the optics industry's foundation and participate in hands-on courses for this robust industry.

"Given the nature of technology today, I cannot think of an industry sector that has not incorporated optics technology into the core of its products. Sensors, detectors, measurement, the transmission of light, signaling, photography, and video of every type are present in everything we use, such as automotive, biomedical, aerospace, research, and consumer products. Unfortunately, this proliferation of optics applications has not been met with a proliferation of workers to produce these instruments and devices. Without these workers, the industry is crippled. We are thrilled to partner with AmeriCOM on this all-important sector of the economy and to purchase the necessary equipment to train the current and the next generation of workers in optics technology."

S.C.C.C. has enjoyed a rich partnership with industry leader, Thorlabs in Newton for several years. Many Thorlabs technicians receive additional training through the S.C.C.C. program, and they expect the relationship to grow in the coming years.

"New Jersey has a rich history for R&D as well as manufacturing optics and photonics equipment, and as such is an ideal location to grow an Optics Technology program," stated Paul Melone, business unit leader of Thorlabs' Advanced Photonics group. "Thorlabs, along with Inrad Optics, Esco Optics, and Special Optics, are excited to support and partner with Sussex County Community College as they launch this program. In addition, AmeriCOM continues to be an inspiration in our battle to develop optics technicians, assemblers, and opticians. This grant will be vital in providing state-of-the-art manufacturing products and a knowledgeable workforce in the years to come."

S.C.C.C. looks to meet the nationwide demand head-on and model the successful program provided by Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. MCC remains one of the nation's leading colleges for precision optics. S.C.C.C. is looking to replicate the MCC program and expand their Optics on campus with new equipment provided by the grant.

For more information, visit sussex.edu/academics.
To get started in the Optics Technology program,
contact admissions@sussex.edu or call 973.300.2223.