Hundreds of high-paying, skilled technician jobs go unfilled each year in the United States, and some of those are in Northern New Jersey at companies you might not have heard of with names like 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 intended to help strengthen and boost the domestic precision optics industry, including helping more people get into these high-paying jobs.
With all 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 to secure educational opportunities for students, making them eligible for employment in the Optics industry.
Sussex County Community College (SCCC) is the first community college in the nation to come on board as an AmeriCOM partner. AmeriCOM has subcontracted with SCCC to expand these educational opportunities. SCCC will receive as much as $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, just as the 20th century was the century of the electron.” Said 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 some way. Semiconductors, car back-up cameras and collision avoidance, your mobile smartphones, medical diagnostics, GPS imaging, and of course hundreds of applications in Defense and Aerospace. 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. The demand for these skilled workers is very high.”
The Associates Degree in Applied Science and the Professional Certificates in Optics Technology at SCCC 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 technicians in the optics industry. In addition, students will learn advanced skills in understanding technical drawings.