Orange County Drone Report Highlights Soaring Opportunities Feature Story

September 26, 2022
Fullerton Students Drone Program

Drones are a billion-dollar industry, and drone-related careers across Orange County are taking flight. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall drone employment will increase by 6%  by 2031 in a wide variety of career fields, from aircraft technicians to avionics equipment mechanics to drone engineers.

According to the Orange County Center of Excellence’s (COE) 2022 Drone Technology Report, trends are just as promising in Orange County. During 2020, drone technology roles declined with the downswing of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, over the past 12 months, the report highlights 860 drone-related online job posts in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Job posts have increased by 320 compared to 2019, signaling the market has not only recovered, but has surpassed pre-pandemic numbers.

Completed in July 2022, the report builds on the findings of the OC COE’s previous reports on drone technology (published in 2019 and 2020) and analyzes drone-technology related job posts across numerous industries and occupations. To better understand the skills most requested, the report groups these job posts into job families.

OC COE director Jesse Crete, Ed.D., believes analyzing the data this way will give students and community colleges insight into the most in-demand drone careers and skills. Additionally, Crete hopes it will “help Orange County community colleges use labor market data to prepare students to succeed in a broad cross-section of industries and careers.”

Worth noting is the fact that the top five job families in drone technology account for 65% of all job posts and over 40% of those are middle-skilled, meaning they require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. According to the report, the top five job families are:

  1. Computer and Mathematical

Careers that include information technology, computer programming, software development, geographic information systems (GIS) technicians, and other geospatial occupations.

  1. Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media

Careers that expand various media occupations from coaches and scouts to floral designers and photographers, directors, video editors, and videographers.

  1. Architecture and Engineering

Careers that include aerospace engineering, electrical and electronics, manufacturing, product safety, surveyors, and mapping technicians.

  1. Transportation and Materials Moving

Careers are available for all forms of transportation, such as pilots, air traffic controllers, airfield operations specialists, ship engineers, rain workers, and inspectors.

  1. Management

Opportunities also favor manager and supervisor skills, including general and operations managers, architectural and engineering managers, marketing, and sales managers.

The report’s key findings include:

  • While job postings decreased in 2020 with an economy-wide downturn in hiring associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, total postings over the past 12 months exceed yearly totals during the last pre-pandemic period.
  • Within those job postings, 55% included a request for a minimum level of education. Of those job postings, 42% requested a high school diploma, vocational training, or an associate degree.
  • Advertised entry-level wages in these postings are $19.74, which is lower than the California Family Needs Calculator living wage for one adult in Orange County, which is $20.63 (the living wage in Los Angeles County is $18.10). However, there is significant variation across job types.
  • The skills requested in each Job Family vary significantly due to the vastly different tasks typically required, many of which do not include piloting.
  • The highest number of job postings were for drivers, senior software engineers, and test pilots.

California community colleges have rapidly responded to the growing demand for drone-related skills by expanding the course offerings available to students. Graduates who have completed training have moved on to careers in the military, film, photography, airport, and aircraft systems controls, and more. The bottom line: “Students interested in acquiring drone-related skills have a variety of career paths,” Crete says.

According to the Chancellor’s Office Curriculum Inventory (COCI), 11 community colleges currently offer drone certificate and degree programs, and 32 community colleges provide 80 drone-related courses throughout the state. Regionally, Orange County has the most programs (10), followed by San Diego/Imperial (6) and the Bay Area and Los Angeles (3 each). Cypress College and Palomar College individually offer the most programs with 4 each.

“Cypress College stands out because it is the first in California to offer an associate degree in both basic (FAA drone) and advanced (heavy payload) test prep,” says Cypress’s Interim Vice President of Instruction, Kathleen Reiland.

In January 2022, Fullerton College and the Orange County Workforce Development Board (OCWDB), launched the Drone Piloting Program for Orange County youth. The following month, Fullerton College’s proposed Drone Pilot Apprenticeship program received an intent to award nearly $500,000 from the Workforce and Economic Development Division of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

Over the last several years, Orange County community colleges have continued to develop drone piloting and technology programs that incorporate drones into a wide variety of traditional occupations. These specialized programs include:

Cypress College

Orange Coast College

Santa Ana College

Fullerton College

As drone opportunities continue to increase across industries, the OC 2022 Drone Technology report showcases how labor market data can help inform community colleges of workforce trends so they can give students and regional employers the tools they need to be successful.

To read the full report, download it here. For more information about the Orange County Center of Excellence and its research services, visit