New Report Addresses UK Space Sector Skill Shortage, Again

9th Feb 2024
New Report Addresses UK Space Sector Skill Shortage, Again

A new report released by The D Group has delved deeper into the UK space sector skill shortage. The most recent figures have shown the burgeoning sector is worth £17.5 billion. However, as the sector continues to evolve and grow, talent and skills uptake are not maintaining the same pace. 

Previously, the UK Space Agency collated their own report in September, 2023, which highlights areas where the industry is falling short. However, the current skills shortage is still topical, engendering The D Group’s report which outlines ways to get the sector back on track. 

The D Group label themselves as a “cross-sector strategic business development network.” Ultimately, their aim is help businesses enhance their strategic frameworks and provide insights to government and industry. Which in this instance is the UK space sector.

Their report, ‘It’s Not Rocket Science: Addressing the Skills Gap in the Space Industry’, reads: “the UK has great ambitions for its contributions to the space industry for these reasons. This necessitates a significant increase in the workforce, from those at the start of their careers, to mid level and senior leadership. Addressing the skills shortage, especially in specialist roles, is pivotal.” 

Talent Acquisition & Retention Failings At The Forefront 

According to their findings, The D Group said the UK space industry employment figures have seen a considerable 20-year rise. In 2018/19, the sector’s workforce grew by 6.7% since 2000 – measuring a total of 44,040. These figures then increased again in 2019/20 to 46,995. Comparatively, this is triple the amount of people working in the industry since the start of the milenia, equating to an “annual growth rate of 6%”, The D Group said. Current projections will see the UK holding 10% of the global space market share by 2030.    

“However, the UK currently faces a significant cross-sector skills shortage, exacerbated and accelerated by evolving technology demands (particularly in AI and machine learning), and the need for diverse skill sets. Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated response from industry, academia, and government to develop a skilled, diverse, and sustainable workforce,” The D Group added. 

As a result of the industry’s fast growth, 94% of space organisations said they’re struggling to recruit and retain talent. Equally, 97% of surveyed organisations emphasised that consequently, their business growth has become restricted. 

Challenges Ahead For The UK’s Space Workforce  

In the 12 page report, The D Group outlined various challenges that are currently exacerbating the sector’s skills shortage. These challenges include:

  • Misunderstanding the purpose of the sector.
  • A missing “coherent [and] communication vision”.
  • An inability to convert interest in the industry to awareness.
  • Failure to build competition with other sectors.
  • Archaic curriculum and unattractiveness of STEM education pathways.
  • Inconsistency between the skills required compared to skills built in higher education.

Attracting Technology & Finance Professionals Is Falling Short

Demand for finance and technology expertise is growing within the space industry. The UK is considered synonymous with finance and technology services. However, there is an apparent disconnect between these areas and the space sector – which desperately needs professionals with these skill sets. A current obstacle is that: “the space sector simply cannot offer the same salaries as the more lucrative tech and finance sector,” the report stated.  

Understanding The Space Industry 

Unironically, 21% of the public believe the sector is associated with aliens and scifi, rather than the integral connectivity and communication services it provides. As a result, the space sector falls short of communicating a better understanding of its service offering. This means: “there is simply less awareness on what kinds of projects are available, the reasoning and rationale behind them, and the skills required to contribute.”

STEM Education & An Unappealing Image

The D Group attributes the talent shortage to an ongoing “image problem”, resulting in “a limited societal awareness of its benefits, a perceived high bar for qualifications and experience, and a lack of diversity.” Adding, “these issues, coupled with unclear career progression and competitive salary levels, make talent acquisition and retention difficult.” 

In addition, STEM education is also lacking appeal. Equally, those who undertake STEM degrees are not ascertaining the skills the industry particularly needs. According to the report, socioeconomic factors are also impacting STEM attraction. Currently, women and minority groups are a radically small subsection of the STEM education pool. Therefore, the D Group proposes systemic change to allure a more level demographic.  

The D Group’s 10 Solutions

Whilst addressing major concerns when it comes to the current skill shortage, The D Group have offered some solutions. They have outlined 10 steps that could see greater uptake in space-related occupations:

  • “Connecting space to the national interest.
  • Building a new narrative.
  • Mapping out the space skills gap.
  • Building STEM capacity from primary to higher education.
  • Industry outreach with industry and academia.
  • Lessons from cyber security.
  • Championing new recruitment methods.
  • Greater transferability between space and other workforces.
  • Gamification.
  • Super-charging clusters with infrastructure.”

In conclusion, The D Group expressed that “the space sector stands at a crucial crossroads”. To overcome such concerns, they have affirmed that interest in space means the industry “is well placed to take these challenges on”. The D Group’s closing comment iterated: “to do so, the sector must establish a clear and compelling narrative about the importance of space’s role. This must be underpinned by collaboration across government, industry and education.” 

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