Space Storm Rising – Part 1
by Joseph Horvath & Christopher Allen
There is a storm coming specific to the space industry. The workforce is not large enough to support the needs of the current commercial and government landscape. Without quality talent entering the space workforce quickly, the near vertical trajectory of economic growth will drastically miss estimates. In fact, the storm is already here, though most organizations are consistently competing for the same talent, rather than investing in new professional development models capable of creating sustainable talent pipelines. Stuck in an outdated paradigm for learning and professional development, the space industry must grow out from under to solve this problem.
Why Is This So Hard
Until the mid-2000s, space professionals were largely made up of a small and well-defined workforce at government organizations such as NASA and the DoD, along with the industry “primes” who support those endeavors. As displayed in the chart below, the workforce was relatively steady, as some retired, others joined, and the equation largely balanced itself out. With the rise of commercial space and the global space economy, this entire landscape has changed.
A wealth of investment has, and continues, to be poured into the space economy, with Morgan Stanley and Citi Group predicting Space will be a one trillion-dollar industry by 2040. To achieve these goals, a workforce is required to support the breadth of companies and organizations involved. Unfortunately, this is not happening, which can be seen by looking at the extremely high numbers of job openings across the space industry, both domestic and globally.
From large to small, companies are scrambling to fill positions. As of writing this article, the following is a small sampling of open positions, extending throughout the industry: SpaceX – 892, Blue Origin – 3208, Ball Aerospace – 286, Sierra Space – 264, Virgin Orbit – 150, Axiom – 195. An internal analysis of space workforce size over the past few years shows an expected average annual growth off approximately 30% more employees for space companies. The current state of play sees professionals within the industry hopping between companies, being poached back and forth, leaving gaps all around. Little effort is being made to grow the workforce and bring in talent from outside industries.
So why is this happening? There is currently only a small pool of individuals with space knowledge and experience to fill these positions. This combines with a perceived barrier to entry into the community, and a lack of general knowledge at the breadth of careers in space. The reality is that these companies need not only scientist and engineers, but also project leaders, technicians, human resources, finance, legal, admin and the list goes on.
People are hungry to be trained and educated, they just need the opportunity. The key is providing the right level of training, at the right career point, for the right position. This may sound challenging, but with current digital education technology it can be accomplished.
At a recent conference, a project lead was discussing adding more foundational space training for the staff of the young space company. The project lead said they thought it would be valuable, but probably not for everyone, such as the HR recruiter standing next to them. The recruiter piped up, saying in fact, that is exactly what they needed to better understand the company and how to best recognize what talent was needed to recruit.
Another example was speaking with the CEO of a much larger established space company about their internal training. He had brought a junior project manager along for the chat and explained how on-the-job training and mentorship worked well for them. Upon asking the junior project manager about how they gained their knowledge and experience, the employee admitted that they had little, and would benefit from more formal space training and education, much to the chagrin of the senior executive sitting next to them. Leadership seems to be stuck following the old model, because it is how they were brought up. Now is the time to change this… or risk becoming less competitive.
In Part 2 we will discuss how training and workforce development has traditionally been accomplished in the space industry. We discuss why this no longer can support the needed growth and how space companies must invest in their workforces to accomplish their vision.