11 In-Demand Laser Jobs: Salary, Education, and Job Outlook
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Chances are, you've encountered a laser before. After all, lasers show up in printers, barcode scanners, and laser pointers. But some lasers are so powerful they can cut strong metal — or so energetic they can regrow parts of the human body. These high-power beams take trained laser operators to handle them safely. And the industry has more laser jobs now than ever.
"In the laser industry, there is a real shortage of talent," said Steven Glover, a director at the Laser Institute of America (LIA). "There's a great chance that you would land a job right off the bat."
Check out some of the most in-demand jobs working with lasers out there right now:
- Skincare specialist
- Dental hygienist
- Registered nurse
- Surgical technologist
- Photonics engineer
Many laser jobs don't require a college degree to start working. Rather, you can break into this promising field by completing a trade or vocational training program. Keep reading to learn about in-demand jobs working with lasers.
Different Types of Laser Jobs
Lasers help scientists understand the matter that makes up the universe. People in science and technology jobs use lasers to manipulate atoms — spin them, slow them, and measure their inner workings.
Laser beams are so intense they can slice strong materials. Laser operators use light beams to cut, clean, fuse, and texturize parts in production.
The medical professions use lasers because they are powerful and precise enough to break down harmful tumors and blockages while keeping healthy tissue intact.
11 In-Demand Jobs Working with Lasers
From laser operators to engineers to safety officers, many professions work with lasers. For the laser jobs listed below, we used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to report the average salary and projected job growth through 2030.
- Job growth: 29%
- Average salary: $41,230
- Required education: Varies. Most states require skincare specialists to complete an approved program and licensing exam. Some skincare professionals have a medical or nursing degree.
Lasers can resurface layers of the skin to remove wrinkles, tattoos, and unwanted hair.
Different types of skincare professionals using lasers include:
- Estheticians focusing on the skin's outward appearance. You can complete an esthetician training program in a few months.
- Dermatologists completing a medical degree and must pass a certifying exam. Dermatologists also make more money than other skincare specialists — over $200,000 a year, on average.
- Some medical skincare facilities hire nurses to perform laser treatments.
- Job growth: 11%
- Average salary: $78,050
- Required education: Associate degree. Check out some of the best dental hygienist programs.
In some oral surgeries, dental hygienists use lasers to remove diseased tissue in the mouth and prevent infection. In some more recent uses, dental pros use lasers to treat jaw pain and even regrow teeth, as lasers encourage cell growth.
- Job growth: 9%
- Average salary: $80,010
- Required education: Associate or bachelor's degree
Anytime you're working with intense lasers, someone present needs to have laser safety training. In the operating room, registered nurses (RNs) may take on this role. This means they complete special training to become a certified laser safety officer.
- Job growth: 9%
- Average salary: $51,510
- Required education: A diploma, certificate, or associate degree
Surgical technologists organize and clean the tools used for surgeries and help assist the surgical team. In several operations, surgeons use lasers. For instance, to cauterize incisions, break up kidney stones, or even destroy cancerous tumors.
Surgical techs ensure lasers are correctly aligned and that everyone in the room has the appropriate gear to protect their eyes from laser beams.
- Job growth: 8%
- Average salary: $46,690
- Required education: Apprenticeship
Welders use different techniques and tools depending on the type of material they're welding. In some applications, they use handheld lasers. Laser welding can sometimes be faster and more precise, especially when joining metals or plastics that can be difficult to weld otherwise.
You don't need a college degree to become a welder. However, if you want to specialize in laser welding or just learn more about this budding technology, consider taking a laser welding course at a local trade school or community college.
- Job growth: 7% (for all engineers)
- Average salary: $107,060
- Required education: At least a bachelor's degree
If you want to design the lasers used in any one of these jobs, consider becoming a photonics engineer or optical engineer. Photonics and optical engineers research, design, and improve laser technology. They may also specialize in other technologies that harness the power of light, like broadband internet and solar energy panels.
- Job growth: 7%
- Average salary: $95,560
- Required education: Bachelor's degree or an associate of applied science
Let's say you want a career designing machines that use lasers. For example, 3D printing machines or laser cutters. In that case, becoming a mechanical engineer may be the path for you. Mechanical engineers design mechanical systems.
- Job growth: 7%
- Average salary: $44,300 (for CNC operator)
- Required education: On-the-job training
In manufacturing, someone needs to operate and supervise the laser cutter machines on the shop floor. These roles are called laser operators or laser CNC (for computer numerical control) operators.
Laser operator jobs offer room for advancement. After some experience, you could become a shop floor supervisor. In addition, you could expand your role and marketability by training to become a laser safety officer with the LIA.
- Job growth: 5%
- Average salary: $218,850
- Required education: Medical school
Since the dawn of Lasik surgery a couple of decades ago, ophthalmologists have used lasers to reshape patients' corneas, correcting their vision. Becoming an ophthalmologist requires getting an M.D., which takes four more years of study after earning a four-year bachelor's degree.
- Job growth: 5%
- Average salary: $53,700
- Required education: Associate degree
Chemical technicians assist chemists and chemical engineers in laboratories to develop products — such as soaps, plastics, paint, and more — or improve the processes for making chemical solutions.
Lab teams also use lasers to measure and analyze chemical particles. This is especially useful for ensuring that the chemicals in paints and pesticides stay put and don't drift off surfaces, causing pollution.
- Job growth: 0%
- Average salary: $46,760
- Required education: Certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Check out some of the best auto mechanic schools.
During production, manufacturers use lasers to weld and trim parts. Lasers also show up in car lights and interiors. Auto technicians are constantly keeping up with the latest in car technology, and they may need to know how to replace or repair a car's lasers.
Soon, you may find more lasers in car headlights. Laser headlights don't just illuminate the road ahead — they also transmit data back to the car — like the distance from an obstacle or another vehicle.
How to Get a Job Working with Lasers
There's no single path to landing one of these laser jobs, but here are three basic steps to get started:
Glover suggests newbies take every opportunity to attend conferences to meet potential employers and learn more about laser jobs.
The Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) hosts several conferences online and in person. Plus, many of the conferences offer discounts to students.
The FABTECH exhibition is free to all. It convenes experts and top industry names in manufacturing, including many laser companies.
There’s more than one way you can train to start your career working with lasers. You could...
Start a trade career
Many of the jobs on our list don’t require a four-year degree. Instead, you can enter the field by completing an apprenticeship, vocational program, or associate degree.
Starting your career in the trades could help you avoid mounting costs of tuition and get working faster in a high-paying skilled role.
Get a college degree
Research institutions, such as the CREOL College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida, offer bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D.s.
These degrees can help you enter into laser research or engineering and designing systems that use lasers.
Say you’re working on a manufacturing shop floor or in a medical setting that uses lasers. In that case, you can become a certified laser safety officer. To become a laser safety officer:
- Complete a program that fulfills the standards set by the American National Standards Institute.
- Become certified by passing an exam approved by the Board of Laser Safety.
3 Industry Trends in Laser Jobs
"People tend to stay in this field," Glover said. "In photonics and lasers, your skills and knowledge aren't likely to go obsolete."
Today, laser pros and researchers are constantly innovating. Look out for new workforce opportunities where laser technology is advancing. Here are just a few of the latest developments:
Treating Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease, a disease affecting memory and cognition, has no known cure. However, scientists have begun experimenting with low-level lasers in clinical trials to lessen Alzheimer's symptoms.
If these trials prove successful, laser therapy could be game-changing for patients and anyone working in gerontology or nursing.
Fast-tracking production with 3D printing
Inside a 3D printer, lasers mark, cut, and shape the layers that form the final product.
3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — ranks among the trends that could shape the skilled trades. Since 3D printers work swiftly and build parts from practically nothing, they could solve manufacturers' productivity and supply chain challenges.
As 3D printing gains popularity, the manufacturing workforce may need more laser operators, programmers, safety officers, and engineers.
Improving space communications
In 2020, NASA began testing lasers to improve the way satellites send information back to earth. These lasers can transmit more data faster compared to radio waves, which have been used since the 1960s.
NASA hires engineers, scientists, and technicians in their labs. Inspired? Check out more careers in STEM.
Resources on Getting Laser Jobs
Find more information about laser jobs as well as training and networking opportunities through the following agencies.
- Laser Institute of America (LIA): LIA is a community of laser professionals. It offers training programs and promotes the advancement of laser applications in medicine, manufacturing, and research.
- Opitca: Opitica is an international forum for the advancement of light sciences. Visit its website to find guidance for early-career professionals and scholarships for students.
- SPIE: SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics. It hosts multiple conferences a year and publishes laser research. If you're a sponge for information, try browsing its optics and photonics digital library, which is available for free to high schools and two-year colleges.
Meet the Laser Expert
Steven Glover is the director of business development for the Laser Institute of America (LIA). He has worked at LIA for roughly a decade.
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