Hundreds of optics and photonics industry experts, vendors, and manufacturing professionals gathered at the 3rd Annual Rocky Mountain Photonics Summit in Westminster, CO, last month to share insights on emerging technologies. AmeriCOM’s Senior Program Manager for Workforce and Higher Education, Kirsten Nobel, PhD, gave a presentation about the need to strengthen the precision optics workforce to deliver on the potential of these emerging technologies. 

“It is critical we build a skilled workforce to keep up with the rapidly evolving optics industry,” Nobel explained. Her presentation, Optics and Photonics Workforce Development: Your Involvement Benefits Industry and Tomorrow’s Technicians, highlighted AmeriCOM’s development of college-based ecosystems across the country. Nobel discussed one ecosystem of particular interest to the Summit’s audience of regional optics manufacturers – the Optics Technology Program at Front Range Community College (FRCC) in Longmont, CO. “Students are earning two-year associate degrees and one-year certificates and leave FRCC with the skills to step into precision optics manufacturing jobs.”

Kirsten Nobel

The Summit, sponsored by SPIE and the Colorado Photonics Industry Association (CPIA), has grown each year since it launched. With hundreds of optics-related businesses in northwest metro Denver, the Boulder Valley, and northern Colorado, the area is considered a hub for the industry. “While many of these companies were [at the Summit] to learn about new science, processes, and equipment, we also encouraged them to learn about different ways to support community colleges to help train the next generation of technicians,” Nobel said.  

While Nobel is focused on optics workforce development, she said the Summit also served to highlight the importance of AmeriCOM’s other key objective – translating the latest science and research into sustainable manufacturing operations. “It’s interesting to learn new technologies and imagine how they can be deployed to impact optics manufacturing. Precision optics manufacturing is key to innovation in enabling technologies across a very broad range of sectors from biomedical, to Department of Defense military applications, to state-of-the-art communications technologies, to consumer wearables,” Nobel said. “As we train new technicians to keep pace with the science, it really is an exciting time for the industry.”