The Problem

The space sector is facing a skills shortage

The space sector is growing fast, and companies are struggling to recruit because STEM skills are in high demand. Work to address this is hampered by a shortage of data, too few opportunities to develop key skills, and a lack of best practice in recruitment, training, and inclusion.

The state of the space sector

The sector is growing fast

The UK’s space sector is growing at a rate of more than 3% per annum, creating hundreds of new jobs each year [1], and has set the goal that it should have a global market share of 10% by 2030 [2].

In order to achieve this goal, the sector will need to attract and retain a talented and diverse workforce of more than 30,000 new workers [10].

Companies are struggling to recruit

68% of UK space sector organisations predict that they will be hiring over the next 3 years, but already more than half of large organisations report being worried about having access to skilled workers, and nearly 40% of all organisations say staff recruitment is a major barrier to their growth [1].

Growing and late stage stage companies in particular have significant challenges hitting their hiring goals, with access to high‐quality candidates cited as the primary problem [9]. This problem will only worsen as international recruitment becomes more challenging due to immigration constraints and the growth of the global space economy [3].

STEM professionals and graduates are in high demand

The space sector has the most highly skilled workforce of any sector, with 75% of workers holding at least a first degree [1], but it competes with many other sectors, including those with a higher profile and higher average pay, such as tech and finance, who are winning the war for talent [8].

Right now, people interested in engineering, technology and cutting‐edge ideas are flocking to Silicon Valley to compete for jobs at companies like Facebook, where the median age is 28. Many are unaware that the space economy offers work that’s challenging, exhilarating, well compensated, and can be open to those with little direct space experience.

Space Angels, The Definitive Career Guide for Entrepreneurial Space [8]

In particular the sector has a shortage of mid‐career professionals [9]. Many graduates and early‐career professionals leave the sector after only a few years [4], and there are few resources for career changers interested in transferring into the sector and those returning to the sector after a break.

The sector is not diverse

There is very little data about the diversity of the space workforce, but data on the physics and engineering workforce shows that it is dominated by white men, and is significantly less diverse than the population as a whole and graduating cohorts [5].

87% of space companies in the US cited a lack of applicants as the primary reason for not reaching their diversity goals [9], suggesting that there is not enough being done to make the sector inclusive, and it is losing skilled professionals as a result.

Students often lack key skills

Recruiters often find that placement students and graduates lack the right mixture of technical skills and experience as well as essential skills such as project management and professional communication [6].

This issue is particularly acute for SMEs in the downstream sector, which relies on interdisciplinary teams and looks for a more diverse skill set in their employees [3]. These SMEs are the engine of current growth [1], but lack the resources to invest heavily in upskilling their employees.

5 root causes of the skills shortage

Many organisations are investing significant resource and time to address these issues, but this work is often done in silos, so progress is slow whilst the industry is growing fast. There are five key problems that need to be addressed. This will require sustained collaboration between government, academia, industry, and third‐sector organisations, as well as input from students and young professionals.

1. Lack of data

There is a lack of data about the nature of the problem, which makes it difficult to create effective strategies to tackle it. There are no detailed figures on the shortages the sector is facing, the effectiveness of existing programmes, or the work that will need to be done to meet the 2030 targets.

2. Lack of transparency

There is a lack of transparency between stakeholders that leads to misunderstandings about the expectations and needs of each party. Job seekers are uncertain about what employers are looking for when they recruit, education providers are not aware of the needs of industry, and employers are not presenting their jobs in a way which is attractive to job seekers.

3. Lack of awareness

There is poor awareness of the space sector among students and professionals in other sectors outside of the ‘traditional’ space fields of physics and aerospace engineering [7]. The sector’s complex structure of upstream, midstream, and downstream segments is also poorly understood [3].

4. Lack of opportunities

There are not enough opportunities for students, young professionals, and career changers to develop the skills the industry needs [7]. Many existing training programmes are low capacity and/or very high cost.

5. Lack of best practice

The space sector is some way behind other sectors in implementing best practice in recruitment, training, and inclusion [5, 9]. This in spite of employees citing continued professional development and the existence of diversity and inclusion programmes as among their most important reasons for staying at a company [9].

Action is needed

The Space Skills Alliance exists to tackle these root causes by collecting and publishing data and analysis, promoting and advising on best practice, and bringing key stakeholders together to collaborate and learn from each other.

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  1. UK Space Agency (2018), “Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2018”
  2. Space IGS (2010), “A UK Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2010 to 2030”
  3. Bowden and Gurney (2012), “Employer Engagement – enhancing HEI engagement with the Satellite Industry for workforce upskilling and informing policy makers”
  4. Society of Satellite Professionals International (2016), “Launch Failure? Can we attract and retain the talent that powers innovation?”
  5. O’Brien et al. (2019), “Diversity in student space activities in the UK”
  6. Space IGS (2014), “Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014 ‐ 2030: Skills Theme Report”
  7. Garner and Dudley (2018), “Removing Roadblocks from the UK space skills pipeline: A student and young professional perspective”
  8. Space Angels (2019), “The Definitive Career Guide for Entrepreneurial Space”
  9. Space Talent (2019), “2019 Hiring Trends”
  10. Space IGS (2018), “Prosperity from Space”