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 fast, 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 3.

Companies are struggling to recruit

In 2022, 58% of UK space sector organisations expected to be increasing their headcount over the next 3 years, but 46% say staff recruitment is a major barrier to their growth 1.

Growing and late stage companies in particular have significant challenges hitting their hiring goals, with access to high‐quality candidates cited as the primary problem 45.

STEM professionals and graduates are in high demand

The space sector has the most highly skilled workforce of any sector, with more than three quarters 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 6.

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.

The Definitive Career Guide for Entrepreneurial Space 7

In particular the sector has a shortage of mid‐career professionals 4. Many graduates and early‐career professionals leave the sector after only a few years 58, 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

The space industry is dominated by white men, who make up more than 70% of the workforce, and is significantly less diverse than the population as a whole and newly graduating cohort 9.

87% of space companies in the US cited a lack of applicants as the primary reason for not reaching their diversity goals 4, suggesting that there is not enough being done to make the sector inclusive, and it is losing skilled professionals as a result. More than 40% of women in the UK space sector report being discriminated against 10.

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 11.

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 12. 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 13. The sector’s complex structure of upstream, midstream, and downstream segments is also poorly understood 12.

4. Lack of opportunities

There are not enough opportunities for students, young professionals, and career changers to develop the skills the industry needs 13. 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 4 14. 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 4.

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.

Work with us


  1. ^ (). The Size and Health of the UK Space Industry 2022. UK Space Agency.
  2. ^ Space IGS (). A UK Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2010 to 2030.
  3. ^ Space Growth Partnerships (). Prosperity from Space.
  4. ^ Space Talent (). 2019 Hiring Trends.
  5. ^ BMG (). Space Sector Skills Survey 2020: Research Report, p. 21. UK Space Agency.
  6. ^ Dudley, J. & Thiemann, H. (). Pay in the UK space sector. Space Skills Alliance.
  7. ^ Space Angels (). The Definitive Career Guide for Entrepreneurial Space.
  8. ^ Bell, R. (). Launch Failure? Can we attract and retain the talent that powers innovation?. Society of Satellite Professionals International.
  9. ^ Dudley, J. & Thiemann, H. (). Demographics of the UK space sector. Space Skills Alliance.
  10. ^ Thiemann, H. & Dudley, J. (). Women in the UK space sector. Space Skills Alliance.
  11. ^ Space IGS (). Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014 – 2030: Skills Theme Report.
  12. ^ Bowden, K. & Gurney, R. (). Employer Engagement – enhancing HEI engagement with the Satellite Industry for workforce upskilling and informing policy makers. National HE STEM Programme.
  13. ^ Garner, R. & Dudley, J. (). Removing Roadblocks from the UK space skills pipeline: A student and young professional perspective. 2nd Symposium on Space Educational Activities.
  14. ^ O’Brien et al. (). Diversity in student space activities in the UK. 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2019.
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