What’s new about skills in Size & Health 2022?

by Joseph Dudley and Heidi Thiemann

It’s every UK space economics nerd’s favourite time of year – a new Size & Health report has just been released! This report, published by our friends at know.space, covers 2020/21 with forecasts for 2021/22.

As usual, it’s packed with interesting stats about the state of the sector, but what we care about is: what does it tell us about skills?

Employment continues to grow, but more slowly

The sector continues to grow. Employment in 2020/21 saw a 3.8% increase to around 48,800 (26,800 excluding DTH broadcasting).

However, sector income is predicted to shrink by 2.7% in 2021/22, the largest ever dip in growth, reflecting the impacts of COVID, Brexit, and the cost of living crisis. Despite this, employment is still expected to increase by 0.7% to 49,100, entirely within the non-DTH segment. For the first time, employment in the DTH segment is predicted to shrink in 2021/22.

In the 2021 survey, 74% of companies expected to increase their headcount in the next three years, but this has dropped to 58%. This new figure aligns with the 2020 Space Sector Skills Survey, which found that 56% of companies were looking to recruit.

Gender diversity remains the same

There is still a significant gender imbalance in the industry, with ~76% of employees identifying as male, ~24% female, and 0.1% non-binary or other, with no change from S&H 2021.

This aligns closely to our findings from the 2020 Space Census, with the gender breakdown of those working in the space industry comprising ~77% male, ~22% female, and ~1% non-binary or other.

Recruitment and skills are ever more acute barriers to growth

In 2020, 28% of respondents cited recruiting staff as a barrier for growth (the question wasn’t asked in 2021). That’s now increased significantly to 46%, making it the third biggest concern for employers behind economic uncertainty and challenges accessing EU programmes.

Similarly, skills shortages were cited as a barrier by 38% of respondents, up from 24% in 2020. This is despite 77% of the workforce holding at least a first degree, suggesting that a focus on degree programmes is not the answer to the skills gap.

While S&H doesn’t tell us exactly which skills are in demand (the upcoming Space Skills Survey will do that), we know that it’s primarily in technical skills – the number of respondents flagging a shortage of managerial skills has barely changed at only 12% compared to 13% in 2020 –and we know that the majority of employment growth is in non-DTH space applications, a field that requires software-related skills. This aligns with both our report on skills demands for early career space jobs and the 2020 Space Sector Skills Survey, in which software skills are consistently the most in demand.

How should we address these challenges?

When asked what would help address these barriers, 44% of respondents said ‘encouraging STEM uptake through education and outreach activities’. While this is important, our research suggests that there are many other more direct ways that the sector can address its skills challenges.

These include aligning on a competencies framework that describes what skills we need, following best practices in recruitment so that we’re not losing good candidates, and creating more opportunities to gain the experience and skills that companies need but degrees aren’t providing. We’ve laid these out in our paper 5 Solutions to the Space Skills Gap, and we invite you to help us make them a reality.

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