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October 28, 2021
Press Release
Optics and Photonics Caucus share insight on addressing workforce shortages and strengthening our economy

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Congressman Joe Morelle (NY-25) and Senator Steve Daines (MT) led the Congressional Optics & Photonics Caucus in a briefing on workforce challenges facing high-tech industries. Panelists included experts from across the country who are at the forefront of the rapidly growing optics and photonics sector. The caucus was co-founded in February of 2021 by Rep. Joe Morelle (NY-25), Rep. Brian Mast (FL-18), Senator Steve Daines (MT) and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) to promote and advance the use of light-based technologies.

“Workforce challenges have impacted every sector of our economy and have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis—but it’s important that we come together for discussions like this to find collaborative solutions,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “Strengthening our growing optics and photonics industry in particular is critical to maintaining America’s position as a leader in global innovation. I’m grateful to the experts who participated in today’s discussion and look forward to our continued work together to create jobs, grow our skilled workforce, and bolster our high-tech economy.”

"From the National Science Foundation's LASER-TEC center to businesses like Jenoptik, the Treasure Coast is leading the way in optics and photonics,” said Rep. Brian Mast. “This is an industry that is shaping the future, and I'll continue working with this caucus in Congress to support the policies that will foster innovation and breakthroughs."

“Montana is home to a growing optics and photonics sector, helping lead the United States in innovation. We need to continue to support workforce development and STEM education which will help build and supply the jobs needed for the next generation of technology,” Senator Steve Daines said. “As the Senate co-chair of the Optics and Photonics Caucus, I’m glad we were able to have this important conversation about how to support Montana tech companies and the high-paying jobs they create.”

The briefing included testimony from four panelists who are leaders in the optics and photonics industry: Dr. Alexis Vogt, PhD, Professor of Optics at MCC; Jay Kumler, President of Jenoptik North America; Trent Berg, President of Montana Photonics Industry Alliance; and Katie Schwertz, Design Engineering Manager at Edmund Optics. More than 150 congressional and industry stakeholders tuned in for the virtual discussion.

“Enrollment in Monroe Community College’s optical systems technology degree and certificate programs increased during the pandemic—with nearly twice as many students this year than in 2019—but it’s still not enough to meet our region’s demand for skilled optics technicians,” said Alexis Vogt, Ph.D., endowed chair and professor of optical systems technology at MCC. “In collaboration with government, industry and academia partners across the nation, MCC is leading efforts to strengthen the talent pipeline toward filling workforce gaps, through growing apprenticeship opportunities and helping establish an optics curriculum at other U.S. colleges. Together, we provide viable pathways to these high-demand careers with family-sustaining wages for diverse learners.”

“I’m thrilled to support the O&P Caucus and participate in a conversation regarding ongoing workforce shortages in our industry,” said Katie Schwertz, Design Engineering Manager, Edmund Optics. “Light-based technology supports just about every aspect of modern life and yet so few people are aware of our field. Raising the awareness of optics & photonics technology, and the sizable job market, is critical to growing and supporting precision manufacturing in the US.”

“We appreciate the leadership and attention that Congressmen and Senators Mast, Morelle, Daines and Sinema are bringing to the optics and photonics industry.  I am optimistic that this caucus will bring much needed attention to the critical importance of photonics to our health care, our safety and our infrastructure,” said Jay Kumler, President of Jenoptik North America.

"The O&P Caucus is a major step forward for the Optics and Photonics industry in the United States. The Montana Photonics Industry Alliance deeply appreciates the commitment by Congressmen and Senators Mast, Morelle, Daines and Sinema to support this critical industry. The ability to discuss important issues we are facing in our industry, like workforce, directly with Congress is paramount to continue to be world leaders in Optics and Photonics now and in the future," said Trenton Berg, President of Montana Photonics Industry Alliance.

Optics and photonics companies, both large and small, have dealt with hiring shortages for skilled technicians for years—and this challenge has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This rapidly growing industry is responsible for technologies like displays, fiber optics, lasers, sensors, and quantum systems and addressing workforce shortages is critical to ensuring the US remains a leader in this innovative, global industry.