5 Solutions to the Space Skills Gap

What the space sector can do right now to improve its skills pipeline

  1. Create a space competencies framework
  2. Adopt best practices for recruitment
  3. Create more opportunities for young people to get experience
  4. Make it easy for career changers to join the space sector
  5. Make training more responsive and accessible

These five mutually reinforcing actions will expand the space sector’s talent pool, increase the number of experienced people, and make it easier to adapt to changing skills needs. They are not everything the sector needs to do, just five things we can do today that will have a big impact on our skills shortages.

1. Create a space competencies framework

It’s easier to solve problems when everyone is speaking the same language.

A shared competencies framework makes recruitment and training easier by enabling employers, employees, and education providers to align on what they need and what they offer.

It also makes research like the Space Sector Skills Survey and report on Skills Demand for Early Career Space Jobs more useful.

The SFIA competency framework, published since 2000, has been extremely successful for the tech sector. The space sector now needs its own.

What needs to be done:

  • The whole sector should work together to develop a shared competencies framework, learning from successes like SFIA, and then continuously iterate it. The first iteration doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be good enough.
  • Employers should align job adverts and progression pathways to the framework.
  • Training providers should align course descriptions to the framework.
  • Researchers should align skills surveys to the framework.

2. Adopt best practices for recruitment

Bad job adverts limit our talent pool by driving good candidates away.

The tech sector responded to skills shortages by developing better recruitment practices that focus on testing skills through targeted questions and work tasks rather than being prescriptive about traditional qualifications and pathways. This has massively expanded the pool of candidates available to them without compromising quality.

Space needs to adopt these best practices rather than repeating the tech sector’s mistakes.

What needs to be done:

  • Employers should ask for skills rather than degrees or years of experience as these are bad proxies for skills and put off talented people who don’t meet these prescriptive requirements.
  • Employers should also publish salaries because adverts with salaries get more higher quality applicants, and salary negotiation leads to systematically lower pay for women and minorities.
  • Business incubators should help new businesses start with good recruitment practices, alongside technology and funding opportunities.

3. Create more opportunities for young people to get experience

UKSEDS, SPIN, and widespread outreach work means we have lots of keen space grads, but they lack experience.

To accelerate the development of capable young people we need more opportunities for them to gain technical and business experience.

Programmes like the Civil Service Fast Stream, Nuclear Graduates, and TeachFirst have been hugely successful pipelines for rapidly upskilling young people. We should copy them.

What needs to be done:

  • The whole sector needs to work together to create a sector-wide fast-track programme focused on quickly developing young people to fill skills gaps.
  • Employers need to engage with and expand internship opportunities through existing programmes like SPIN and the Prospero Space Fellowship, so that young people can gain experience of work and develop their skills.
  • The whole sector needs to support and expand competitions like UKSEDS’ rocketry, rover, satellite design, and in-orbit manufacturing challenges, the UK Space Agency’s Nanosat design competition, ESA’s Fly/Spin/Launch Your Thesis, and the European Rover Challenge, so that young people can gain technical and teamwork skills.
  • The whole sector needs to support organisations led by young people like UKSEDS and SGAC with funding and collaboration, to help them develop their business and leadership skills in environments where they have total ownership of projects.

4. Make it easy for career changers to join the space sector

It’s hard for experienced people to join the space sector from other sectors. It shouldn’t be.

SpaceCareers.uk, SPIN, and other programmes have made the career pathways for graduates really clear. Now we need to do the same for career changers.

Law conversion courses are commonplace, and organisations like NowTeach make it easy for career changers to transition into teaching. We should learn from them.

What needs to be done:

  • Education and training providers should develop and deliver conversion courses designed to add a ‘space delta’ to skilled people currently working in adjacent sectors.
  • Employers should be open to recruiting people with non-traditional backgrounds – we must open up our sector to people we have not considered before.
  • The whole sector should work together to make pathways clear for career changers, expanding resources like SpaceCareers.uk beyond early careers, and creating support networks for career changers equivalent to ‘NextGen’ and ‘Young Professionals’ groups.

5. Make training more responsive and accessible

An over-reliance on traditional multi-year degrees limits our talent pool, and the quality of training is meaningless if people cannot find it.

It should be simple, quick, and affordable for people to upskill via short online-first modular courses like those offered by the Open University. These are more accessible, better tailored to the sector’s needs, and easier to adapt when those needs change.

The tech sector has seen massive growth in its talent pool thanks to embracing bootcamps, modular courses, and online training. Space can do the same.

What needs to be done:

  • Education and training providers should offer modular courses like the University of Leicester’s 4-week course on Space Systems, Regulations & Applications and make more training online-first so that it is more accessible, more responsive, and cheaper to deliver, retaining in-person training only where it’s really needed.
  • Employers should co-develop courses with education providers so that they closely align to the sector’s skills needs and give students as much practical experience as possible.
  • The whole sector should work together to create a shared training catalogue. This can be extremely lightweight like a jobs board, allowing individuals and employers to identify suitable training, and policy makers and training providers to identify gaps in the training landscape.
  • The whole sector should also actively support the Government’s Lifelong Learning plan that enables career changers to access education and training at any stage in their career.

What we’ve already done

We’re not just a think tank, but also a do tank.

To help the sector create a space competencies framework, we’ve published the first iteration of SpaceCRAFT, a space competencies framework, containing 57 competencies in 8 themes, and we invite the sector to contribute to developing it together.

To help the sector adopt best practices for recruitment, we’ve created the Space Recruitment Toolkit, a collection of articles on recruitment best-practices tailored to the space sector, and we offer consultancy services to help employers implement these.

To create more opportunities for young people to get experience, we’ve supported UKSEDS in running student competitions, SpaceCareers.uk in making it easy to find opportunities, and SPIN in providing industry placements.

To make it easy for career changers to join the space sector, we are working with training providers to develop a space conversion course.

To make training more responsive and accessible, we have created the Space Training Catalogue, a directory of more than 400 training opportunities for the UK and European space sectors that anyone can add to, and have advised space training providers on creating online-first courses.

The skills gap is a whole sector problem and it requires whole sector solutions. The actions we’ve listed here are a starting point, but they cannot be achieved by one organisation alone; they are collective actions, and every space organisation, no matter its size or its focus, has a role to play. That’s why we’re not the Space Skills Organisation, we’re the Space Skills Alliance. Come and join us.

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