Photonics Skills development

The UK Photonics industry continues to grow rapidly at 6-8% per year. To support this growth in the long term needs a growing photonics skilled/aware work force at all levels from senior management to the manufacturing floor. The following summarises a number of schemes that are in place to increase the supply of the photonics workforce in the UK that can be accesses by UK organisations.

Promoting high tech manufacturing and the development of high skilled manufacturing jobs is a government priority and there are many schemes and initiatives in the skills area to tap into. Increasingly the emphasis is on employer lead training. Whilst this provides opportunity for industry to influence and define the training, it also requires increased engagement from industry with education providers at all levels. Most importantly it requires industry to proactively reach out to education providers so our needs are heard and make clear the range and depth of career opportunities on offer.

Photonics academy

Photonics academy provides work based learning opportunities particularly to SMEs and micro offering participants a chance to completely change the way they view design and allows for a more innovative approach to be adopted.

Centres for doctoral training

Over 70 in total at most relevant to photonics being

  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics – Heriot-Watt, Glasgow, St Andrews, Strathclyde and Dundee
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems (Cambridge and UCL)
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Photonic Integration for Advanced Data Storage (Queens and Glasgow)
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Future Communications (Bristol)
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Optical Medical Imaging (Edinburgh & Strathclyde)
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Electromagnetic Metamaterials (Exeter)

Undergraduate placements.

SE Physics Network supports a Physics focused industrial placement scheme at both undergraduate and postgraduate level –

Institute of Physics, ‘Top50’ Work Placements Scheme is an initiative setup by the IOP to help penultimate year undergraduate physics students gain experience in a business, university or research institution.


The trend is to employer led and defined apprenticeships, succinctly defined in <3 pages as it is recognised that the traditional apprenticeship framework is not working.  The new employee led scheme has been trialled and will be the only framework used in the future with increasing support for apprentices with SMEs and higher level apprenticeships (level 5-7).

The standards for these are in the process of being put in place see

Critically industry needs to define the apprenticeship frameworks, which will often require multiple SME working together.  ESCO looking at define electronics apprenticeship, potential for photonics industry to define a photonics apprenticeship if useful.

Whilst these are being developed Sector Skills Council in particular SEMTA for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies provide information and coordination.

Interaction with further education colleges indicates they are getting increasingly interested in providing further education / apprentice modules related to high tech manufacturing and are interested in defining these with industry. The USA’s National Skills Standards for Photonics Technicians is a useful and comprehensive guide to the skills required easily adapted to the UK context

However, to put such courses in place colleges they need sufficient demand from young people. Indications are this requires changing how such courses are described and increasing awareness of job prospects – see below.

An alternative is to encourage colleges to include more industrial relevant skills in popular courses, e.g. 3D CAD in graphic design. This potentially has lower barriers to implementation and provides a win-win by increasing employability of vocational students, whilst leveraging the popularity of some topics.

Employer training – improving Engineering Careers

Direct funding from government to bring new people into engineering and support the progression of individuals through engineering careers. 50% costs covered. The first call closed on 5 Dec 2014, but additional calls are anticipated. Minimum grant £40k paid to a single manufacturing company. Can be used to fund professional development.

For most small companies this means opening up the training course that you may wish to put people on to other companies to get enough participants. Like employer led apprenticeships above the emphasis on a lead company to organise and liaise with other like-minded organisations rather than have the training provider to pull folks together.

Inspiration agenda

A major theme of the International year of light. Covers three overlapping areas

  • Inspiring the next generation of young people to be interested in photonics/science/engineering as a career choice.
  • To increase number of women working in photonics/science/engineering.
  • Increasing awareness of viability, growth and security of the photonics industry to attract mid-career professionals from all skills sector to take up positions in photonics organisations. (also increase parental support for young people pursing photonics/science/engineering career choices)

The UK outreach and education subcommittee of the IYOL2015 have come up with multiple, proposals for actions in this area mostly targeted at young people many of which are in need of industrial support see

Prof Averil Macdonald has recently published a report on the difficulty of getting young women and other under-represented groups into Engineering – Many of the difficulties appear related to the language in which jobs, careers and courses are described. We are investigated whether it is possible to produce/ commission a white paper with specific advice e.g. in wording of job descriptions that would assist photonics companies in recruitment.


The Photonics academy & WOF compiled directory of photonics course material at Unis grouped by photonics 21 work group, See

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.