Photonics Education Seeing Career Growth For Graduates

As part of the Micro Nano Technology Education Center Summer Seminar Series, Greg Kepner and Frank Reed presented on the photonics field and job opportunities in this exciting career path. 

In this comprehensive presentation, Kepner and Reed shared from the basic “What is photonics?” (definition shared below) to “What do technicians do and where do they work” as well as some excellent resources if you are interested in working in this field (or simply learning about it).

What is Photonics?

“The science and technology of generating (lasers), manipulating (optics), and detecting (electro-optics) particles of light (photons).”

The presentation included the following areas:

  • What are some photonics applications?
  • What about photonics education?
  • What do photonics technicians do? 
  • Where do photonics technicians work?
  • How can I attend a photonics workshop?
  • How do lasers work?
  • Are lasers safe?
  • Where can I find more photonics resources?

According to O’NET at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a “Photonics Technician – Build, install, test, or maintain optical or fiber optic equipment such as lasers, lenses, or mirrors using spectrometers, interferometers, or related equipment.” 2019 median wages were $62,990. 

Kepner highlighted that the Indian Hills Community College (IHCC) started the Midwest Photonics Education Center (MPEC) in 2014 as an NSF ATE Regional Center, however, the IHCC Laser & Optics Technology program began in the mid-1980s. IHCC has a list of 140 companies that have hired its photonics graduates. 

The IHCC Laser & Optics Technology program graduates have averaged over 95 percent job placement consistently for the past decade. According to Instructor Michael Shay, nine companies are already scheduled to participate in the IHCC annual “Presentation and Interview Week” in March.

From the larger list of 140 companies, 26 companies (image below) have hired graduates in the last five years alone. Many of the hiring companies are 100 employees or less, but quite a few are big names that students and job candidates will recognize: Texas Instruments, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Boston Scientific, and Medtronic, to call out just a few. 

According to Kepner, who recently attended the Congressional Optics & Photonics Caucus, it was reported that “industry growth was continuing and politicians are starting to understand the importance of photonics as an enabling technology to defense, security, manufacturing, communications, and many other industries.” 

Photonics Job Opportunities for IHCC graduates in Laser and Optics. Placement from 2015-2020
Photonics Technology Education Leads to Jobs

Photonics Education

A 2012 national survey titled “Industry Demand for Two-Year College Graduates in Optics and Photonics Technology,” showed the Midwest region’s 500 photonics-driven companies project a need for an additional 939 technicians over the next five years. That need has only grown for the 2020s. Some of the Photonics job hot spots are in New York, Florida, California, and Montana.

If you want to learn more about the photonics industry and career path, technologies that include optics and electronics (lasers, fiber-optics, electro-optics), visit the IHCC Laser & Optics Technology program page.

Technical Note — Sample of reported job titles in the field of Photonics: Fiber Optics Technician, Laser Technician, Optomechanical Technician, Photonic Laboratory Technician (Photonic Lab Tech), and Photonics Technician.

This summer on July 28-29, MNT-EC will offer a photonics professional development opportunity with an introductory Fundamentals of Photonics workshop that includes the theory of light and lasers along with practical hands-on laboratory activities.

Stay tuned to this page for upcoming professional development workshops and other faculty opportunities. Educators can also use the Micro Nano Technology calendar to keep up with a wide range of professional development and curriculum.