Last week, in Space Storm Rising – Part 1, we discussed the history of the space industry workforce, identifying significant gaps in trained, motivated and experienced individuals to fill the ever-growing needs of companies and organizations.
Space Storm Rising: Part 2
By Joseph Horvath and Christopher Allen
The Old Way
Finding people to fill space industry roles requires dedicated outreach, motivation, encouragement, and education to prove space has a place for everyone. An approachable way to gain baseline foundational understanding and confidence are key to participate and grow within their career path. Otherwise, candidates will drop out, believing space is too hard to bet a career on.
Under the old paradigm of small workforce growth, on-the-job training (OJT) and mentorship were seen as the method to instill and pass knowledge throughout a career. This worked when dealing with a small group but is not sustainable anymore. In fact, it was never the best solution in the first place, but in the current environment it fails miserably.
Passively listening to someone talk or a video lecture, clicking through some slides, then answering some questions…. You won’t remember much. Doing this while working in a remote environment, you definitely won’t remember much. If it is going to be effective, training must be relevant, spread over time, and it must demonstrate consequences of actions through practice. That is when the knowledge and experience become cemented and supports future behavior.
As a senior manager in a space company involved in software development put it “if they are junior, we do spend a lot of time providing internal training and progression paths to ensure they gain their required knowledge.” The sad reality is that relying on OJT and mentorship within the company as the sole source of training and professional development cannot provide the depth of learning and behavior change required to grow this workforce. There is not enough throughput, it takes too much time away from mentor primary tasks, it is not standardized, and it is cost prohibitive to build custom training content inside cash strapped startups.
OJT and mentorship are quite necessary and a positive way to share lessons-learned, provide guidance and remediate deficiencies. In fact, it is an essential element of leadership. OJT and mentorship are not appropriate as primary methods for education and training for a few reasons. For one, it is too time intensive for leaders and experts to focus on teaching fundamental learning topics such as space operations and astronautics fundamentals from tip to tail. It takes valuable time away from what those more seasoned employees should be focused on, such as their actual job. Second, there is a lack of standardization, both within a team, company, and the industry at large. Finally, if learning topics are not properly taught, or instruction ends up being based more on personal experience and opinion, then it likely won’t meet the learning objectives. In most cases job-position based learning objectives are not even defined in any real way.
Show Me The Money
What these companies are essentially saying is training and professional development are not important enough to invest in. To put it more bluntly, their people aren’t worth investing in. Sadly, statistics show that in doing so, these leaders are leaving revenue on the table and failing to enable top performance out of their team members.
Other industries have learned this lesson and are more mature in providing these opportunities. In 2018, US Companies spent 11% of their budgets on training. The average per employee learner was $1286, totaling over $169 Billion in North America alone. That is a significant amount of spending on developing their employees, and the statistic is for industries that have a much larger pool of available talent already. So, with the great need to recruit, retain and upskill in the space workforce, why aren’t companies willing to spend on employee learning and development? Because they never had to before, and they believe they can go without it or do it on their own.
A study by ASTD found that companies that spend $1500 per employee for training annually see an average of 24% higher profit margin. Now that space is a commercial enterprise, companies are losing revenue and opportunity by not training and educating their staffs. This may have been acceptable decades ago when the DoD and NASA where the main show in town, but today these commercial leaders are missing the mark. How would investors and private capital feel to know that the focus of their capital is solely on capability development and not on building a quality team capable of growing and supporting the company goals? The people matter, without them, there is nobody to do the actual work being invested in.
Next week, in Part 3, we look at the cost and challenges associated with developing a worthwhile internal training program. We also examine methods companies or organizations can use to meet this need and how to bring the Space Industry to a mature workforce.