Women in Business  November 7, 2023

FRCC tapped to help build state’s quantum tech workforce

WESTMINSTER — Front Range Community College, the only such institution in the state with an optics and photonics program, has been tapped by state and industry leaders to help build the state’s quantum technology workforce.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, through its Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs program, in October dubbed Colorado an official “TechHub” for the advancement of quantum technologies. The designation allows the state to tap hundreds of millions of federal economic-development dollars — $500 million in 2023 and $10 billion over the next five years — set aside as part of the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act.

The department announced Oct. 30 that the state’s Elevate Quantum consortium will be designated a regional technology hub for quantum information technology. As a member of that coalition, FRCC has been supporting the state’s bid for tech-hub designation and will play a critical role in these statewide efforts moving forward.

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Quantum theory attempts to explain the behavior of matter at atomic and subatomic levels. Applications of quantum science could revolutionize the way humans discover new drug therapies, map the cosmos, protect sensitive data, combat climate change and maybe even discover new forms of life.

“Quantum Information Technology will shape the next century as profoundly as integrated circuits or the internet shaped the previous one,” FRCC president Colleen Simpson, who serves as a board member for Elevate Quantum, said in a prepared statement. “Its applications will span from climate tech and drug discoveries to defense and finance, and Front Range Community College is committed to making sure our students get the skills they need to succeed in the state’s burgeoning quantum economy.”

FRCC joins the physics department at the University of Colorado Boulder, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and JILA (formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics), which have become, over the past three decades or so, the epicenter of quantum research.

Colleen Simpson

While devices such as semiconductors, lasers and Global Positioning Satellites already leverage some quantum principles, the field is rapidly advancing with a new generation of quantum devices. This emerging set of technologies promises to fundamentally transform a vast range of devices and systems, from more reliable navigation systems to more-accurate health care imaging.

FRCC will support Elevate Quantum in reaching its goal of helping 30,000 workers develop new skills for quantum jobs that pay an average of more than $125,000 a year. Almost half of these jobs don’t require advanced degrees, which means the industry offers a vast array of employment opportunities across different educational backgrounds.

The share of technician roles in the quantum industry is expected to double in the next five years. Critical jobs in this field will also include machinists, soldering technicians, welders and other technical roles, and FRCC already offers programs in related fields such as automation, electronics engineering, precision machining and welding.

“Optics skills are quantum skills,” said Corban Tillemann-Dick, CEO of Denver-based Maybell Quantum and chair of Colorado’s Elevate Quantum Tech Hub consortium, the largest regional coalition of quantum organizations in the nation. “With FRCC’s well-established optics-technology program, the college is very well positioned to help build the quantum workforce Colorado needs today and as the industry expands.”

Optics is a branch of physics that involves the behavior and properties of light. Optics and photonics are used in everything from bar-code scanners on cell phones and in retail stores to high-powered lasers, telescopes and space exploration.

FRCC’s optics-technology program focuses on training optics, photonics and laser technicians, who are all critical to the quantum workforce. The program has doubled in size each year since it began in 2019. It initially offered a shorter-term certification, but now also offers an associate’s degree in optics. By further expanding the program, FRCC will be able to include even more quantum applications in its advanced course curriculum.

“Optics isn’t our only program that enables quantum technology. Some of our other advanced manufacturing programs will be utilized in the quantum industry as well,” said Amanda Meier, FRCC’s optics program director. “Colorado’s new tech-hub designation will enable us to build out our curriculum and lab spaces to teach more of these critical quantum-related skills. We can’t wait to expand our programs and incorporate quantum education into more of our offerings.”

As the largest community college in Colorado, FRCC works closely with businesses across all sectors of the economy to design training that aligns with specific industry needs. “Working with industry to build workforce pipelines is in our DNA,” Simpson said. “FRCC’s expertise comes from more than 50 years of experience building the right programs to fit our communities’ economic needs.”

Simpson called FRCC’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing “the ideal place to start training Colorado’s quantum workforce. By building on our existing programs and infrastructure, we can create specialized training that aligns with the needs of the quantum industry.”

“Elevate Quantum is deeply committed to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging in our industry,” Tillemann-Dick said. “Colorado now has an opportunity to build, from the ground up, a statewide quantum ecosystem that is diverse, inclusive and equitable. One way we can do that is by embracing hands-on, skills-based lifelong learning pathways.”

Elevate Quantum aims to have 40% inclusion of traditionally underrepresented groups in quantum jobs and leadership roles within a decade.

“FRCC’s mission is to make educational access and success attainable for all,” Simpson said. “This is a key part of who we are as an institution, which makes us uniquely well positioned to help Elevate Quantum’s reach its inclusivity goals.”

As a member of the Elevate Quantum coalition, FRCC expects to work with industry partners to build new apprenticeships and/or internship opportunities for the quantum workforce. The college also plans to expand its existing optics program to include more of the highest priority knowledge, skills and abilities for quantum technicians, including low-temperature and superconducting course work. FRCC faculty will also be able to use the Elevate Quantum Lab for technical support.

“FRCC’s existing programs already offer pathways for people who have been underserved by past technology revolutions to be part of the Quantum Future,” Simpson said. “With tech-hub designation we expect to be able to scale up our programs and use them as a model throughout the region. Helping to build the quantum workforce through innovative, tailored programming and degree offerings ensures our students are well-equipped to navigate the quantum landscape and seize the exciting opportunities it presents.”

BizWest reporters Lucas High and Dallas Heltzell contributed to this report.

WESTMINSTER — Front Range Community College, the only such institution in the state with an optics and photonics program, has been tapped by state and industry leaders to help build the state’s quantum technology workforce.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, through its Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs program, in October dubbed Colorado an official “TechHub” for the advancement of quantum technologies. The designation allows the state to tap hundreds of millions of federal economic-development dollars — $500 million in 2023 and $10 billion over the next five years — set aside as part of…

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