Workforce panel agrees: Skilled trades among top industry needs

Space industry leaders gathered in April at the 39th Space Symposium to address a common problem: Developing a skilled workforce large enough to meet the needs of a rapidly growing marketplace.

After a decade of rapid development, much of the commercial space industry is gearing up for mass production of products ranging from launch vehicles to orbiting space stations. It is a difficult shift, said Elaine Ho, NASA’s chief diversity officer.

“That is an area where we noticed a real lack of attention,” she said.

Poaching talent

Workers with vocational skills are in such high demand that space companies are working to lure them from competitors, Ho said.

“And because of a tight talent pool we are poaching from each other,” she said.

The space workforce needed now is not comprised of rocket scientists, said Mike Edmonds, who heads recruiting efforts for Blue Origin.

“We need welders,” he said. “Candidly, we are in this stage where a lot of this amazing engineering has happened. Now we need to build it.”

Some solutions to growing workforce

Joseph Horvath, CEO and president of Nova Space, said the transition of commercial space firms from engineering-focused startups to strong competitors rivaling traditional aerospace giants has generated demand for workers to fill jobs not traditionally associated with space.
“What we are seeing is a severe lack of people available to do things like sales and business development and marketing — all of the things that a commercial company needs,” he said.

The panel found some answers to meet workforce needs. One solution is developing robust internship programs that draw in people regardless of background and give them a boost into the industry. A bigger solution will take time to bear fruit: Equipping schools with tools and curriculum that develop students well-versed in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Via Van Liew is the  principal director of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at The Aerospace Corporation. She shared another solution: She is working to bring a pool of untapped talent into the space workforce. Her  program recruits people who have been out of the workforce for two or more years.
“We want to make sure that we are also leaning in and bringing in individuals who have career gaps into the workforce,” she said.