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People often assciate laser with star-wars science fiction. But the idea of lasers--devices that produce an intensely hot, narrow beam of light--dates back as far as 212 B.C. when Archimedes used a Burning glass to set fire to Roman ships during the siege of Syracuse. Today's lasers are a far cry from Archimedes' magnifying glass, of course. (The way they work is explained in the accompanying box.) Their use, both independently and as parts of other equipment, has proliferated during the last 2 decades. And new uses are continuously being developed. Sales of lasers in commercial markets are prjected to increase 5 Times or more between 1980 and 1990. Along with the new equipment wil come new jobs.

Occupational Implications

The development, manufacture, and use of lasers require workers with many different skills and have resulted in the emergence of new occupations. Although employment in some occupations will be adversely affected, the increasing use of laser technology is expected to result in overall employment growth. Many occupations influenced by the increasing use of lasers are listed in the accompanying box, "Laser Occupations." The major occupations are discussed blow.

The development and manufacture of laser equipment require the expertise of highly trained scientists and engineers. Although engineers and physical scientists constitute less than 2 percent of the total work force, they make up over 20 percent of the work force in some laser manufacturing firms. At the applications of lasers expand, more electrical, communications, mechanical, optical, design, and process engineers will be needed to design and devdelop lasers and laser systems and processes. Sales engineers who can demonstrate and explain the characteristerics of lasers to potential buyers salso will be in demand. More safety engineers will be needed to safeguard workers from blindness and other serious injuries caused by the inapropriate use or handling of lasers. Optical engineers will be neede to develop and improve the optical elements of lasers. Fiber optics engineers will be needed to help develop more efficient light-communications equipment.

More physicists with a thorough knowledge of optics and the light-emitting properties of molecules and other particles of matter will be needed for research and development. Many will be referred to as electro-optical engineers. More health physicists will be needed as safety officers to set up and enforce safety standards relevant to laser usage. Demand will also be spurred for chemists--primarily physical chemists--to do research on the light-emitting properties of particles.

Besides scientists and engineers, other highly skilled technicians will be needed. Although engineering and science technicians (excluding drafters and surveyors) account for only about 1 percent of all workers, they represent over 10 percent of the work force in some laser manufacturing firms. Strong demand for engineering and science technicians is expected, particularly for those with a background in electrical, mechanical, or optical engineering. A new, very fast-growing occupation--laser electro-optical technician--has emerged to fill this need. These technicians test and assemble lasers, service and maintain laser equipment, and train other technicians.

Demand for some semiskilled occupations should be spurred by the increasing production of lasers. For example, more specially trained assemblers will be needed for the less technical assembling and testing operations in the manufacture of lasers and laser systems. Demand should also increase for crystal cutters and crystal grinders who prepare (cut and polish) the optical elements of lasers. New varieties of glass with improved light-transmission properties are continuously being developed for use in diode lasers used in optical fibers. Tese tiny elements are made by crystal growers, for whom demand should strengthen.

Applications and Occupations

Most of the growth related to lasers will be concentrated in two areas--materials working and health services--which are projected to account for at least half of all purchased laser equipment by 1990. Following is a discussion of major laser applications and the occupations involved.

Materials Working. Laser technology will probably have its greatest impact on the modification, shaping, and transformation of materials such as metal, rubber, plastic, cloth, and leather. Metalworking, for example, includes annealing or hardening, cutting, drilling, and welding. Lasers can be used in all these operations, especially on relatively small pieces of metal.

The increased use of lasers in metal work could affect many workers, such as heat treaters, patternmakers, sheet-metal workers, machine too operators, drill press operators, and welders. The increasing use of time-saving and labor-saving laser technology will result in slower employment growth of some metalworking occupations. For example, a machine tool operator may complete an intricate machining job more rapidly and precisely using a laser. Sheet-metal workers will be able to work more rapidly, and other workers--for example, drill press operators--will be adversely affected by programmed, automated laser systems. As lasers requiring less energy are developed, extensive metalworking operations on larger pieces of metal will become economically feasible; this will accelerate the slowdown in employment growth of heat treaters, welders, and related occupations.

Other occupations, however, will benefit from the new technology. Metalworking laser systems include computer numerical control units that monitor and direct lasers. The increasing use of these systems will spur demand for data processing workers such as computer programmers and numerical-control tool programmers.

Lasers are also being used to work many nonmetallic materials, such as semiconductors, diamonds, cigarette filters, and cloth. They are even being used to make the holes in the plastic nipples of baby bottles.

Health Services. Lasers are increasingly used to treat health problems. Thousands of eye operations involving cataracts and detached retinas are performed every year by ophthalmologists. Otologists perform delicate operations on the inner ear, dermatologists treat skin problems, laryngologists remove growths from vocal cords, gynecologists treat problems of the reprouctive system, and neurosurgeons even perform brain surgery--all using lasers transmitted through optical fibers.

Medical authorities feel that, by the mid-1990's, half of all hospitals will be laser-equipped and half of all surgeons and dermatologists will routinely use lasers. Overall, the use of lasers will have little or no effect on the demand for physicians and other members of the medical team--nurses, physicians' assistant, and surgical technicians. Lasers will simply become a new weapon in their medical arsenal, enhancing efficiency and facilitating patient recovery.

Information Handling. The use of lasers in the medical and material working industries is largely related to the heat that a laser generates. Many other applications of laser technology grow out of the use of light to carry information. The use of lasers in the calculating and memory units of computers, for example, permits storage and rapid manipulation of large amounts of data. And audiodisc players use lasers to improve the quality of the sound that they reproduce. The use of optical cable to transmit data also relies on lasers; fiber optics is discussed further in the next article.

The storage capability of lasers combined with laser scanning processes have resulted in laser printers--sophisticated reproducing equipment. Although expensive, they are suitable for some printing jobs--catalogs, newsletters, and business forms, for example. This will reduce the demand for the services of small printing establishments.

Employment growth of most printing occupations will be adversely affected by the increasing user of laser printers. Their cost is expected to drop and their performance and quality of output, including the introduction of color, are expected to improve. Demand for engravers and strippers will slow down. The employment of photoengravers, compositors, and typesetters--particularly linotypers--will decline more rapidly. They may be replaced by machine operators of some kind. Employment of printing equipment repairers also will be adversely affected; they may be replaced by laser vendor company personnel.

Other Applications. Numerous other uses of lasers range from the mundane to the ultrasophisticated. Farmers can more efficiently grade fields and align rows of crops. Environmental scientists can quickly and precisely measure atmospheric pollution using laser radar. And physicists use them to develop tremendous implosions. Engineers, drafters, and others use lasers to generate holographs that give a three-dimensional representation of an object. Multi-line lasers are used for light displays; skilled technicians known as laserists operate them.

Training and Additional Information

Since laser technology is relatively new, few academic programs exist to prepare people for laser-related occupations. However, persons interested in a career working with lasers do have several training options.

Those interested in research, development, and the highly technical uses of lasers may prepare by enrolling in the appropriate academic fields--engineering, physics, or chemistry--in colleges and universities. Regardless of one's major field, a strong background in optics is necessary. A bachelor's degree is imperative, and an advanced degree is increasingly required. Further information about preparing for professional careers involving lasers is available from Laser Institute of America 5151 Monroe St., Suite 118 West Toledo, Ohio 43623.

Information on medical and other health careers involving lasers is available from American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, Inc. 425 Pine Ridge Blvd., Suite 203 Wausau, Wisconsin 54401.

People interested in occupations involving the fabrication, assembly, maintenance, and repair of lasers and laser equipment can enroll in one of the growing number of technical institutes training laser electro-optical technicians and offering the associate of arts degree. Post-secondary institutions offering technician-level courses in electrical, mechanical, and optical engineering also can provide a suitable preparation. Many laser manufacturers and users also offer company training programs. Further information about careers for laser technicians is available from Center for Occupational Research and Development 601C Lake Air Drive Waco, Texas 76710.
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Title Annotation:Careers in the New Technologies
Author:Gartaganis, Arthur
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1984
Previous Article:How workers get their training.
Next Article:Fiber optics.

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