The UK Space Agency has released the Space Sector Skills Survey 2020, a research report produced in response to the strong growth of the UK space industry being challenged by the supply of relevant skills to support this growth. Several ADS members engaged with the study, which was comprised of interviews undertaken with senior staff of ‘core’ space industry businesses in the autumn of last year.
Growth in the industry in recent years has placed stress on skills supply and several specific challenges around skills were identified in the report.
Two-thirds or more of businesses which sought to recruit were found to be having trouble with recruitment. One of the reasons for this is that the industry has very high expectations of recruits, exemplified not only by the breadth and blends of skills expected but also by the industry’s frequent expectations of skills being supported by qualifications at post-graduate level and/or by experience in the industry.
Furthermore, whilst the industry recruits easily across cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities, the number of women employed in the industry is low. Female recruitment suffers from the historically lower proportions of girls and young women studying STEM subjects in schools and universities and female perceptions of the industry .
Skill gaps in the current workforce were identified by 51% of businesses in the survey, a much higher proportion than that for businesses across all UK sectors. 86% of businesses with skill gaps located these in their scientific, engineering, or technical functions, whilst 43% located skill gaps in their managerial or entrepreneurial functions.
Limitations in training infrastructure were also identified:
- Courses in universities, though space-oriented, lag industry developments.
- An absence of conversion courses to allow people from other sectors with relevant technical skills and qualifications to add a ‘space’ dimension.
- Lack of resource in small space businesses to supply internal training.
- The absence of a training-supported entry route for young people at the A level point.
Staff Retention Problems
The skills supply situation is worsened for 23% of businesses by staff retention problems. With a limited supply of the required skills, individual staff can take advantage of opportunities to increase their pay or otherwise improve their situation by moving between employers.
Brexit has made it more difficult to recruit from Europe and has encouraged some European staff to return back to their home countries. The prospect of losing European collaborations and funding may reduce the innovation and ‘excitement’ factor which attracts people into the UK space industry and retains them in it the report found.
It was also suggested that, whilst the industry offers good and competitive pay to its highly-qualified entrants, it may struggle to increase pay at a point several years beyond recruitment, with consequent loss of high skills to other sectors. An immediate effect of such problems on businesses which experienced them was simply to increase workload on other staff or to outsource work to other businesses. However, a wide range of other more significant consequences were observed, including constraints on innovation, failure to exploit business opportunities or to win contracts, and reduced productivity.
The wider skills environment in the sector may improve soon. Further, national concern to widen and improve delivery of STEM subject education may strengthen the underlying basis of technological skills, and the slow increase of women interested and qualified in technical areas may continue.
More immediately, the industry may need to act. The survey suggests that there is a mismatch between what skills the industry needs and what skills the UK Higher Education system produces. The industry may need to collaborate with HE on course development, perhaps through the Space Growth Partnership.
An alternative approach may be for the industry to review its current focus on very highly skilled recruits. Respondents raised the idea of ‘down-skilling’ its entry requirements and increasing its support to training. This could be either internally or via external conversion courses to add specialist space emphasis to more generic technical or software skill sets, or to add the commercial or business skills which technological recruits are perceived as lacking.
ADS Space Sector Community
ADS has recently launched its new Space Sector Community to help represent ADS Members in the space sector. The Community aims to provide members with intelligence on current and forthcoming business opportunities, provide a platform for members to network and demonstrate their solutions, stimulate collaboration activities and attract high level briefings from government officials. To find out more and join please click here.