The space sector has been around for quite some time. Ever since the first satellite reached orbit, governments worldwide have sought after means to use this empty medium, which brought mankind many innovations such as GPS, earth observations, and even trips to the moon. The latter of which, has unfortunately been quite some time ago and the space sector has in the past 40 years been relatively quiet, until recently.
The space sector is shifting towards becoming commercial. In only a decade time, several companies have lifted off their first space craft. This major shift from governmental to commercial creates all sorts of new opportunities. For the first time, start-ups have a real chance to get their product into space for an ever decreasing price, with launch costs dropping as much as 95%. For the first time, the sky is not the limit anymore.
With predictions on the growth of the space sector varying between 1.1 trillion USD by 2040 to 2.7 trillion USD within the next three decades there is definitely a lot of attention being drawn to it. This new commercial version of the space sector is often referred to as the “new space economy”. There is however, a limiting factor in the predicted growth, which is a factor multiple sectors are already struggling with right now, namely a shortage of employees. Employee shortages are already present, and seem to be more troublesome in the space sector than in other sectors.
With the shortages already present now, and the predicted growth of the space sector in the future, it will be inevitable for the employee shortages to become one of the limiting factors of the sector’s growth potential. The space sector thus needs people to consider it as a viable career option, but is something holding them back?
At Space Society Twente, we see that there is a lot interest in the space sector, but is something holding them back to actually pursue a career in it? We decided to investigate this amongst a group of students and young professionals to find out what is making people hesitant, focussing on their perception of the space sector and awareness.
Using a survey we asked the participants about their views on several topics regarding jobs in the space sector. Almost 80% indicated to consider a career in the space sector, of which 68% indicated to have some sort of hesitation. When asked about this hesitation, the majority of 63% indicated that this was caused by a perception of it being too difficult, too stressful or too technical. In fact, when asked whether the space sector is more difficult or demand than other jobs in similar sectors a majority of over 87% indicated that they indeed think the space sector is, or might be, more demanding.
Additionally, over 90% of the respondents indicated that there is not enough attention for the space sector in education.
In general, the perception on the space sector seems to be negative, possibly caused by a lack of awareness. To validate whether the negative perceptions on the space sector hold some truth we conducted interviews with six professionals who contributing to the space sector in different fields: Marco Ottavi (University of Twente), Egor Tamarin (Hyperion Technologies), Patrick Lux (ESA), Vedant Mogha (ESA), Audrey Maltier (ESA), Leandros Foteinias (HE Space).
When looking at the results of the perception being too difficult, too stressful or too technical, all interview attendees could understood why people had these perceptions, but explained that they were not (entirely) true. Generally, everyone agreed that the space sector is mostly an engineering field. A large part of the work is solving engineering issues, but the wide spectrum of jobs needed to support this engineering, or the jobs that were indirectly created by this engineering are often overlooked.
Marco Ottavi mentioned that indeed engineering is a large aspect, especially in the academic world, but when space exploration becomes more accessible other field such as biology, legislations and social sciences will be an entirely new field. Egor Tamarin mentioned that yes, the space sector is in its core a technical field, but without all of the non-technical support it simply couldn’t exist. Audrey Maltier gave her own career as an example, explaining that she did not have a technical background, but is supporting the space sector every day. She mentioned that over half of all the people working at ESA do not have technical jobs but fill up all sorts of support roles. Vedant Mogha added to this that the stress aspect in the responses should have been a separate option, as me mentioned that a job can be difficult, but the company culture is the aspect that determines whether it is stressful or not. Leandros Foteinias agreed that the space sector is mostly technical, but mentioned that as a recruitment bureau, they were actually looking for a very large range of non-technical people as well, such as for human resources or management.
When asked about the results indicating that the participants perceived the space sector as more demanding than other jobs in similar sector some interesting points were mentioned. Egor Tamarin said that in the end, the engineering challenge simply has some additional parameters you need to take into account. It is not more difficult than when working on a similar challenge at another high tech company such as NXP or ASML, which is something Leandros Foteinias mentioned as well. The same was said by Patrick Lux and Vedant Mogha, who mentioned that challenges at ESA are ambitious, but you will not working on them alone. All equipment is rigorously tested, meaning that you’ll never be solely response. You are working with a team, together carrying the burden.
When scrolling through vacancies for a job in the space sector, you’ll often find that several years of experience is required. As a student or young professional, this is a problem, since how can you obtain relevant working experience in the space sector when there are not enough junior positions? Also, with over a quarter of the current seniors at ESA retiring by the end of this decade the problem might only get worse.
One of the ways ESA is trying to tackle this, as Audrey mentions, is by young graduate programmes. These programmes are specifically designed for juniors, matching them with a senior to give them a hands on trainee period, where they learn the specifics about the space sector which they were unable to require during their studies. This program is still relatively new, and started due to the predicted employee shortages. ESA is thus one of the only instances actively trying to solve one of the major contributing factors of the future employee shortages.
All interview attendees mentioned that the space sector has been too closed off in the past, thus themselves being a large part of the problem. Also, quotes as “it is not rocket science” seem to affirm the general perception that rocket science is particularly difficult. The results of Figure 6 were seen as one of the potential solutions for this. The space sector should open up more, especially towards the younger generations. They will become the driving force behind the growth of the space sector and their relevance can already be highlighted early on in their career. Egor explains that the attention in education is way better in other places in the Netherlands, such as in Leiden and Delft. Still, this limits the pool of potential people. Marco Ottavi mentioned that he indeed sees this as a problem and is currently working on a memorandum of understanding between the University of Twente and ESA, to bring Twente closer to the space sector.
This means that the space sector is changing, and starting to realize the importance of the corner stone of the industry; its people. Even though space is a daunting place with extreme challenges, pushing our technology to its limits, it is not impossible with the right people. We found out that the space sector is surprisingly diverse, with a wide spectrum of opportunities. For students and young professionals the options are ever increasing. Looking at the depicted growth of the sector, our options are getting more plentiful every year. Imagine getting involved in this inspiring work field with so much yet to come.. Go for it!