When Valencia College in Orlando introduced its Precision Optics, Photonics, and Fiber Optics Technician training course last fall, the school aimed to have students job-ready in 15 weeks. The course falls under the college’s Accelerated Skills Training (AST) program to prepare students for high-demand, higher-wage careers in a short amount of time. This month, students from the inaugural cohort graduated from the program, and many have already lined up job offers launching them into exciting and fulfilling optics careers.

The first Precision Optics Technician graduating class donned their lab coats to receive their course completion certificates.

Students and staff celebrated at a February graduation ceremony marking the completion of the training program. Valencia partnered with AmeriCOM and local employers including Lockheed Martin, LightPath, Ocean Insights, Critical Frequency, Jenoptik, and Chronosphotonics and other members of the Florida Photonics Cluster to develop the program. Students learned optics fabrication for industrial and military devices and systems, as well as optical assembly, photonics, and fiber optics. After the training, students have the opportunity to earn five nationally recognized certifications and can be hired as precision optics technicians, optics assemblers, or photonics technicians. 

Students learn hands-on in the Valencia College – AST optics lab.

“We worked closely with industry partners to understand their needs and the skills and knowledge base they’re looking for from their new hires,” explained Carolyn McMorran, Assistant Vice President, Professional Continuing Education at Valencia College. “Building our curriculum and training around those specific needs helps ensure our students are job-ready after completing this course.”

Diego Cruz, one of the 14 graduates, said he enrolled in the program with no prior experience in optics. He now has a promising interview lined up thanks to what he learned. “One of the things that I loved the most about the program was the hands-on component.” He explained that all of what you were learning in theory, you could immediately apply in practice by using one of the many pieces of equipment in the lab.

Colleen Stewart already works as a technician at Lockheed Martin. She said that in addition to teaching specific skills, the program also gave her a greater appreciation for the importance of optics manufacturing in the U.S. “We learned about optics and how to create them. We also learned about the history of the manufacturing industry and how important the optics industry is to it,” she said.

Valencia is anticipating full enrollment with a waiting list for the program’s next cohort. McMorran said the significant demand for jobs coupled with a lack of local resources to train future technicians helped the program achieve a successful launch. “Precision optics manufacturing jobs in our region are going unfilled, and no one was preparing workers to be successful in these jobs,” McMorran said. “Celebrating with these students is so gratifying because their graduation isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning of dynamic, fulfilling careers that will help them, their employers, and our entire region.”