Monday, April 20, 2009

Need a Job? Learn to be a Photonics Technician

Lots of good people in the U.S. have lost their jobs, or are worried about losing their jobs in the near future. And, many of the jobs that are being eliminated aren’t going to come back after the recession is over because the market is changing and the jobs have become obsolete. It’s time for some people to plan new careers and get the education and training they will need to fulfill their plans. Many high school seniors who planned to attend a university may also be rethinking a more affordable - and possibly more rewarding - education at a community or technical college.

So, whether you’ve recently lost a job, or are worried about the security of the job you’re in, or are just beginning to plan for a career, you might want to consider becoming a photonics technician. A national study of U.S. employers, conducted for OP-TEC, has identified more than 2,100 current jobs for photonics techs that need to be filled this year; this need continues to grow over the next five years. Employers polled for this study early this year - in the height of the current recession - said that jobs for photonics techs were available and not being filled. (A report of this jobs study will appear on the OP-TEC website in a few weeks.)

Most employers want photonics techs that have been educated and trained at 2-year colleges. Starting salaries for photonics techs range from $40,000 to about $55,000 per year. We currently have about 30 colleges throughout the U.S. that offer education/training in photonics technology - and that number will grow substantially in the next several years, because these colleges just can’t keep up with the demand.

There are several avenues to becoming a photonics tech:

Earn an AAS degree in Photonics - If you are currently (or soon to be) a student in higher education, you can enroll in one of the 30 U.S. colleges that offer photonics education. (Six have recently been highlighted in my blogs; the name and contact information of a college near you can be obtained from OP-TEC.) The most important requirements for student success in photonics are a willingness to work hard and the ability to use high school math (algebra, geometry and trig.) If you’re willing to work hard, the college will help you through any math problems you may have. You’ll also get to experience “hands-on learning” in some interesting high-tech labs using lasers and fiber optics, etc.

Earn an Advanced Certificate in Photonics - If you already have an AAS degree in an electronics or manufacturing-based technology, you can build on the education you have, and be employed in a photonics-enhanced field by taking several courses in optics, photonics and laser applications. (See “Photonics-Enabled Technologies” in the OP-TEC web site.) If you are currently employed, you might want to take these courses in a “hybrid, online” format, to reduce the time you have to spend at the college.

Retrain in Photonics to Enter a New Career - If you already have education in mathematics, science and another field of engineering technology (like semiconductor manufacturing), the retraining process may take as little as one semester (or 3-4 courses). These courses may also be available in a hybrid, online format.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in Photonics and need to get connected to a college that offers education in this field, contact OP-TEC and we’ll “hook you up”. If you’re a faculty or administrator, and are interested in your college offering education in Photonics - OP-TEC can help you. If you are a photonics college & want to quote parts or all of this blog, please feel free to do so.

For more information about OP-TEC, photonics technician careers or colleges offering photonics education, please contact us!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Technician Career Opportunities in Energy

One of the hot topics in the news these days is JOBS. People are losing jobs because the demand for their services has been reduced. In some cases, people are losing jobs because the field they are in is becoming obsolete, or is changing so rapidly that their knowledge, skills and experience are obsolete. In other cases these people are working to deliver products and services that are not globally competitive - thus, sales are down and employers are having to create their products and services with less labor, or by out sourcing the work offshore to remain competitive and survive.

In most fields, technicians remain in high demand; but in certain cases we’ve seen that situation change overnight - and the casualties emerge. As technical educators, we would be well-advised to re-examine our curricula and look for ways to assure that our tech grads continue to have core knowledge and skills that will sustain them throughout a career of 40+ years.

One promising area to examine is how the technician’s work relates to energy - now and in the future. Energy is the other hot topic that is being discussed today. But the supply, availability and efficient consumption of energy is not a temporary issue. It is one that we will all have to deal with constantly for the next several generations.

So how should we organize our examination of energy related topics to identify elements that should be included in our curriculum? Here’s my suggestion.

There are four aspects of the energy issue that are being addressed. I recommend that we all examine the curriculum in the various areas of technical education, using these energy aspects as organizers to study their impact on our particular field, and project, with the help of employer advice, the changes in core knowledge and skills that will be necessary to sustain employability.

Energy Sources

  • Conventional: fossil fuels and hydroelectricity - How will these be used more effectively in the future? What changes will be made to improve the conversion efficiency and reduce harmful combustion emissions? Will these changes require new equipment, new control systems or different chemicals to control the combustion process?
  • Alternative energy sources: especially solar, wind and geothermal - At OP-TEC, we are looking at the use of optics and lasers to improve the efficiency of solar voltaics, like holographic planar windows on collectors, and the use of femtosecond lasers to treat silicon so that it can convert more infrared wavelengths into useful electric energy.

Energy Storage

  • Larger and more effective energy storage devices will be needed to temporally redistribute energy collected from solar electric and wind generators. Last week’s blog dealt with the critical need for new battery technologies, and the possible implications it may have on technician education.
  • Improvements in the storage and retrieval of geothermal energy are also likely.

Energy Availability (distribution)

New solar electric parks, wind farms and nuclear plants will likely be located in remote sites that are far away from populated areas where the generated energy will be used. This condition will require the design, construction and maintenance of massive new electrical transmission systems. What technologies will these new transmission systems require? Will they be overhead, or underground? Will new metering, relaying, switching and transformer equipment be used? Will there be a need for large AC-to-DC convertors?

Energy Consumption

The cheapest, fastest and easiest sources of energy are those that we save through energy conservation. This means getting by with less and doing more with less - sometimes it can also mean doing better with less. Thirty years ago, when our nation faced an energy crisis, we demonstrated our resilience and patriotic spirit by engaging in unprecedented acts of energy conservation. Most of the accomplishments of that era were due to attitudes, thermostats, insulation and caulking.

Today, we will need to adopt and increase all of those strategies; but we will also develop and utilize new technologies for energy conservation, going even beyond heat pumps and electric cars. Control systems will be redesigned, processes will be improved, better materials will be used and information technology will continue to improve communications and eliminate unnecessary travel time and costs.

This is a brief look at a very important issue for technical educators. I hope it will stimulate you to think about it - and act upon it. I would welcome your comments and extensions to this line of thinking. For the last few years, OP-TEC has developed and tested effective strategies for infusing related technologies to update existing curricula/courses.

And if you want to get serious and collaborate on these topics, please plan to meet with me and Mike Lesiecki at the HI-TEC Conference in Phoenix, July 19-22. We will be leading two interactive sessions on these topics. Click here for more information on HI-TEC 2009!