Turnover and Retention: An Unspoken Cost Center Affecting Space Companies
By Joseph Horvath, Nova Space CEO
The space industry has two major pain points, and they are not related to systems, capabilities, or public excitement about the future. The biggest hurdles facing companies today are workforce availability and capital resources. While slightly different challenges, they are related in how they impact a space company’s ability to grow and remain competitive.
In the current environment, smart choices made in hiring and workforce development can aid the capital crunch by supporting affordable talent acquisition, decreasing turnover, motivating employees, and retaining experienced problems solvers. The bottom line is… people are the greatest strength to the space industry and overlooked in comparison to technology or systems.
Source. Train. Retain. Upskill. 4 words that should be a mantra of the growing space industry looking to solve the workforce challenge. Yet, companies and agencies are all vying for the same, limited piece of the talent pie. Everybody wants a unicorn, regardless of whether they can afford it or even find it.
Today’s space workforce conditions make reducing turnover and retraining of adjacent industry talent top priorities:
- As of 2021, there were about 1 million peoplein the aerospace and defense workforce in the U.S. alone
- Only 17% of the space agency’s workforce is under 35
- The “great resignation” is seeing a disproportionate loss of Boomers leaving the workforce, along with their extensive knowledge and experience
- At the four year universities and colleges, from 2017 to 2022, engineering student enrollments have dropped by about 100,000
- Turnover can cost U.S. organizations upwards of 213% of the lost employee’s salary
- 87% of U.S. employers said that improving retention is a critical priority for their organization
The loss of Boomers not being met by Millennials or Gen Z is due to a few reasons:
- Lack of interest in STEM careers and studies
- Higher frequency of job changes throughout working years
- Lack of individual employee investment in training and upskilling by organizations
What is the true cost of turnover or lack of retention? Studies show that the cost to replace an employee range from 1-2 times the annual average salary. The average for the space industry is $125k for average salary, which equates to $125-250k per employee lost.
This is compounded by the fact that most companies are searching for unicorns… people with levels of skill and experience that rarely exist, causing them to focus on a tiny pool of candidates. A wonderful position for seasoned space professionals who are open to being poached back and forth across the community, but not a model that can be sustained, or one that adds talent to the industry. The cost in time and resources spent chasing the “perfect hire” is significant. There is a better way.
A New Paradigm for Training and Sourcing – Expand the Pie
To expand the talent pool, the space industry should be looking at other industries to source new talent. There exist large groups of untapped talent across Aviation, Auto, Software and other well-developed industries. This skilled talent in adjacent industries, ripe for a transition to space, brings with them experience and knowledge to help streamline and improve company performance.
The key is providing the necessary outreach, pathways for entry, and baseline training on space operations and astronautics during onboarding. This allows them to quickly add value, enabling them to best communicate within and between teams, understand the organization’s mission and goals, and the needs and requirements of users/customers. Continuous, properly spaced professional development through upskilling, creates a long-term pathway of success within the organization.
Continual Professional Development: Onboarding and Upskill Training
Regardless of where talent comes from, there is a lack of onboarding and upskill training being offered by companies. One reason for this is that until the past decade, Space was largely dominated by government organizations and their supporting Prime contractors. It was a largely static industry from a workforce perspective, with a slow, predictable growth rate.
The commercial space boom has changed the environment drastically and requires companies to continuously work to develop and evolve the knowledge and skills of their staff to remain competitive. Organizations that invest in their people will remain at the cutting edge of best practices, technology, policy, law, and other important areas. Simply put, a small investment in training improves communication, performance, creativity and most importantly…business outcomes.
The cost of turnover can be significantly reduced through better sourcing models and the addition of professional development within your space company. The best part is that by utilizing this method, simply preventing just one employee from departing pays for an entire year of a training program for the whole company… the return on investment is substantial.
Stop spending time chasing unicorns. Expand your talent pool through more efficient sourcing. Keep your top talent by investing in their future from onboarding and beyond. These are simple measures that reduce overall cost, increase performance, and improve your competitive position. Technology is great, but people are the strength that sets a company apart from the pack long-term.