Top Tips from the Photonics and Mechatronics Career Panel

By Mary Lynne Turner, RochesterWorks! Career Services Advisor

Since July 2015, there has been a lot excitement surrounding the announcement of the Department of Defense’s plan to make the Rochester area into a national hub for the photonics industry. With this excitement has come a lot of questions. What is photonics? How many jobs will be created? What kind of jobs will be available and what education do you need to get them?

To help answer some of these questions RochesterWorks! invited local experts to a Photonics and Mechatronics Career Panel on October 21, 2015.

Our Panelists

Alexis Vogt, PhD
Associate Professor and Endowed Chair
Optical Systems Technology Department, Monroe Community College

Tom Battley
Executive Director
Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster

Alejandro Mendoza
Human Resources Manager

Ross Micali
Program Manager
Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services, Monroe Community College


For those of you who were not able to attend keep reading to review some of the top tips and information shared during the panel. You can also click here to watch a video of the panel.


What are “Photonics” and “Mechatronics”?

Photonics is the science of capturing and manipulating light. The word was made up in the 1960’s to sound like “electronics”. Although technically a subset of optics, the two words are frequently used synonymously after much media use. Integrated photonics refers to Nano scale applications, with lasers so small we cannot see them.
Mechatronics is a word created in 1971 to describe the integration of mechanics and electronics. Any combination of mechanical, electronic, hydraulics system and machine repair skills are highly desirable.

When will the jobs be available?

Many jobs are here now according to Battley of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster. With all of the discussion of grants and new jobs coming to Rochester, there are 80-120 companies in the region who are currently looking for qualified employees.

What jobs are available?

Businesses are heavily recruiting for people at the technician level. Optical technicians, maintenance technicians, and mechanics are samples of the job titles that you will find and will continue to be in demand. Micali of MCC points out that these titles should not scare people away. Mechanics in the field do not work on cars, but work to adjust and fix highly technical equipment. Quality assurance is extremely important. As more businesses move in there will be more positions at all levels available, but the emphasis will likely remain on technicians.

What training is available?

Local community colleges have a number of programs available. Vogt, of MCC’s Optical Systems Technology Department, is excited to discuss the impressive, cutting edge equipment which has been donated to the school by companies eager to have potential employees learn the skills needed to advance production needs. Micali is currently spearheading the Mechatronics program at MCC as Program Manager and states that the certificate and degree programs will create multi-skilled applicants who are able to understand and maintain hydraulics, mechanics, electronics and other systems.

What level of education is necessary to get these jobs?

It is possible to get a job right out of high school if you have a bit of technical training from BOCES or other experience. A related certificate or 2 year degree will certainly help getting through to the interview stage. According to Mendoza, Optimax has hired musicians, chefs and gamers, because they have demonstrated transferable skills. A good attitude is at least as important as experience, as the business is seeking a good fit within a company.

What pay rate can I expect?

Micali reported that those who graduate with Advanced Manufacturing Certificates are starting at an average of $11-$13 per hour, plus benefits, and those with associates degrees start at $13-$14 per hour, also with benefits. There is a high degree of upward mobility, and some in the industry earn really good money. Medoza explained that Optimax pays $10-$15 per hour for those right out of high school, with profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, shift differentials and other benefits, along with the potential for advancement. Some of their longer term employees without degrees are earning $35-$40 per hour.

How do I get in?

The experts all agreed that networking is a key component to getting a job with one of the companies, which range in size from 5 employees to over 250 employees. Research companies online to see what they do. Meet with businesses at job fairs and other recruiting events. Go on company tours, often set up by Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise (FAME).

Additional Resources

Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster
Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise
Photonics: What? Why? How?
A Day Without Photonics: A Modern Horror Story
FLCC Mechatronics Technology 2015

As more information about the jobs and businesses hiring for positions in this industry becomes available RochesterWorks! will share these events and job openings on

In the meantime, visit a RochesterWorks! Career Center to meet with an advisor and explore career options or learn about the training available in our community to prepare you for this exciting opportunity for Rochester and the Finger Lakes Region. Questions? Call (585) 258-3500.