5 Tips to Attract Space, Satellite Engineers

Success in the commercial space race depends on securing talent in a tight labor market.

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October’s issue of Aerospace Manufacturing and Design In a market with record-low unemployment rates, skilled engineers are particularly scarce, making them the professionals most in demand. Great news for them; less so for space and satellite industry recruiters competing against multinational, deep-pocket employers.

But space- and related businesses have something that Silicon Valley can’t match – the ability to work on something significant. The key to attracting and retaining engineers lies in their innate curiosity, the desire to be part of something new – going back to the moon or reaching Mars for the first time.

To compete for high-value engineering talent, employers need to ensure they’re communicating an employee value proposition (EVP), capturing the vision, purpose, and passion that resonates with engineers.

Industry resurgence

The Space Race is back. Only this time, it’s a competition to see who will build the rockets and satellites, and who will become the leading extra planetary payload delivery service. The country celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission coincides with a resurging interest in space aspirations. Globally, the U.S. is competing with eight other countries that have orbital launch capability, and within the U.S., Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, and Blue Origin are among the most prominent players.

The stakes are high. Companies are making investments now so they can be the brand associated with space travel in the future. This time around, reusability and cost are among the primary goals.

Hiring landscape

The skill sets needed for aerospace manufacturing and design include engineering specializations such as hardware, software, and electrical as well as light industrial positions such as assemblers, cable harness designers, and cable technicians.

Although aerospace engineering degrees are highly valued, employers are often looking for workers with software engineering or computer science degrees. Industry experience is required, even if candidates can only claim an internship. For employees with more than 20 years’ experience, companies will pay a premium.

Worker availability depends largely on geography. In regions with a major space hub such as Houston, Texas, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, or the Space Coast of Florida, there are plenty of qualified workers. However, in this tight labor market nearly everyone is already employed. And although engineering positions will traditionally be located onsite, manufacturing operations may be in more remote areas with fewer restrictions, lower unemployment, and a less expensive workforce.

Recruit, retain top talent

Here are some recommendations for acquiring top candidates and maintaining a quality workforce.

Ensure competitive compensation

Considering the relatively limited talent pool, you’ll need to be especially competitive with your offers or risk losing your top candidates to other opportunities.

Employers need to quantify the return on investment (ROI) for the wages they pay, even in a competitive hiring market. Third-party data such as local market analyses, per-capita density reports, market-rate wage data, and regional competitors’ pay scales can help employers make informed decisions – and help make a business case to hiring managers’ C-suite executives. Start-up companies without the cash flow to compete with more established employers can offer partial ownership via stock shares.

Communicate your EVP

Competing for talent in the aerospace industry means being able to articulate a vision that resonates with job seekers. Many people choose this line of work because they want to work on projects that are impactful, something they’re passionate about. They want to know that what they’re doing matters.

Aerospace companies have an innate advantage here, as so much of the work is focused on creating products and solutions that no one else is developing. Still, organizations need to ensure their EVP aligns with their brand and represents their company.

Candidates may have preferences for working in different environments. A larger company might pay more, whereas a smaller company might have a more hands-on atmosphere where workers have more responsibility. Similarly, some employees may want to move from project to project, while others will prefer one project.

Make sure you know your advantages and incorporate them into your EVP. If your company isn’t a brand name, you may need to do a little more legwork to get job candidates interested in joining your workplace.

Consider how you would describe your company culture, what matters to your employees, why someone would want to work for your company, how you differ from your competition, and what opportunities and benefits your company offers.

Target passive job seekers

Many candidates are content in their current positions, so you must focus on proactive ways to engage them. To reach passive candidates, companies should consider how to get their attention in their everyday activities, whether it’s through networking or participating in online forums.

Consider current employees to be your best brand ambassadors. Because “good people know good people,” make sure they know when and which positions you’re recruiting to keep it top of mind.

Be especially mindful of your recruitment and hiring processes. Passive job seekers are especially likely to be discouraged by a lengthy or repetitive process. Consider how you can streamline the application and interview process – try to consolidate multiple interviews and be flexible with timing.

Retain high performers

Given the tight talent landscape, employers would be justified in viewing staff retention strictly through the lens of fiscal responsibility.

Turnover is expensive – it costs employers 33% of a worker’s annual salary to hire a replacement if that worker leaves.

With quit rates higher than ever, you’ll want to do everything you can to avoid unnecessary attrition.

Ensure that pay upgrades and raises are consistent with industry norms. Provide ongoing development opportunities and reward good work consistently. Offer new projects or problems that intellectually challenge your workers.

Offer new challenges

For a workforce drawn to the new and seemingly impossible, boredom is the enemy. Make sure you’re looking for new ways you can keep it fresh for your engineers. Are there new projects where they can contribute or stretch their skills? More junior employees they can mentor? Even employees working on the most intriguing projects may need a fresh challenge.

Conclusion

Today’s Space Race is technologically advanced and digitized. However, you can’t automate an engineering mindset. The need for innovation will always be there and your company will have the edge if you focus on hiring and retaining the industry’s best.

About the author: Brian Forte, director of business development for government services at Aerotek, with offices in Melbourne, Florida, can be reached at bforte@aerotek.com.