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Major funding will boost Front Range Community College’s optics technology program to help staff the state’s high-tech manufacturing industry
A recently announced five-year federal grant aims to create a nationwide network to attract and train a specialized workforce for the optics industry. Colorado is a regional hub for optics and photonics businesses. One aim of the grant is to meet the nationwide demand for skilled optics technicians by driving meaningful nationwide growth in the industry’s workforce pipeline capacity and quality.
Front Range Community College’s (FRCC) new optics technology program will play a key role in implementing a new workforce development plan for the industry. FRCC is one of just six regional schools in the US that have been strategically selected to train optics technicians for companies in the state—and around the country.
FRCC runs the only optics technology training program in Colorado. The college will receive an influx of funding starting this school year to help pay for new state-of-the-art equipment for the optics technology classroom and laboratory at its Center for Integrated Manufacturing in Longmont.
A Critical Workforce Shortage
“The optics industry—both locally and nationally—is in desperate need of skilled workers,” said Amanda Meier, PhD, director and lead faculty of FRCC’s optics program. “Right now, we have more employers coming to the program looking for employees than we have students graduating.”
With hundreds of technology and optics-related businesses in northwest metro Denver, the Boulder Valley and northern Colorado, the area is considered a regional hub for the industry. Entry-level salaries in optics usually start at more than $40,000 per year—and increase with experience, often to more than $75,000 per year.
“Optics jobs pay well and are plentiful,” added Meier. “We just need to get more people trained with the high-tech skills required for these technician positions.”
As a participating regional site for this national initiative, the college’s involvement has three overarching goals:
- Training more people with the technical skills for these jobs that produce and use the precision optics found in many technologies.
- Helping students hit the ground running in well-paying positions to lead to successful careers.
- Sustaining and boosting Colorado’s optics and photonics industry by helping fill in-demand jobs in our state.
The grant will also help FRCC to expand its optics curriculum and allow the school to do additional outreach as the program grows. Meier expects to know more about funding levels by the end of 2021—but the grant is expected to fund a teaching laboratory at FRCC, as well as instructor training.
What Exactly Is Optics Technology?
Optics and photonics are specialized fields based on the study of light. Precision optics and photonics devices and technology are everywhere—in cameras and cell phones, computers and virtual reality systems, laser scanners, appliances, robotics, satellites, microscopes and space telescopes. They have applications in most industries, including aerospace, defense, manufacturing and medical equipment.
But you don’t need to be a physicist or engineer to become an optics technician. Students can complete FRCC’s optics program in just two semesters, gaining the skills they need for well-paying entry-level positions in optics manufacturing. Classes at FRCC’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing in Longmont begin August 23. $1,000 scholarships are available for all students who enroll in the optics program.
Register now to embark on a great new career! For more information about FRCC’s optics technology program, email FRCCmfg@frontrange.edu or call the Center for Integrated Manufacturing at 303-678-3792.
Grant Aims to “Revolutionize Optics Tech”
The American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM)—a consortium composed of industry, academic and government partners—has been selected to administer this $34 million grant from the Department of Defense. The partnership aims to boost the domestic precision optics industry by securing the national supply chain and expanding the optics manufacturing workforce in strategic areas of the US.
AmeriCOM plans to partner with FRCC as an approved participating regional site—one of just six in the country. AmeriCOM board member Mike Bechtold visited FRCC’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing last week to for a tour and initial visit. “We discussed program needs for advanced curriculum, as well as logistics for new optics equipment” said Meier. “We have determined what the program needs technology-wise to ensure that our students will be well prepared to meet the industry’s needs.”
A representative of the Colorado Photonics Industry Association (CPIA) also joined in this early discussion to share the local industry perspective. The industry advisory board for FRCC’s optics technology program includes Ball Aerospace, Excelitas Technologies, Meadowlark Optics, BridgeComm Inc., Honeywell and CPIA.
More—and Better Skilled—Optics Technicians
AmeriCOM expects to increase capacity and quality to meet the nationwide demand for skilled optics technicians. By 2025, the group aims to bump up the number of trained technicians from less than 50 per year to 800 per year.