Florida initiates photonics technician programs

ORLANDO, FL—A critical need of the Florida photonics industry is a reliable local supply of technicians skilled in photonics.

ORLANDO, FL—A critical need of the Florida photonics industry is a reliable local supply of technicians skilled in photonics. In fact, this need is nationwide—a fact detailed first in 2003 by CORD (Center for Occupational Research & Development) that revealed approximately 1800 new (or retrained) photonics technicians are needed each year, but the nationwide supply was only about 200 annually. These need was updated in 2009 by OP-TEC (NSF-funded National Center for Optics & Photonics Education), which indicated 6000 open photonics technician positions nationwide and a supply of only 600 annually.

To address the state and national shortage of trained technicians, leaders in Florida have initiated several new programs for photonics technician education and training: Photonics Technician Certificate, Photonics Academy, and Photonics Technician Certification. These programs will complement the Associate degree programs at Valencia Community College (VCC) and Indian River State College (IRSC) in Florida, as well as the internationally recognized excellence in photonics graduate education at CREOL, The College of Optics & Photonics at the University of Central Florida (UCF).

In order to help assure that all of these programs adequately address industry needs and develop into long-term sustainable programs, local industry will be actively involved throughout the programs. An advisory committee has been formed with members from photonics industry such as Northrop Grumman Laser Systems, Harris Corporation, Optronic Laboratories, and several other organizations including VCC and UCF.

Photonics Technician Certificate

The Division of Continuing Education at UCF (UCF/CE) was awarded a contract from Workforce Central Florida to provide training that will grant Photonics Training Certificates to at least 20 displaced workers most impacted by the recession and will have them employed by June 30, 2010. The UCF/CE program is supported by the Florida Photonics Cluster (FPC; www.floridaphotonicscluster.com) along with several industry and education partners, and the program is funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

The Photonics Technician Certificate program will provide several curriculum tracks of up to 11 courses, depending on the background of the student, covering the core fundamentals needed by the photonics industry. The courses, many self-paced and online, are expected to start in October 2009. Recruitment activities will begin in September and employment assistance will be provided continuously. For more information, contact Maria Cherjovsky at (407) 882–0247 or mariac@mail.ucf.edu.

Photonics Academy

In August, Wekiva High School in Orange County, FL opened the doors to a new concept in photonics technical education: the Photonics Academy. Northrop Grumman Laser Systems in Apopka, FL, in conjunction with the local photonics community, Orange County Public Schools, and Valencia Community College, have spearheaded development of the Photonics Academy, a dual-enrollment program in which the students will earn college credit, as well as high school credit, while attending optics and laser classes at their high school. Through this program, an enterprising young person will be able to earn an Associate of Science degree during his or her high school years. Not only will the student earn a college degree, free-of-charge, he or she will be a qualified technician ready to move directly into the photonics industry. It’s a winning plan for the students, the industry, and the local economy.

The Photonics Academy has raised enough monetary support from the local industry and Orange County Public Schools to hire an instructor and equip the lab for the first year of operation, but they still need more equipment and money to offer the quality education that will serve the community well. So far, the Academy has garnered about $180,000 but still needs $120,000 to ensure its continued success. For those interested in contributing to this program, donations may be sent to The Valencia Foundation, earmarked for the Photonics Academy at Wekiva High School. Such donations are also eligible for Florida state matching funds. For more information, contact Nasser Hedayat at (407) 582–1902 or NHedayat@valenciacc.edu.

Photonics Technician Certification

This program, funded by Workforce Florida at UCF with active support from the FPC and other organizations, will develop the necessary criteria for certifying and recertifying photonics technicians, and will establish the process for maintaining, updating, and administering the certification program to meet the needs of industry. Other than some fiber optics technician certification programs that now exist, this program will create the first photonics technician certifications in the U.S.

After an industry panel reviews and recommends any changes to the National Photonics Technician Skill Standards and the Precision Optics Skill Standards that have recently been created/updated by OP-TEC, the program will develop criteria and certification standards for three different types of optics and photonics technicians: Photonics Specialist, Photonics Operators, and Precision Optics Technicians. For more information, contact Jim Pearson at (678) 455–3459 or jpearson@creol.ucf.edu.

—Jim Lipscomb, Project Manager, Northrop Grumman Laser Systems
—James E. Pearson, PhD director, research & admin, CREOL; Special Asst. to the VP for Research at UCF

More in Home