Pros and Cons of Becoming a Laser Manufacturing Technician
Laser manufacturing technicians, also known as photonics technicians, install and maintain various types of laser and optics devices. Here are some pros and cons that you can balance while you consider:
|Pros of a Laser Manufacturing Technology Career|
|Entry-level employment is open to those with just a high school diploma*|
|Demand is strong for those with two-year degrees*|
|Wide variety of industries to choose from when entering the work force*|
|Engineering technicians can also find training offered in the U.S. armed forces**|
|Cons of a Laser Manufacturing Technology Career|
|As of 2012, only 30 2-year schools in America offered photonics programs*|
|Entry level wages can be lower than average without a degree*|
|Additional education can be required for advancement or higher wages*|
|Solid knowledge of math and science is a must**|
Sources: *The National Center for Optics and Photonics Education, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Career Paths and Industries
Although entry-level jobs can be found for those with nothing more than a high school diploma, most employers require at least an associate's degree. You can typically find laser technology education at 2-year colleges and technical schools. The military is another source of education that offers the benefit of paid-training, and organizations such as OP-TEC can help veterans use this training for associate degree programs. Industries and areas seeking laser manufacturing technicians include homeland security, medical equipment manufacturers, defense contractors, telecommunication and entertainment.
Salaries and Job Prospects
The BLS includes a variety of specialty engineering technicians in the same category, with and without degrees, so actual figures found in a career search may differ slightly. As of May 2014, the BLS noted that the annual mean wage for all these professionals was just over $63,000. A 2014 salary report by The International Society for Optics and Photonics found that wages were generally higher at for-profit organizations than those at government or academic institutions.
While the BLS predicted that job opportunities for specialty engineering technicians would decline (-2%) from 2014-2024, a 2012 survey by The National Center for Optics and Photonics Education found strong demand for photonics techs with two-year degrees, and projected 5,900 new jobs over the following five years.
What Employers Want
Even though a high school diploma or GED may qualify you for jobs in laser technology, and beside the fact that most positions will entail on-the-job training, you may want to consider the option of formal education to improve your chances to be hired. You could pursue an associate's degree in optics or laser technology, in which you would take classes in electronics, physics, optics and photonics, among other topics. Some programs may even give you the opportunity to do internships, which would provide you with valuable work experience.
Skills and Traits
Two of the most important skills required for these positions are solid math and science foundations. Your ability to understand and work with technical blue prints also ranks high on the desirable skills list for employers. Employers also look for good problem-solving or troubleshooting skills, flexibility, and analytical thinking, as well as innovative approaches towards work.
Job Postings from Real Employers
The majority of the job advertisements found in April 2012 ranged from entry-level positions that were placed solidly in manufacturing to spots that would allow the technician to help in the design phases. Some of the opportunities found included:
- A fiber laser-technology firm that is beginning to branch into nanotechnology in Ann Arbor, MI, wants someone who has an associate's degree and a couple years of optics experience. They're also prepared to take someone with a high school diploma and at least five years of experience.
- A New York precision optics firm is seeking a technician who can oversee the operations readiness of many labs. Training is available, but the ideal candidate should have a minimum of an associate's degree or, optimally, a Bachelor of Science degree in either optical or mechanical engineering and several years of relevant experience.
- A California company that supplies optic, laser and photonic components to large corporations is seeking someone with optical alignment and solid-state laser experience. Three years of industry-relevant experience is required if the employee doesn't have an associate's degree in laser electro-optics technology.
How to Get Noticed
OP-TEC cites one of the main reasons companies outsource these jobs is that that too many students applying for technical programs in community colleges and technical schools don't have the necessary academic foundation to be accepted, so qualified candidates for jobs are limited. You can begin taking essential preparatory classes as early as freshman year in high school. OP-TEC recommends focusing your studies on subjects such as higher mathematics and communication.
Get a Degree
If an associate's degree can make you look as a good candidate, a bachelor's degree may make you look even better to potential employers. There are schools that offer engineering programs that can be attended on a part-time basis, allowing you to earn a Bachelor of Science degree while still working. Some schools even allow you to earn class credit for field-related work experience.
Alternative Career Paths
If the income and sluggish job growth projections seem daunting, you might consider taking the idea of the job a step further. According to May 2011 figures posted by the BLS, most engineering disciplines bring in higher than average wages with nothing more than a Bachelor of Science degree and on-the-job training that can be acquired while you're still in school. Two of the engineering fields that incorporate laser technology include:
Although the BLS indicated that electrical engineers would only see a six percent increase in employment opportunities between 2010 and 2020, laser and photonics engineers stem from this discipline. In May 2011, these professionals reported earning an annual mean wage of just over $89,000. A Professional Engineer (PE) license is also required for this work.
If you like the idea of applying laser technology to surgical procedures, this may be an enticing option. The BLS predicted a 62% increase in employment opportunities for these engineers in the 2010-2020 decade. Along with the science and mathematics other engineers study, these engineers include biological sciences and anatomy in their curriculum. As of April 2012, these engineers are not required to have licenses, but to work in advanced research they may need a master's or doctoral degree.