Workforce Development Roundtable Transcript
Jeff Womelsdorf (JW): Hi, everyone. I’m Jeff Womelsdorf, the Vice President of Product Development for Nova Space. Thanks for joining us for today’s Workforce Development Roundtable. We’re joined by some very esteemed colleagues of ours and are looking forward to diving into some questions to get their expertise on workforce development in the space industry. I would like to turn it over briefly to Joe Horvath, the CEO of Nova Space, for some opening remarks, and then we’ll go ahead and get into some questions with our panel. Joe?
Joe Horvath (JH): Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate you having us all here today. I’m Joe Horvath and I’m the CEO of Nova Space, and we decided to start this roundtable to really focus in on some of the challenges and things that we see as benefits or ways of getting around those challenges within the space industry, specifically focused on workforce development and the people aspect of it.
So often we hear lots of talk about unique special space capabilities and technologies and launch and all those kinds of things, but I think one of the missing ingredients is really focusing on the people and the human element required to make all that wonderful stuff happen. So, we’ve brought together this wonderful panel of experts and folks within the space industry that have some unique thoughts and impacts on these various aspects and I’m excited to have a chat with everyone today and see what we can do to help drive this forward and bring the space community to new heights.
So, thank you very much, Jeff, and I’m excited to talk to you all today.
JW: Thanks, Joe. So, for our first question, we’ll open it up with Denise Navarro from Logical Innovations.
The old space economy afforded and required individuals to have really focused specializations in niche areas of the space industry at the early stages of their careers. As they progressed throughout their career path, they gained that broader understanding of the space industry and become more generalists within the space industry. From your experience, have you noticed that new organizations are kind of adopting flatter organizational structures?
Denise Navarro (DS): Yeah, absolutely. I have a history myself in the different paths I’ve taken in supporting space organizations. So, I think understanding that there’s such a general need across the board for all kinds of skills and capabilities is important when you’re embarking on a career within the space industry. I always tell people, don’t hesitate to raise your hand, and say, I’ll try that, because with the proper training, with proper mentoring, with proper OJT, you can get there once you’re inside the organization. And it is really important, especially as we look at some of the workforce limitations and issues we’re facing, that people be able to change hats and play different roles within an organization. So, you are seeing more simple, flatter organizations so that people are more matrixed and able to accommodate multiple areas of support.
JW: Excellent. Thank you very much. I’d like to open the same question up to the group if anybody else has any additional thoughts on the topic.
Jerry Fliger (JF): The only thing that I would add, Jeff, is that one of the things that we’re seeing from the partners we are working with is we’re scaling up so quickly, the change is so rapid that it’s all hands-on deck. We’re really seeing folks branching out in different areas, and we’re moving into really an age of demand versus supply where we have more need than we have folks going in. So, if you have the basics or if you’re familiar at all with it, as Denise was saying, it’s OJT. It’s finding out as you go along. The biggest challenge that we’re finding as we’re upskilling folks is that familiarity with working in space, doing the design and planning for a space environment, because that brings unique challenges. But a person who possesses that already as a background yeah, it’s very lateral and fluid right now.
JW: Great, thank you very much for that input. We can move on to the next question here. The next question is for Justine. If a young member of your family said that they were interested in a job within the space industry, what skills would you recommend that they obtain or what career paths would you recommend that they follow?
Justine Kasznica (JK): Jeff, that’s an incredibly timely question because we have a young daughter. She’s 19 months now, but she’s got two parents that are in the space industry. So we think about this quite a lot. She’ll either want to be in the space industry or want nothing to do with the space industry prepared for that. The beauty of the space industry and I think this is a great corollary to what was just said from Denise and Dr. Fliger is that the space economy as a whole is at an inflection point where it’s ripe for industrialization. When we talk about industrialization of space, you’re not just talking about aerospace engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and the like, software developers.
You’re talking about building a robust ecosystem of support for these industry players. This includes nontraditional space jobs. Like, I’m an attorney by background accountants who understand the industry, business people and salespeople who understand the industry policy and regulatory folks that understand the industry, HR recruiters that know and understand the space industry. So again, it touches so many different career paths that it actually is almost a reverse engineering question for me. I think anyone can find their way into the space industry and find a vibrant career in the space industry.
And what I would say is if you’re on the engineering side, you kind of gravitate towards the STEM fields, that’s fantastic. That’s going to always be a door opener to the space industry from a career perspective for those more traditional engineering jobs, mechanic jobs, machining jobs, et cetera, but really embrace the native talents and skills that you have, and you will find a pathway to the space industry if that’s your passion.
So, to tell you a personal story, I grew up as a tomboy launching rockets, learning about aviation history, building model planes with my older brother and sort of knew about the space industry and found a way to marry my technology and corporate finance practice with that sector. And now having spent over a decade in the space industry working with space clients, I’ve built the industry knowledge and experience organically over time by working directly with companies that do this work. And I find myself being a translator between the technical side and the business side all the time. But it wasn’t something that I sort of planned for from a young age.
Now, I understand that in the engineering fields that’s a little different, but it’s still similar insofar as build the fundamentals of either a STEM practice or whatever field you go into. And there will be a place for you, if we do our job right, for you to orient that skill towards the space industry.
I think the paradigm shift that occurred that we can all work together from a space workforce development perspective. The other piece on this that I would say is we view the space industry as an economic development enabler at the Keystone Space Collaborative. When we talk to our industry council which is comprised of space companies from across the Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia region, they tell us the same thing from a workforce development standpoint and this is not unique to our region. This is true for most space companies across the country, and that is that they’re having a challenging time staffing and finding qualified individuals for their jobs. The jobs are there. It’s really about finding the right folks for those jobs.
So, one of the things that I think is really exciting about the new space economy is that space is not just launch service providers or delivery vehicles or space technology companies. It’s also companies that are looking to avail themselves of a space environment, microgravity and otherwise. The lower Earth orbit commercialization is very exciting for us because that opens the door to companies in life sciences and biosciences and agtech and material science and additive manufacturing and in space manufacturing. That, I think, opens that door even wider to casting a net to a much broader subset of skills that young people can embark on that can ultimately give them a nexus to the space economy.
JW: Excellent, that was great insight, Justine. Thank you very much. I would like to open the question to anybody else in the group?
DN: Well, I really love the way she talked about this overarching umbrella now that these nontraditional roles and skills that no one ever thought could translate into space work or working in a new frontier we’re now here. So, things that people used to see in Sci-fi, but we talk a lot about the need for welders with zero tolerance for errors. And that’s a specific skill set that’s needed where when you think of a welder who’s building your barbecue pit, you don’t think, well, this person is going to build some platform that’s going to reside on the lunar surface or even Mars. So, I think this just really opens up the doors just across the board and really develops that, as Jerry said, the demand for what we’re looking for in the space industry.
JH: I’ll add my son, one of my two boys, he’s an artist and he wants to be a graphic designer, but he loves space stuff. And I was like, well, there’s a role for you in space as a graphic designer, right? I mean, that transition from being kind of old space where it was focused on NASA and the DoD and intelligence community and a very niche community, to now being just a very commercial thing, as you pointed out Justine, it expands so greatly because every one of those space companies needs all the things that any company needs with regards to legal or HR or marketing or all those parts of it. It’s not just about science and engineering anymore. You have to be a successful company. So, you need all of those facets, which really opens the door for anyone that’s interested in becoming a part of that. And I think that’s a real change from the way it used to be even just 20 years ago.
JK: And I would just say, Joe, I’m thrilled that you raised the arts piece of STEM. We talk about it in STEAM now, because if you think about what artists and graphic designers do is they invent the future for what actual spacecraft and space assets will look like. So, if you even think about I’m thinking of SpaceX’s starship and some of these other designs that are coming online in the space industry today. They have their origins rooted very much not in the futuristic world that has been given to us by artists, the movie producers, folks that really cast the vision of what a future in space might look like. So that art piece is still so prevalent and powerful that needs to be part of it. It also is at Astrobotic, our designers and the work that they do to design spacecraft in CAD, or just purely as a two-dimensional drawing, is usually the first image that we bring to our constituents, to our fundraisers, to our public, to our proposal evaluators. And it really is the first time they sort of see a vision of what we’re claiming to be able to do from a technological standpoint. So, I don’t want to underscore the importance of the arts to what you’re talking about. So, kudos to your son and hopefully he can marry the two.
JH: I appreciate it. It’s so true, right? I mean, the scientists and the engineers aren’t the ones that are usually best at communicating with the public or stakeholders or clients or things like that, right. That’s a special skill set, and you need that, but it’s not what you’d think of as traditional space role. So, it’s exciting for people. There’s so much opportunity now. Thanks, Jeff.
JW: Absolutely. My oldest daughter wants to be a ballerina, so I’m still figuring out how she can make her way into the space industry doing that, but I’ll keep working that angle.
JH: She’ll teach dance classes on a space station or something.
JK: Zero gravity ballet. I mean, that is amazing. Absolutely.
JW: We’re talking a lot about skills here. So, our next question is kind of a natural lead in here for Byron. What skills do you see as being the most in demand for new space and then what skills do you see being in high demand over the next five to ten years?
Byron Risner (BR): Thanks, Jeff. I grew up as a space kid. My dad came from the hills of Tennessee and went down to NASA and worked there for 50 years. And I had the privilege of meeting all kinds of scientists and engineers and what I will call common folks. And I think the skills that you have to have are the same that they had and the same that you’re going to need now and the same that you’re going to need in the future. And the ones that I can tick off, you’ve got to be an analytical thinker and be able to solve problems, complex problems, and be able to take a lot of stress. The tolerance for stress has to be there, resiliency, and very important is leadership skills. You’ve got to be able to lead a team and be able to make decisive and quick actions. I saw that countless times with my dad and his group and what they did during the Apollos and all the things that go there. And I think a big one now and, in the future, will be the ability to grasp and use technology because it’s growing at such a rate that you’ve got to be able to grasp and use it and apply it to whatever you’re doing. Creativity, take the initiative. All those types of things I think were tried and true then are applicable now and be applicable in the future.
JW: Yeah, those are all great skills to have. To the rest of the group, are there any additional skills that you’d like to highlight that you’ve come across as being valuable in the space industry?
DN: I would definitely add communication skills, whether it’s oral written, sometimes body language, but you really do need to be able to communicate the message. And I think Justine brought that up about sometimes it’s a special skill set, so not everyone can communicate. They may be able to do the work on the ground and be able just to get a rocket launch, but the ability to send the message forward and especially excite the community and the general population about what you’re doing and the benefits to society overall is really key.
JF: And I would add on to that, and just piggyback something Justine had said earlier. All the things we’re hearing from our industry partners, it’s everything that a typical workforce needs just done in a space environment. And so, across the board, we need accountants, we need computer programmers, we need cybersecurity. And so, it really is just changing the context that you’re working in. At College of the Mainland, one of the things that we’re working on is there are five major employment sectors we serve. What if, for instance, in business, you have this core group of classes that everybody going into becoming a business, professional, accountant, whatever it is, they need those. But then there are these hubs, there are these spokes that they go off into. And so, if I’m going into petrochemical, what’s an accountant look like in petrochemical? What’s an accountant look like in space? And so, it’s all the skills that a lot of people currently possess or are pursuing, with the exception of some niches, but done in the context of a space environment and towards space goals. And so, again, I think it’s more in some ways, it’s not as novel as it seems, but it’s a novel moment for us because we’re having a paradigm shift in what it means to work in space.
JH: Jerry, I have to dovetail on something there because I love, well, between, I guess, what you all said, when I look at those skills that you mentioned, like analytical skills, leadership, communication, these are things that are going to make you successful anywhere. So, to your point, this isn’t unique in a space sense. What I love about that is that that means the needs of these companies can be drawn from other industries or from other areas. You don’t have to have this very specific niche space background unless you’re going to be an astrophysicist. But for all the other things that we’ve been talking about, those are just general skills that can be drawn from outside of the industry and brought in. And the specific learning, that just needs to be about what’s unique about space and what those unique considerations are with the company or the group that you’re working with. But leadership skills are a really interesting one, right? Because I’ll be honest, when I’ve worked with scientists and engineers and founders and those kind of technical thinkers without practice and mentorship and experience, leadership can be real challenging for those folks sometimes because that’s just not generally something that’s focused on in those careers, early on especially. And that’s where I think we can borrow from other industries. These people who have all this talent in those areas, they just need to understand the uniqueness of the space industry and space companies.
JW: Excellent. Thanks Joe. My next question is for Jerry. So currently it’s understood that our future space workforce relies heavily on K-12 inspiration. And there’s really not enough good concrete programs that develop and foster that inspiration. Are there any current certification or apprentice programs that you’re aware of or what’s needed today of a program like that?
JF: So, as we’ve touched on earlier, currently we’ve got certifications or degree programs in welding, in CNC, in pipe fitting, instrumentation, electrical. These are all skills, all occupations that are available and needed from our industry partners is what we’re hearing. And so, there’s a lot of transferable skills there. There are programs out there across the country right now in aerospace technology or being an aerospace tech. So those do exist. One of the challenges you get is there employment for those positions.
And right now, I’m in Galveston County in the greater Houston area, and we’ve got NASA Johnson Space Center right here, Ellington air base, one of the only space ports that’s located in the major metro area. And so, there’s opportunities that exist here that might not exist other places. So, I can speak really to the workforce needs here. But when we’re talking about that inspiration, I’m just going to keep going back to this as somebody who was Isaac Asimov Fan and Ray Bradbury. And yes, I dreamt of going into space, but I did not possess any mathematical acumen and physics was never going to happen. And so, I’ll just read books about it. We had a paradigm that existed for so long that space was space was the place where astronauts, astrophysicists, mechanical engineers, those people went. And if that wasn’t your skill set, there wasn’t a place for you. And that was perpetuated through hiring practices, through the talent pipeline to NASA.
And really, as Justine mentioned, this commercialization of space that’s going on right now, it’s been a radical shift, literally a paradigmatic shift to what we’re seeing now is if there is a job available on this terrestrial planet, there’s likely that same position somewhere in a space environment. And so, what we’re seeing specifically are those high skills jobs, those low degree but high skills jobs like welding, CNC, I and E, those types of things. We’re needing to approach those from a different standpoint because instead of compression fittings, we’re doing flare fittings and the role of microgravity and what that does to things, the zero tolerance, as was mentioned. And so that’s a different environment. And I have to say, working a little bit with Nova Space to help us orient some of our students towards that environment and what it means to work there.
But the missing component, if I could lock onto one thing, the missing component are those apprenticeship programs or internship programs with the public private partnerships. For us to move this forward, it takes relationships with the industries that need these folks. That inspiration is going to come from folks having an opportunity to see the dream. And so, if you hear an orientation from an astronaut, if you hear an orientation from one of these businesses, then a graphic artist all of a sudden realizes, I have a part to play. But those partnerships have to exist. And part of the paradigmatic shift has to be moving beyond degrees to be moving into skills and capabilities.
JH: I got to ask a follow on to that Jerry. So recently I’ve been a part of the office and Science Technology Policy Group focused on space workforce development. And in some of the conversations I had there, we were talking about the Department of labor with regards to the job codes that exist currently, and that’s how they do all their tracking of metrics and population and all that kind of thing. And right now, it’s aerospace. And to be honest, it’s aviation focused is what these job codes are written for, how the descriptions are. And that leads down to the training and funding and all the things that support it, right?
It’s a whole chain of events there. And we were talking about the fact that really you kind of need to break out space separately from aviation or that terrestrial aerospace, if you will, because it’s completely different. It’s a zero-gravity environment. There’s no atmosphere or minimal atmosphere. You’re not using lift. I mean, it’s just drag. It’s just a completely different environment that you’re operating in, and it’s just so unique. So, to try and train people in aerospace but act like, but you’re ready to go into space professions isn’t necessarily true. And it’s almost better to break them out into separate codes so that we can identify those standards and training requirements and uniqueness to help guide people in that direction. And I’d be interested to get kind of the group’s thoughts on that because I think there’s more we can do on kind of that policy and standardization side to help folks in the future, not just in identifying what those skills are. To your point, we need skills, right? Not just knowledge, but also to help drive funding towards it as well, because that all follows from that official type of policy and identification and things like that.
JF: Joe if I could just really quickly expand on that even further. In the state of Texas, our workforce programs are dictated by the state. We have manuals, we have ACGM manuals. We have literally dictionaries of here are the classes that you can offer, and what do you do when you’re starting something that’s new, that doesn’t exist? And so, okay, we need this, but there’s no state funding for it. One of the things that we’re looking at is how do we create that ability to blow out in education? We talk about the CIP codes. Everything has a CIP, and that’s where we go. And it’s a good problem to have. We’re ahead of the curve right now. We’re operating in an environment that policy hasn’t caught up with. And so, having that carve out for initiatives, I think I’m just so excited because to me, having not lived through the space race as a cogent individual, we’re back there again and how will we respond policy wise, governmentally wise, regulatory wise, to be flexible, to give us that opportunity to grow and address these? Because it’s going to happen, and I hope it happens for the United States.
JK: Joe, Dr. Fliger, this is so in line with my legal work because I’ve run into the same exact issue. If you look at the American Bar Association for Lawyers, you have the Air and Space Section, but it is overwhelmingly aviation focused. And that is true on the space side. When we go to the state governments in our three states and start looking at space specific programs and policies, it’s either manufacturing or aerospace or in the area of Pittsburgh robotics, right? And those are great to think about as larger domains. And there’s overlaps if you’re looking at a Venn diagram, space certainly overlaps with all of those. But it has to live in its own field, and anything that we can do collectively to talk about it as its own field and the reasons why it needs its own domain for education is absolutely critical for all the reasons that were mentioned.
I wanted to touch go back to the original question and offer two points. One is, as much as the question talks about downplaying inspiration, if I had to guess, every single person on this call is tied into the space industry because of an inspirational moment in your background that space uniquely offers that is unique when you compare it to any other industry. I think any child will go through a phase where the moon, the planets, astronauts is the end all, be all for their life for that particular phase. And I actually think that is an incredible powerful hook that opens the door and stays with you through that career. So as many times as possible through that career development that we can create opportunities to remind folks of the hook that brought them there is really important. I’ll tell you, for me, it all came together years ago when I was just starting in the space industry from a legal standpoint, when I saw my first launch. And when you hear the reverberation of launch, this was a smaller launch out of Wallops, Virginia. But when you hear that, when you’re present, when you see what humanity is capable of and visualize it, there is nothing like that that brings you back to your childhood dreams and those moments of inspiration. And we need to create those inspirational nodes for any career across the board. However, to the points made that I thought were excellent ones, it is not enough. The inspiration will be there organically to keep people engaged in the space industry unlike any other industry. We know that at Astrobotic, the folks that come to Pittsburgh and the fact that they can work on a lunar mission in their lifetimes in a decade or less is game changing for these folks. Right, but I think we need to I actually studied and like the German model because I think we really need to move towards apprenticeships, even if they’re not formal apprenticeships that actually plug folks in the industry and give them a flavor for what it is to view that development. So, when Dr. Fliger talks about the public private partnership, some of the best apprenticeship models that I’ve seen work in different industries are when community colleges, technical schools, universities partner with industry, industry dictates the needs that they have and the programs are aligned with the end employer in mind. And that way you’re creating an interlocking system that automatically not just creates talent, but also a repository for employment and good employment at the end of it. In order to do this well, though, I think programs like what Nova Space is doing and others like it around certifications is actually very helpful because it creates that, I would say, lubricant for my interlocking locking system that allows that environment to be taught. So, to me, this is absolutely the critical way to go about it.
And at the Space Collaborative, what we’re thinking about is getting the industry players in our network to start collaborating with the universities and the technical schools have those conversations and then reverse engineer back because we know that the inspiration will be there again. On the one side, you have inspiration so important, but you have to have that public private nexus on the end. To actually create those jobs that we’re talking about.
JW: Great insights, everybody. Those were some amazing answers to that question. Bryon, so we’ve talked about certifications and apprenticeships. Are university programs structured to help develop the space workforce? And what do you think universities will be doing differently in the next five years to support the space economy?
BR: Well, to the first part of that question, I would say there’s not really anything there. I’ve just kind of started this journey. I work in the Haslam College of Business here at the University of Tennessee, and I work in the aerospace and defense programs. We have a lot of aero, but we don’t have a lot of space and so do a lot of stuff like others mentioned earlier. So, all that to say, we can pump out all kinds of STEM, I’ve got tons of engineers, we can do all that as well as anybody else. There’s lots of folks there. But if you want to focus down and like you said, split space out and make it its own thing, that’s something we’re going to have to do in the next five to ten years. And kind of something I’ve kind of started to do is look at how we can include that, because right now there is no subject matter experts in your faculty base. So, we’ve got to look at how do we build that so that we can have people that can teach those things and create those classes. One of the things we’re looking at I’ve been told to look at is working with folks like Nova Space where you could take some of those courses, maybe add it on to an engineering degree and have a little bit of as I say, as we used to say in the military, get a little space stink on you and then make you more viable when it comes to getting hired by a space company. And this all kind of started. We have an aerospace and defense MBA, which I’m a part of. And we had our first student last year from Blue Origin, and we were Lockheed Martin, Boeing, DoD, every class for the last 20 years. And we had our first Blue Origin student and so she did very well and is going to go back and do great things. But that’s kind of said, hey, there’s probably something there we need to help with folks like that.
JF: If I can Byron, one of the things that we’re being mindful of here and we have an original university that we work closely with, again, we’re in the nascency of this workforce development for space, is that our ability to articulate from a community college into the four-year university building those programs, because really we’re in that both end situation. We really need to address the immediate workforce demands that exist today. We also need to build a sustainable model that will continue to build a talent pipeline for decades to come. And that long range plan is, okay, what are those programs that we can offer? We can start a person in that two-year program that they can then articulate into the four year university and continue on to fruition. I think things like that are things to think about concurrently with trying to ramp up immediately. But I applaud the work that you’re doing. And again, I think Nova Space is doing a fantastic job and giving us a lot of tools to really work around. But yeah, to build that pipeline. Not just private public partnerships, but university community college partnerships. Now, in Tennessee, you all have a great two plus two system.
BR: Two plus two is a really good system. And I was going to mention that a kid gets done with two years and he’s automatically accepted in the University of Tennessee. And then there’s a great segue just to do exactly what you described.
JF: Going back to what Joe said, and identifying those programs and the funding for those programs so we can make those things happen.
DN: And if I can share a little history to present so I’m actually a product of one of those two plus two programs way back in the day, starting the College of the Mainland and going to school locally, based here in the Houston area. So, Johnson Space Center was always part of my growing up. And so, moving forward, it’s really exciting to now have developed these partnerships with calls of the mainland, with Nova Space, and looking at these specific requirements and the specific needs of the community and building the workforce. And it’s really nice when you are able to deal with institutions like Jerry, like Byron, that are open to help, to seek outside help, and know that they need this information to come forward from members of the community. And building those partnerships not only across industry but also with some of the economic development foundations to look at the bigger picture of what’s ahead and the challenges ahead and really working together to get those going. So, it’s exciting times because you can partner with so many diverse organizations and institutions and work to make a positive impact. And I think someone said you have the need now. It’s great to build. We want to keep the passion going. We want to keep inspiring the youth, but we have to look at the here and now and say, we’ve got a gap now that we need to resolve quickly so that we can take these next steps and reach these goals. I mean, we just had the announcement of the crew for Artemis Two, which is really exciting. And so, we need to make sure we keep that momentum going and do what we can to plug in resources from all levels.
JW: Absolutely. Thanks, Denise. And actually, this next question is for you as well. Not to disparage current college graduates, because obviously they just don’t know what they don’t know. But in your experience, is there anything that today’s college graduates are lacking for immediate success when they show up to work in the space industry?
DN: They certainly have the knowledge and expertise that they’ve gained through their college careers. I think what they really like, especially if they’re looking at something in the space industry, I think they’re lacking that appreciation for the history and for what has gone before them to get to this point, because history kind of repeats itself, so we’re seeing some of the same. We will go to the Moon. That was 1962, starting with JFK, and here we are again. We’re going back to the Moon some 50 some odd years later. So, I think understanding the value of that history, that history lesson, and also looking forward and saying, here’s where I fit in. I may not be a rocket scientist, but that’s okay, because we need more than rocket scientists to make this a successful program. And I think we really have talked about it. It’s going to take skill sets and people of all walks of life to make this a success. So, I think if they understand and appreciate not only the history, but where do I fit in? How can I make this my mission? And then just getting your foot in the door and then creating your path once you’re inside, that’s also key to know that that is possible. And I’m living proof of that, that it’s possible to navigate your way through the system and to evolve as needed. So, I think that’s just an important piece of information they need to have.
JH: I want to add something there that you made me think about, Denise. My background was in space, but it was originally in astrophysics. And so, comparing that to the space industry, this was 30 years ago. Astrophysics is a scientific endeavor, and actually, I never did anything with satellites, and I actually did very little with orbital mechanics. People think astrophysics, and they think, oh, that’s like being an astronomical engineer, actually. Completely, absolutely different specialties. And it’s funny because I often talk to these mechanical engineers or electrical engineers or even aerospace engineers, and their knowledge about space is often very small, especially depending on the program they went to, because oftentimes it’s focused on the interests and the funding of their professors in the university. Universities are very much about research and development and that theoretical study of science and those things. And so, I think it’s important to remember that the commercial industry has its own unique goals that aren’t always in line with just the pure science side of it. And so, because space is so multifaceted, you can really quickly, as a student, get yourself kind of pegged into a specific bucket of expertise. That’s your focus. You might be an antenna person, or you might be an electro optical design person or a launch person or whatever, but you can quickly get yourself kind of stove piped into an area. And then it can be hard to transition sometimes. Or it can be hard when you’re working with other team members, not understanding the trade spaces necessarily that they’re challenged with. And I think that’s especially challenging on the space side is what I’m getting at, because aerospace, when you talk about the aviation side, it’s got so much more history to your point of practice and experience and FAA and there’s a lot more to draw from. And so, on the space side, it’s really important to know what’s been done before. We’ve got nuclear as an example. Nuclear is really coming around right now. Well, there was a lot of work done in space related nuclear and we must be careful, like you point out, to not recreate the wheel and learn from those lessons from before. And so, I think that’s an aspect of it too, is making sure that as a student coming out, that you’re bringing not just those technical skills, but also those other soft skills that we’re being talked about here. And they’re practical and they’re something that you can apply and not just a theoretical thing that you’re going to take a lot of time to really develop into something you can use. And to your point, this new exploration is really opening doors for, like we talked about, skill sets you never thought were going to be needed and they’re needed. And so, I think that’s part of the messaging that we really need to get across to the new wave of graduates that are coming out, making space an option for them to build careers.
JW: Excellent. Thanks, Denise and Joe. Justine, as someone who focuses on regional space industry development with the awesome stuff that you’re doing with KSC, have you noticed that students and job candidates are willing to relocate to work these new space opportunities, these new space industry opportunities?
JK: I think that’s a fundamental question and one that goes to the heart of why we created the Keystone Space Collaborative to begin with. As outside general counsel to Astrobotic, a growing, high growing company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that otherwise hasn’t been known as a space city like Houston or others that were mentioned, we had a hard time, and we still have a hard time recruiting qualified space professionals from LA, the Coast, Florida, Alabama, et cetera, to Pittsburgh. And in large part that’s because it’s not known, right? So if you are asked to relocate yourself, possibly your family, everyone else, and start a new life in a city that’s not known to you and has only one known space interest in town, that becomes a very risky move because one of the benefits of being in a space focused geographic cluster is that you have mobility down the street to other similarly situated companies. And so it is absolutely critical to think about the space industry in a geographically clustered way. And so that’s when we started looking at that for what Pittsburgh had to offer, what Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton State College in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Morgantown and beyond had to offer. All of a sudden we started seeing similarities and parallels between the types of companies that were growing and emerging in those regions. And that to us, was why we said we need an industry community that we build over time to augment and amplify the work of the space companies that absolutely exist in this region and are vibrant but may not be known or talked about to really create that narrative. So that’s something that I think is absolutely critical to be able to attract folks from outside of region. And that is necessary because out of region players bring so much of mission experience that is absolutely critical to helping these companies establish and grow within your region. So, you can’t leave that out.
However, to supplement and offset as we’re growing these companies in region, we are actively upskilling and doing cross scaling kind of transfers from similarly situated careers that might be working in robotics, in the autonomous vehicle space, in even energy fields. There’s a lot of interesting crossover. Our region is very well known for energy related work and it’s a relatively surprisingly easy transition to the space industry if you know how to help support that workforce. We’re actively talking to our universities about focusing or directing their focus to space and what those skill sets would need to look like as we’re looking three years, five years, ten years out to really bolster the internal skills and talent pipeline. So, I think you have to have a talent pipeline that’s robust inside your region, but also be able to attract from outside. And so, the challenge with workforce development is it’s such a large challenge and large problem because now you’re talking, now you’re having to talk with your city, you’re having to talk with your region, the regional thought leaders, your state stakeholders, and even your federal stakeholders about how do we, you know, attract folks. It’s not just about the space company that you’re going to go to and work at. It’s about what happens when you leave at night and want to go and play. What do you do? Where do you go? So, creating vibrant communities of entertainment, education for your children if you have them, a robust sort of community that’s vibrant is really what sells young people on relocation from the urban coastal cities that we hear so much about. I think this changes when folks get to this age where they’re starting to have children and see the value of regions and cities in areas like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia because these are great places to raise young kids. You have family members there oftentimes. So, we always hear about the boomerang effect that is very strong in our region. But again, I think you need to sort of be working on marketing your cities, marketing the community where your space company is located to actually create that attractive fabric for the individuals to come and relocate. So, a lot of arts time at Astrobotic is working with the county, the city, the state to augment what? Pittsburgh. How it markets itself to the rest of the nation and the world about being a vibrant, exciting place that we know it is because we’ve been here for so long. But that narrative hasn’t really necessarily been communicated. So, space professionals have to also be their regional ambassadors in order for this to work as well.
JH: Justine that also kind of affects that diversity and inclusion aspect of it as well, because space is so regionally focused in five or eight kind of very specific areas. We talk about wanting to make the space workforce more diverse, but I think that’s one of the challenges. It’s regionally focused. So, if you’re a kid growing up, say, in New York City, and your goal is to do hands on building of space things, you’re going to have to probably go somewhere where they’re building space things. Now, the one cool thing I think that came out of COVID and this push towards more hybrid or remote work is that there actually is a lot more you can do within the space industry and with space companies remotely than were offered before. And I think that’s where when we talk about all those kind of supporting or leadership or project management, the things that aren’t physically building, you can do a lot more of that remotely, which really opens itself up to a much larger population that isn’t necessarily focused in one of those space regions or space cities, too. But I think to your point, as the space committee talks about wanting to really focus on diversity and bringing in larger groups than have traditionally been there, the regionality of it becomes a challenge. So, I think cities that want to focus on that, they need to make sure that they’re hitting not just on drawing businesses in, but those other aspects that you just threw out there. Because, yeah, if I think about that, if I’m going to pick up and change and go somewhere else in the country, that can be a real scary thing and you got to have a real motivation to want to do it.
JK: Let’s talk for a second about diversity inclusion, because we have a workforce development panel and we’re all, to my knowledge, white based on what we’re seeing. And I think that’s actually a really important part. You’re kind of pigeonholed into inheriting the workforce skill set that you have when you’re building a space company in the area that you’re in, but we can do a lot of work to create nexus areas and opportunities for access. I’ll give you an example from Astrobotics perspective. One of the things that we seeded in the last two years was the development of a museum, a nonprofit that would focus on space careers for K-12. And we’re located intentionally in a majority minority neighborhood in Pittsburgh. We wanted to have the ability for the community that’s right outside our door to walk in and have a public opportunity to actually walk up to a glass and see across the glass into a clean room. The missions, the lunar missions that are being built next door, I think that’s incredibly unique for a space company to take that kind of civic community member position and one that I think could be a model for this public view, this public facing illustration of what we’re working on the inside. So, these kids from schools will come through and they literally learn through almost like an escape room opportunity, what all industry career opportunities exist for space. And there’s an art station, a policy station, an engineering station, and we’re expanding that to medicine and everything else. But again, it’s our sort of way of creating that moment of nexus for the outside community to come in. But it is a challenge, and that has to be a multi-year commitment because kids that go up to the glass and are inspired by what they’re seeing have to be able to get jobs and go through that process ten years from then, 11, 12 years from then.
But the other thing on diversity and inclusion in our region that we don’t ignore is the fact that rural communities are actually ripe with opportunity for supply chain to the space industry. I always tell the story of driving through rural areas of Ohio, West Virginia or Pennsylvania. We’re big outdoors people, so we love kind of getting out into those communities and enjoying their recreational assets. But I can’t tell you how many times you’ll drive past a nondescript manufacturing building and you look them up and they happen to be developing that unique widget for NASA or the Navy or the Air Force. And it’s mind blowing. The opportunities that you have and connecting those rural communities to the work that we’re doing in the space industry, I think, is something that has to be baked into this conversation about diversity and inclusion as well.
DN: Yeah, let me kind of share a little bit. I’m actually a Hispanic American, so I can appreciate the diversity inclusion. One of the challenges is working within the cultures because you mentioned about relocation and it’s really tough for some cultures to say, I’m going to move away from the place where I was raised and my whole family still lives. And it’s really a culture shock to have to do that. But I think you hit it on the head where you said you’ve got to open the doors and provide an awareness of what’s out there. I was fortunate that I grew up in the Houston area, so I saw what was around me and sought opportunities, but it’s not inherent in the culture to break out and to look beyond your own safe space, so to speak. I think understanding that it’s going to take a little bit more effort to reach the underrepresented and underserved communities and also to things like you look at, like, Blue Origin and SpaceX who have actually sought these really remote rural areas. I mean, they’re in Brownsville, they’re in West Texas, so they’re reaching those populations and creating a new kind of environment there. So that awareness is starting. And that’s exciting, too, to see, because I think that really will help and open the doors, because that’ll create new streams of workforce candidates in that regard.
JW: Thank you for those inputs. Next question is for Joe. So, within your space network, what percentage of professionals have transitioned from another industry, and what do you think has made them successful in their transition into the space industry?
JH: It’s a great question. I’m going to say it’s small, and I’m going to say it’s largely only happened in the past five years. Prior to that, it was space was your focus from the beginning, or you had no idea about it or lacked even the general knowledge that you could transition. And I think that this has largely occurred in the past ten years as space truly became commercialized, and I think that’s really when these transitions started to happen. But it’s small, and I think I’m really only starting to see it largely in the past couple of years. There are certain groups that are more tailored to it. I think I’ve noticed a lot of retiring military, and I’m retired military or separating military that didn’t necessarily have a specific space background, but they maybe touched space a little bit at certain points in their career. I’m finding a lot of those people having success in transitioning into positions within the space economy. But when it comes to the more traditional roles, whether it be an engineer or all the other types of support that a company needs, I don’t see a lot of transition. And I think the biggest part that I’m seeing is a lack of awareness. I have conversations with folks and I say, wow, I talk about what I’m doing and they go, oh wow, the space stuff is so cool and all these things. And I go, well, if you like this stuff, you should look at some opportunities that might exist for you. And they go, yeah, but I’m a lawyer or I do recruiting or I’m a software engineer. And you go, well, space companies need all of those things, absolutely. And you’d be surprised at how hungry they are to fill these roles with quality talent. I think the biggest thing that I see is we need to be out there talking about it and not just talking about it, but showing success stories, I think is an aspect that we really need to do better about. Telling the story of what it looks like and what those experiences are like for people that do transition and have success and show what that career path looks like. The other thing I think that’s lacking is the professional development opportunities to help with that transition. Obviously, coming from other industries, there’s a certain level of knowledge that you’re going to need to truly be successful so that you can communicate effectively so that you understand what your team members are working on. You’re not going to be an expert in the things, but you got to at least be able to speak the language and understand what’s going on. And I think there’s a significant lack of those professional development opportunities, not just when you start, but throughout a career, to grow and stay current. I think it’s really important that we provide those not just for the transitioning folks, but for the current space community as well.
DN: If I can add to that, we have a lot of what you consider nontraditional workforce members. So like accountants, finance folks, administrative folks, and they might have just great skill sets and the fundamentals of general ledgers. And I’m not accountant, pardon me, but then you get into this environment and one of the things, you know, at NASA, you know, we say, you know, we speak a different language because we speak in acronyms, you know. And so you always have to get them really that other foundation to understand what government accounting means versus mainstream accounting. And it’s a very different animal and it’s a very different way of tracking projects and working with the engineers and working with the scientists. And so, you do have to really focus on that kind of awareness and that different kind of training. And this is your environment now. And don’t forget everything you knew before but understand how you fit into this puzzle or this component. And then sometimes with different space, different members of the space industry, there are particular cultures within. You might have a research NASA center here versus the human spaceflight NASA Center, and they’re different in the cultures. And so, there’s also that type of training or mentoring that’s required. So I think I’ve seen it happen. Sometimes your strongest performers are the ones that come from another industry because they’re really hungry and they want to learn, they want to be part of it. So, they’re going to work harder to be able to fit in, so to speak. So, it’s possible. It’s probably not as common as it should be, but I think just having these conversations and as Joe said, making people aware is going to help, and the institutions really focused on those students that are coming out.
JK: I love this because I think about my space law practice that I’ve built, and if I think about, quite honestly with this group, how much of my day job requires space specific industry knowledge. It is about 15% to 25% on a given basis. And I can’t tell you how many lawyers call me and law students keep calling me and saying, wow, how do I build a space practice? That’s what I want to do when I graduate. And my answer is, you got to get that 75% down, become an excellent corporate lawyer, get that down, and then find space companies to apply that to, and you will pick up that 15%. Now, granted, that 15% to 20% is what allows me to bill what I bill, right? It makes me valuable to my clients. But at the same time, without the 75, 80% sort of body of excellence and experience that is just core to the corporate legal profession, you can’t just jump in and be a space lawyer unless you want to sort of teach and be an academic in the field. So, I think that that probably carries over to accounting and some of these other disciplines where you get a lot of hungry folks that I was talking to, the Space Capital, they’re an investment group, and they’re looking at the workforce development issue, too, as an investor. And they’re saying it’s amazing. The jobs they need are engineering jobs and mechanic jobs and all these sort of professions to fill out missions, but all they get are legal resumes and accounting resumes. So I think there’s definitely demand for these jobs, but it’s sort of like cut your teeth on becoming an excellent lawyer first and then get into the industry while you’re doing that. And you can marry them beautifully in the fact. I just wanted to offer that because when Denise, when you were talking, it just made me think of how I do workforce development for lawyers in my group. So, my team is trained on ground up, soup to nuts. Commercial practice, investment practice, corporate finance, regulatory, but I do it on space projects so they get that market industry expertise as they grow now. And that’s great because on another point is you need to also make sure that the mindset inside the gate matches because there’s a lot of like, we need this workforce. And then they’ll say space experience, well, that doesn’t come through graduating from a local institution necessarily. So, you got to be able to say, wait, have some flexibility. Because we always talk about risk. We’ll take that risk as well because there’s some really great people with great skills out there and the rest we can really help and evolve them with that background and expertise.
JH: I love hearing what you said. I’d be interested in hearing the gentleman’s thoughts because one of the things I keep hearing about when I speak with companies is we need people, we need people we’re hurting so bad, we need these things. And you say, well, these people exist and there is actually really good people. You just need to teach them the space side of it, right? And I think one of the keys for people that don’t have space experience wanting to come over and join the space industry is to your point, Justine, be good at your chosen profession. That is more important than anything else. For me, as an example, like I’m hiring some salespeople right now, I don’t need experts in space, I need really high-quality salespeople. I can teach them about the space side of things. Right? And that applies to all the things that these space companies need, I think, as we normalize space and it’s not treated as such a special thing, it’s just another major industry. It’s not about that uniqueness, it’s more about the similarities and be good at what you do and we can teach you about the things that we need you to know unique to what you’re going to be doing.
BR: It’s about awareness. And the one example to the question, we had a young female who I recruited from Northrop Grumman and she was in Supply Chain. And long story short, she got hired by Blue Origin and she goes, I just didn’t know that I can do supply chain for Blue Origin just as I can for Northrop Grumman. And she ended up getting into the class, working for Blue Origin. But again, awareness that again, be good at what you do. But it does transfer over to the space industry and it’s just they have the same things, supply chain and all the things that go with it. But yeah, we had our first what I’ll say, “convertee”, if you will. And it opened a lot of eyes to a lot of folks that were in her class last year that, hey, I can go do that.
JK: Also, I’m having an aha moment because if I’m looking at you guys on this panel, we actually have an easier job than we think, because if what people need to do is continue focusing on what they do well, and then our job is to offer that bridge to the space industry. That’s what Dr. Fliger said in the beginning. Contextualizing in the space industry is actually easier than worrying about building sort of an entire body of fundamental knowledge that might exist. So, our job is to build the narrative, build that bridge, build that awareness. And that, to me, is going to create opportunities for existing body of knowledge and build these communities of practice, which is what we want in the space industry.
JF: One of the challenges, Justine, to that is just the critical demand that exists right now, today, even as we are training those people up, as you’ve identified, plugging the gap that’s needed today. And Byron’s doing it. We’re both doing it on different ends of the spectrum. He’s got the college graduates graduate degrees, and they’re tweaking them. And we’re taking folks we’ve built a model here at College of the Mainland to identify some people who have base skills and then put them through essentially, a full time workforce training program that accelerates their knowledge of their work in a space context so that we can in minimal time, then get them on the job in this private public partnership so that they’re in apprenticeships and they’re doing 40% of their work on site. 60% here. And so, they’re taking what they’re learning in the classroom, going out there, bringing it back, and then we’ve got the feedback loop of how we’re doing. That’s where we’re at. But it requires a public private partnership. It requires industry partners who will be flexible. I was at a meeting the other day of aerospace partners who were all talking about they just don’t have the workforce that they need. And then they went on to list the positions they needed, engineers and all this. But then they come and they say, but really, we need skills more than degrees. And so, I’m like, okay, so where’s your flexibility to say, okay, let’s put the HR department aside for a moment and let’s say we’re going to hire people who have these skills again, and you all can kick me off the panel. And this will be the last time I’m in the podcast because I’m going to use the word paradigm again. But it’s a paradigm shift that we have to become more flexible to respond to the needs right now, and I think we can do that. And I’m excited because I think it’s an amazing time to be involved in this right now.
DN: Yeah, it’s back to that changing the mindset inside the gate, our target. I love it. Yeah.
JW: This conversation just answered the last question I was going to ask. That actually worked out perfectly. Great insights from everyone on the panel. This was truly great to listen to everybody on your thoughts on these questions. And thank you so much for joining us today. Joe, sorry to put you on the spot. Do you have any closing comments that you’d like to offer up to the group before we wrap this up?
JH: Yeah, this was wonderful. I’m really glad we did this, and I look forward to doing more of it. I really think that talking about these challenges and being vocal about it and sharing these challenges with the larger community is really important right now, because I think there’s so many groups thinking about various aspects of these. But bringing us together to really start attacking these problems as a community really needs to happen, because, like you were just in your last comment there, Jerry, these companies, they keep saying, we need, we need, we need. And there’s an immediate need, not just a 1980s, you know, space shuttle. Yes, let’s get people into space need. But no, this is like an immediate commercial need and an industrial need, and that’s what I think makes it unique now compared to the way it was in the past. Companies will fail. A lot of money will be lost if we can’t start creating this workforce. So I’m so pleased to have you all here today and to have this chat. This is really wonderful, and I thank you for your time and I look forward to continuing in the future.