Filling the space skills gap: Horizon Europe guarantee

This photograph was taken at Mother Iveys Bay on the north coast of Cornwall. The photograph shows Mother Iveys Bay under a star trail sky. A popular location for tourists and people visiting Cornwall.

With ongoing support from the Horizon Europe guarantee scheme, the UK remains central to future skills planning in the space sector.

The European space sector has seen rapid expansion in the last 15 years, and continues to grow, including in the UK. But with that comes a challenge: increasing difficulty in attracting suitably skilled people.

ASTRAIOS (Analysis of Skills, Training, Research and Innovation Opportunities in Space) is a Horizon Europe project that aims to map the current provision of space-related training against the future needs of the European space industry.

By better understanding typical career paths within the industry, and the motivations of those who enter it, the goal is to ensure that the European space industry has the highly skilled, dedicated workforce that it needs to remain competitive.

Building a taxonomy

Dr Heidi Thiemann is Director and co-founder of the Space Skills Alliance, a consultancy that addresses the space skills gap, and one of the UK partners in the ASTRAIOS project. As she explains, analysing the provision of training and education for the space sector involves much more than just noting what courses are available.

We’re analysing each module within degree courses, searching for key words. We want to know what subject areas are being taught across Europe. From the skills point of view too – what skills are students graduating with?

This is about building a taxonomy of space related skills and knowledge. And that involves developing a common set of terms:

When we talk about someone being able to analyse data from rocket propulsion tests, say, we need to know we’re using the same language, whether it’s in Estonia or the UK.

With the jobs that people are going into we’re mapping careers and building a database of comparable CVs.

We’re looking at how people progress, how they move across Europe for space related jobs. We then compare that to what companies say they need, and the strategies of the European space agencies and government departments in helping to provide it. Are they on target, are there mismatches? If there are, what action needs to be taken?

Forward-thinking

The other UK project partner is the University of Strathclyde. Dr Christie Maddock is Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in Strathclyde’s Aerospace Centre of Excellence. As someone involved in educating the space workforce, she is able to provide a fine-grained analysis, not just of what universities are actually providing, but what they should be.

Christie says:

Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that space-related training doesn’t always have ‘space’ in the title. Space is often worked into the curriculum of engineering degrees, for example – it generally isn’t a degree in itself at undergraduate level.

For Christie Maddock, the UK’s contribution to the ASTRAIOS project comes partly from having carried out its own skills gap analysis.

The data is there for the UK space sector: the government and UK Space Agency and Catapult have been commissioning it for years. We’ve been forward-thinking in analysing our space skills needs, but it’s extremely useful to know how we compare to other countries. Each country has its own skills challenges, but we could develop joint solutions with our European partners.

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