Training and continuing education is critical for every business and space companies are no exception. One of the leaders in this arena is Nova Space, which is now offering recruitment and placement services for space professionals, as well as space companies and here to talk with me about this new development and more is Chris Allen, co-founder and COO of Nova Space.
Chris, welcome to the podcast.
Well, thanks very much for having me, I appreciate it.
Let’s talk first of all about Nova space offering professional development for the space industry and now doing recruitment and placement services. So please tell us something about that new service and then we’ll get into some specifics about what each of these different services mean.
Sure, absolutely. You know, one of the things that employers in my view are really looking for in the market today is plug and play talent, and with the urgency that many of the contracts that they’ve won their particular space mission, you know, if they’re a startup and they’ve got investor dollars to build something new and cool that they think has an opportunity to really be a home run in the market, they’re thinking more about their deadline and how they get the right resources working on that project rather than the stability of their organization in the long term.
And that in many ways is what people are really looking for when they’re looking for a new job or career or company to work for, is what’s the growth opportunity for me gonna look like?
We spend so many of our waking hours at work, we want to have good experiences. We want to have good connections and we want to feel like we’re really adding value for those organizations.
So we started looking at the market. We’ve got great clients who are using our professional development curriculum, our program to build space professionals. And we started to look at what are, what are the other needs of our clients, what’s the most, most pressing concern that they have.
And it’s the recyclable nature of space talent, you know, where we we’re seeing across the industry experts jumping from one company to another company as projects or opportunities ramp up.
For space to be sustainable at its current rate of innovation and opportunity, we really need to expand who’s available to to work in that space. So we we got together with a number of experts who are doing recruitment and placement for the space industry, and we started to look at the individuals, not the organizations who are subscribing to our professional services, but the individuals who are going through and on their own dollar learning about the fundamentals of space. And we thought, you know, we’re we’re sitting on the edge here of of a talent pool that Nova space could certify. That we could really say, hey, look, these people have demonstrable skills that the space industry is looking for.
They’re coming from other industries. They may not have the work experience in space, but they’re coming from aviation or they’re coming from other other high tech related industries and with a good foundational background of space, they’re a valuable commodity for for space companies.
So now to simplify a rather complex issue, let’s divide this up into the services for space companies and the services you offer for space professionals. And let’s start with the space companies. What are you doing in the field of recruitment for space companies?
Yeah, well, that’s a great question. So we’re doing a couple of things. We’ve got experts who have done internal recruitment at space organizations. We also have a a deep roster, which then this really makes us unique in the industry currently in terms of placement, we have a deep roster of space professionals who have helped develop and put together our course material. They have, you know, we’ve got 60 plus years of working space experience across our small team.
So we’re vetting candidates in in a way that would be very similar or exactly similar to most space companies. So we we offer that added capacity, but we offer the additional component of being able to vet those folks by actual space operations experts. So kind of our second round of interviews starts to expand. Hey, do these people really have what it takes? We’re also identifying in that recruitment process of potential candidates where their base knowledge and gaps might exist, and remediating that with really good professional development. So on day one, for space organizations, the people that we’re putting in in front of them as potential hires, we really can say they’ve got a strong space background, they’ve proven their skills and they’re going to be really great collaborators for those organizations just right off the bat.
Are you different from, for lack of a better term, the traditional headhunter in in that arena where you, you know, when you’re working somewhere, you get a phone call from somebody with that you don’t know. And ‘oh I’m from so and so and I’m just wondering if you know anybody who might be interested in this kind of a position’?
Yeah, we are definitely discerning in terms of the talent and match up that we want to do? Because our folks who would be making those cold calls and trying to, you know, just move people from one organization to the other, are experts and what it takes to both build culture and build teams.
But also for the space industry, right, so these are folks who have working knowledge of what it takes to be successful in specifically in space operations, but across the fundamentals of space and that’s different than someone who can look at a resume or look at experience and make a good guess that these people are going to be a fit … they’re really well vetted.
Let’s move on, then, to professional development for space companies. What are you doing for the company in professional development?
Yeah, I there’s a couple of important problems that we’re tackling. The first is in, in terms of the careers that are available in space, they require a lot of domain expertise. And what our professional development course really does, is it broadens a person’s experience with all of the core components of space, so if you think of an expert in in a particular domain of space coming to work for your organization, they might not have the full breadth of experience or background to use.
All the things that would make a very well round generalist in space. Our program takes both people who have domain expertise and it doesn’t even need to be space.
So you can imagine software engineers or program managers, lawyers, artists, and others coming from a background where they’ve got expertise in one of those domains. Now they need to fit in with the team that’s working on space. Our professional development program gives them the broad strokes of space so that they can be really, really good collaborators with other experts that are required to to make a mission successful.
So organizations licensed from us a vetted program that gives folks the ability to prove their skills, unlike other programs that you might find out in the industry that are lecture based or PowerPoint based or, you know, video based, ours are all wrapped in a business case challenge where we really expect students to perform. So use the use foundational knowledge of orbital mechanics or the electromagnetic spectrum or launch and propulsion and mission design to solve a business challenge, and in doing so students get to experience what it’s like working on a team. What are the trade spaces when decisions are being made? When do kind of these core fundamental principles actually get applied throughout the life of a project or through the throughout the likes of the mission? That warms new employees up in such a way where on day one they feel comfortable asking questions, raising their hand and saying, you know, that’s something I don’t know about or this is these are some things that we might need to consider and it makes them really, really good employees kind of from day one.
Over the long term, for experience based professionals, again, if they’re coming from a very domain specific set of knowledge this this starts to put them in the position to have a a leadership role and those are the types of things that I’m super proud of in terms of what our course provides. It’s an actionable hand up to have a better career and to have a a better working relationship with college.
You know, space seems to be viewed as a young person’s domain. But are you finding that when you look for space professionals for these companies, are they interested in in a, shall we say, more seasoned kind of person, or do they want the kids that are right out of college and just getting started in their career?
Yeah, that’s a that’s a great question I’ve been on a number of workforce development panels, specifically in this last year and a number of different conferences. And what we have found and one of the reasons why we found another space in the first place is there isn’t an academic pipeline that is really readying students to make the immediate transition from collegiate career right into having a working role in space, we’ve talked to a number of different organizations about the amount of time that it takes for a graduate to have full working knowledge of space throughout your career. You know, we’ve talked to folks from NASA and from the Space Force and from other industry and you know, take somebody who’s, you know, got an engineering background dropped into a project. They’re so focused on their engineering trade in their first few years that they almost don’t get any exposure to space.
And what’s that that’s created is definitely a desire to have more of that seasoned professional in, in the job placement that organizations are looking for because they want somebody who’s got five to seven years of space experience and has seen some of the challenges.
So our professional development program is supposed to be the sandwich between the end of an academic career and those first five and seven years of working experience to get somebody ready to be a leader earlier. And that I think is where recruitment services really provide extra value is finding talent that could be that person really, really quickly instead of going and saying our search is only open to people who have 10 years of space experience because that so narrows down the pool of potential candidates, and it increases the cost and so many of these organizations that are, they’re either running on funds from investors or they’re running on a fixed government contract, can’t afford to always pull from somebody with 10 years of space experience. They need a more affordable solution that allows them to grow and execute at the same time.
Let’s move on to the marketing piece then and talk about how companies let people know about jobs that are available in the space arena.
Yeah, we’re doing a couple of things In marketing. I think there is an emotional component and there’s a motivation component that’s really needed to start to recruit people from other industries.
Space is so aspirational, and we hear that over and over again at conferences from kind of the key stakeholders and leaders in the space industry about how exciting and how aspirational the current missions that we have going on in space are, and those should be the types of stories that attract people into the space industry. But I think they’re also the types of stories that make space exclusive in terms of if if you have talent in a very specific domain and you look at space, you might view a space career as ‘boy, it would be really cool to have that, but I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the math experience or I don’t have the technical background to make the leap’.
When there are so many jobs in open positions that don’t necessarily need to require those sorts of things, and so one of the things that that we’ve got the benefit of is kind of this holistic organization is understanding, at least from a student perspective, what are the emotional barriers, or the worries or fears that someone might have, you know, no wants to show up at a at a job and feel like, you know, in the next three weeks, somebody’s gonna find out I’m a fraud right. And even people who have high, high degrees of technical background can have those sorts of feelings and emotions.
So we’re working with organizations as they come on and they subscribe to our professional development services. They subscribe to our recruitment services in framing and coaching, and producing marketing that attracts talent that might be a little bit hesitant but inspired to join the space industry and to close that gap.
The other thing that we’re doing is picking up on something we did early on when we formed Nova space, which is as companies sign up with us, we also provide a matching scholarship to people in the area. And this is something that we started with space prize. They had a program where they had ten young women from New York, kind of high school graduates that were thinking about studying STEM in the future apply to a rather rigorous competition. The winners of that also received free access to our space program and in our marketing as we sign folks up for recruitment and professional development services at an organization, those matching scholarships then go back into the local area where they might be hiring from and we’re searching for diverse talent or that next roster of folks that that might be interested in joining the space economy and giving them giving them a free hand up so that they’ve got an opportunity to really be strong participants.
And I think more of that outreach is going to be necessary if you look across North America, there’s probably 10,000 open positions looking for people with five or more years of space experience there isn’t a a talent pipeline that’s going to fill that unless we build it.
I was about to say that probably almost everyone suffers from a twinge of “impostor syndrome” once in a while, and that’s exactly what you’re addressing.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, we want, we want people to have the joy and satisfaction of a career that they really feel like they can succeed in, and as you invest personally in professional development and training, that’s those are the types of things that give you the opportunity to grow your career, to be a leader, to get that next promotion and to move up. And knowing that we’re doing that scale really for any industry, but specifically for the space industry is a personal driver for me, kind of why we do this job, why we put together the programs we do is cause knowing that that when we help one person achieve that sort of level of success and personal confidence the impact that it has across the family is pretty special.
I’m talking with Chris Allen, co-founder and COO of Nova Space on the Xterra podcast.
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Let’s flip that around now Chris and talk a little bit about the individuals, the space professionals with respect to the same areas. What is Nova space offering for the professional in terms of recruitment?
Ah, great question. So one of the things that that the moment that we raised the flag and said that that we’re getting into this, we just got bombarded with a lot of people who had already taken our course or had exposure to the types of professional development opportunities that we offered and they immediately said you guys get space. And I’m not looking for a new space career now, but I’m going to be looking for one, you know, before the end of the year, so keep me in mind.
What are some of the other things that I can do to ready myself to move or get into a different position?
So we’re working with individuals to identify their skills gaps and to see if there’s any professional development opportunities that we can offer them before they raise their hand and submit a new resume and say ‘hey, I’m looking for a job’ to get candidates really ready and polished and make sure that they’re going to be a good fit on day one.
The other thing that we’re doing is we’re taking a strong stock of what are the types of experiences if they’re moving from one space company to a new space company that they’re really seeking? What sort of quality of work life experiences do they really, really want? And again that’s part of what I think is making us special in terms of this service, is we have so many people who work at Nova Space who have been in the space industry for decades and so we can immediately relate to the types of things that candidates are asking for, more so when we go and we interview with companies who are signing up for our service, we can be really, really discerning again in that aspect to say, are you gonna be offering the types of quality of work experience, opportunities to grow personally and professionally the ability to be a leader, the type of culture that you’re really looking for, to make sure that when we match a candidate with an organization that they’re going to be sticking for a long time.
We’ve touched on this a little bit, but let’s move into the professional development piece of it. Aren’t there other places like universities where people can get that kind of assistance?
Yes and no. I started doing some kind of deep study and research in terms of what’s happening in North America with our STEM graduates, and I was really concerned to discover that 75% of college graduates or above … Masters degree, you know, PhD level graduates in a stem field … do not take a stem career upon graduation. And part of the reason that that’s being cited is that they spend so much time in school, working on theory and not application that they can’t imagine what work life is actually going to be like, and they get so burnt out on things that are theoretical rather than application that that that leads them to believe, you know, after studying six or eight years in a particular stem field you know, even take space, that they go ‘this is too hard, it’s not enough fun. I can’t imagine myself doing this for the next 20 years’.
And so that’s again where in our instructional approach, we’re really trying to focus on business case application and the full spectrum.
So one of our long stories that covers orbital mechanics and covers the electromagnetic spectrum and launch and design and engineering aspects goes from building the requirements before a project even starts all the way through building and an end of life plan for a satellite, and across that you get to experience where all the different trade spaces, who are all the different stakeholders, what are all the design considerations and you get that broad exposure to what the full engineering to end of life cycle experience would look like. And that’s the type of experience that I think students are really craving is ‘am I going to find joy in one or all of those components? And if I can find joy in one or all of those components, boy, I feel like I I personally could be successful with the space career’.
Isn’t that part of their overall mindset, though? Do you find that that people have always wanted to work in the space industry and they go for that? Or do you get more of I’m in a stem field, maybe space would be cool’.
Oh, that’s a great question I think currently it’s a pretty wide mix. I work also in professional development for a lot of other industries. Space happens to be one that’s really part of part of my personal passion, which is why we founded Nova Space.
But we’re seeing across all industries that people aren’t sticking with their organizations very long. In fact, it’s getting shorter and shorter and shorter. They’re not sticking with their career. They’re not sticking with your organization, and they’re far more willing to move and take a chance.
And because of that, I think that’s where motivation really plays a large part in all the things that Nova space does. We have to help people find motivation in their learning to continue to find again the competencies that space organizations are going to look for. We have to insert in our recruitment services the types of touchstones throughout the interview process throughout the candidate recruitment process that inserts enough motivation that people feel like, ‘hey, I should stick with this because I could see myself being successful’ and at the same with marketing in that.
That’s the first opportunity for us to see with a candidate or with an organization that they, they can make the leap, they can make the transfer and it’s going to be successful.
And marketing was my next bullet point here about how you find the professionals and help them get that great job.
And that’s changing. One of the things that I think the last four years has really illuminated for sales and marketing professionals, is that how we connect with individuals is pretty fluid. You know, if you look at 2019 to the very early parts of 21, my personal experience was you could get really far with LinkedIn, you can make pretty good new connections. You could get meetings scheduled, you can start having serious conversations.
As the avenues for connecting with people shifted and changed through the early 20s, the types of digital communication that people are responding to clicking to and engaging with has shifted and changed.
And part of what we offer from a marketing perspective is we’re doing that for our own business. We’re doing that on the recruitment side to find individuals and we’re continuing to invest and innovate in ways in which we can start to spark those communicate.
And so we’re bringing to bear with the organizations that that we’re working with that kind of almost up-to-the-minute experience of here’s what’s working today in terms of starting conversations, getting people on the phone and actually making serious connections.
Back in the day, universities had placement services, I mean they would say ‘go to this college and we have a 90% placement rate’. It was a little bit more prevalent, I think, in trade schools maybe than in universities, but it’s kind of is the same thing, but that doesn’t seem to be the model really anymore.
And a lot of people seem to be questioning whether universities are worth the money.
So do they have the value they once did and do you see what they’re doing as being more the future rather than the university system?
Yeah, those big those big systems, I think have so much momentum in one direction that it makes it very hard for them to innovate.
In this in this last enrollment year, North American Universities saw a one million person decrease in freshman enrollment. And so kind of exactly what you’re talking about. People are not as motivated to start down the path of an expensive four year career.
The second trend that that I’m really paying very close attention to is the model of credential as you go.
You see organizations like IBM and AWS and Microsoft and others in the tech field providing micro credentialing in very specific domains and skill sets in those cases around their platforms and what their technology has to offer. And some of them, like Microsoft, if you have, if you have enough credentials or professional development that you’ve eked together, you can apply for the type of partnership with Microsoft where they’ll actually send job opportunities to, you know. Individuals who are consulting or to business. And I see a future here where not only do people continue to change jobs and roles at a frequent basis, but that those micro credentials end up being more valuable than a four year career because it says to an employer or two things:
One this candidates (is) current, in whatever the latest technology is that we use as an organization, so they have invested in what’s meaningful to us right now.
The second is it really proves that this person is a lifelong learner. And the willingness to learn more new things while you’re on a job is going to be really important because we see that cycle of disruption and innovation across just about every market, continuing to speed up. If you look back, you know, 2015, if you were an S&P company, you had kind of an average longevity of about 35 years. Companies today that has hit the S&P or probably closer to 12 years of longevity kind of at that pinnacle, and the core reason is there are more organizations willing to pivot and innovate, try something new, and disrupt business flow and for that reason, I think the talent of tomorrow also needs to be adaptable and willing to make the personal investment to learn how to do something.
Does it also speak to the motivation and the part of the individual that they would take the time to seek out the courses and the certifications and get them to make themselves more marketable?
Yeah, I think so. And because micro credentials tend to be shorter experiences, I think you also find that you’re that you’re reaching a population that wants to stay current that they’re not, they’re not thinking in such a fashion where this is going to be the only opportunity for me. They’re thinking ‘I need to be contemporary’ and that that I think identify as a set of motivations and a set of qualities in a particular candidate that’s really attractive in today’s environment.
Nova Space last year announced a professional development platform with the Keystone Space Collaborative. How is what you’re doing with this program differ from that?
Yeah, well, that’s a great question. So we have really great partners at the Keystone Space Collaborative and there are really kind of wonderful innovators in the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia region doing very core and critical work for the space industry. When we when we first started talking with that leadership team, one of the things that they had done was they had produced a study that looked at all the different organizations in that tri-state region to see how much space activity was going on, and what they discovered was there were more companies that had won space related contracts in that Tri-state region than Texas alone or Florida alone, and a good percentage of those companies didn’t even know that they had won space contracts, so they were building parts and components, the types of things that go into the assembly of, of all the great aspirational stuff that we see happening on the on the Space Coast.
And so with that region in particular, we’ve done a couple of things. We provide our platform for their members. We give discounts to Members that they can take our professional development course there, but we’re also kind of joined at the hip and searching for and identifying specific skill sets that that region is really in desperate need of.
So instead of just taking the broad Space Professional Development Course, which is kind of setting the foundation for being a good space professional, we’re also looking at what specific skills does that region need in order to continue winning space contracts like they are and to keep their talent at home. It’s a region that desperately needs to find additional ways to reduce brain drain, and if you’re thinking about space and you’re living in that region, you might not be thinking that space is going to be an opportunity for you to stay at home.
So there again, we’re looking for and starting development on programs that are region-based for skills development.
Just a couple of more questions, Chris, and this has just occurred to me. But if someone is listening to this podcast because they’re interested in space but not necessarily in the space industry, can Nova Space help that kind of person who just wants to figure out how to get involved.
Right, absolutely. We even offer a free course. So if you go to our website novaspaceinc.com, you can sign up for a free course experience. And this does a couple of things:
One is it, the course is on space mission areas. So if you, if you don’t have any space experience, you start to learn about all the different applications that are happening currently in in the space environment and that in itself might spark your interest or curiosity and learn more about space because you might find something in there that’s adjacent to a current passion.
The second thing is and, and this has always been really, really important to me, is providing organizations and individuals the opportunity to see what a more advanced instructional design experience looks like.
Because I’m always asking the question whether we’re working with an organization on something custom, or we’re building something ourselves. I asked this question to myself and I asked this question to early students. Do you want to learn these skills this way and is this is this fun and is it challenging and is this something that if I gave you more of you’d really want to dig your teeth into?
I think you know. because of the digital devices that we use in our everyday life, the next best experience is only a swipe away, right? We can quickly transition and move on to other stuff.
Learning really requires rigorous application and effort by the scheme, so if they’re not having fun, if they’re not challenged, if they’re not interested, kind of in what’s happening next, the learning experience probably isn’t going to be successful.
So you know, for those people who are thinking about transitioning from one career to the other are free courses really meant to be helpful in that decision point. Do I want to learn space this way and do I find a personal connection to space that would keep me hungry to learn more.
Just one thing more, and we ask this of all our guests, Joseph could attest to this, but I want you to look out if you might over the next 10 to 15 years in space commerce, and in particularly in terms of the space commerce workforce, and tell me what you see.
That’s a wonderful question for a couple of reasons. One is if you talk to venture capitalists and folks high up in in government talking about what are the sorts of things that they’re investing in. We’re looking at big projects, big, big missions that kind of have a 10 or 15 year time horizon for them to come to fruition. And so many of those things I’ve had the pleasure of touring facilities and seeing what people are manufacturing as we go out and talk with organizations and every time we do, I come back home and I tell my kids about them, because I’m so excited about all those things that are happening. I think space is probably the most poised industry to capture human participation as we’re going forward as our economy changes as we’ve got more automation as we got more AI as we’ve got more leaps and bounds in the types of everyday technology that we use.
Space is so focused I think on impact that is humanity based. And because of that it will transition folks from one industry into space to be hands-on with kind of the next sort of things that are coming and that’s obviously why we’ve invested in Nova space and are trying to position ourselves early as the folks who can help people make that transition because I see just a wave of people coming.
Chris, thank you so much for being my guest on the Ex Terra podcast.
I really appreciate it.
Chris Allen is the co-founder and COO of Nova Space. And that’s going to do it for this edition of the Ex Terra podcast.
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