Optical grinding and polishing shops provide employment opportunities. Among the largest employers of optical technicians are the space program and weapons-development programs run by the military. Other employment opportunities are available with supplies manufacturing laboratories and manufacturers of optical instruments, such as microscopes, telescopes, binoculars, cameras, and advanced medical equipment.
Optical instruments and applications are found in a wide variety of industries throughout the United States, from aeronautics to data communications to medical research and development. The five states with the highest employment of engineering technicians are California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The 10 greater metropolitan areas with the highest employment of engineering technicians are Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas; Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, Illinois; Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Virginia-North Carolina; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California; Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona; San Diego-Carlsbad, California; Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas; New York-Newark-Jersey City, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania; Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan; and Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, Massachusetts-New Hampshire.
Many students enrolled in two-year training programs can find jobs through interviews with company recruiters conducted on campus during the second year of their program. Other students find employment through participation in work-study programs while enrolled in school. In many cases, the student's part-time employer will offer full-time work after graduation or provide leads on other possible jobs.
For students who do not find suitable employment in one of these ways, there are some employment agencies that specialize in placing personnel in the optics industry. There are also very active professional associations in the optical, photographic, physical science, and engineering fields (such as The Optical Society) that can be sources of worthwhile job leads. Contact technical societies for advice and help in job hunting. The primary purpose of a technical society is to aid the industry it represents, and there is no better way the society can do this than to attract interested people into the field and help them find a good job.
As technicians gain experience and additional skills, new and more demanding jobs are offered to them. The following paragraphs describe some of the jobs to which experienced technicians may advance.
Hand lens figurers shape some lenses and optical elements, using hand-operated grinding and polishing methods. These shapes are called "aspheric," as they cannot be made by the normal mass-production grinding and generating machines. Special highly sensitive test machines are used to aid these advanced polishing technicians.
Photographic technicians use the camera in many important research and engineering projects, as well as in the production of optical items such as reticles (cross hairs or wires in the focus of the eyepiece of an optical instrument), optical test targets, and integrated electronic circuits. These technicians will be involved in the operation of cameras and with photographic laboratory work, sometimes leading a team of technicians in these tasks.
Instrument assemblers and testers direct the assembly of various parts into the final instrument, performing certain critical assembly tasks themselves. When the instrument is complete, they, or other technicians under their direction, check the instrument's alignment, functioning, appearance, and readiness for the customer.
Optical model makers work with specially made or purchased components to assemble a prototype or first model of a new instrument under the direction of the engineer in charge. These technicians must be able to keep the prototype in operation, so that the engineer may develop knowledge and understanding of production problems.
Research-and-development technicians help to make and assemble new instruments and apparatus in close cooperation with scientists and engineers. The opportunities for self-expression and innovation are highest in this area.
Tips for Entry
If you think you want to be an optics technician, take math, general science, shop, and physics courses in high school.
Cultivate an interest in photography since this field is important in many optical industries. If you are confident in your general knowledge of cameras, investigate summer work in a camera store where you will be exposed to the latest models.
Enroll in a quality community college for your postsecondary training. Here you can choose courses best suited to being an optics technician, such as trigonometry, lens polishing, technical writing, and mechanical drawing.
Join a professional society such as the OSA or SPIE where you can meet like-minded students and professionals.