Saturday, January 07, 2012

Future Jobs: Will Students Work for Space Travelers?

I first mentioned it in my September 20, 2011 post "Engineering Students Facing The Future" which covered the 2011 Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) Canadian Student Summit on Aerospace (CSSA) and showcased opportunities for engineering students embarking on careers in aeronautics, avionics and space.
Edward Hoskin.

According to Pratt & Whitney Canada VP Edward Hoskin, approximately half of Canada's existing aerospace engineers will reach retirement age within the next 5-10 years and Canadian companies must begin the mad scramble to replace them.

This story has been an ongoing part of the "conventional wisdom" of the aerospace industry for the last few years. Even NASA has expressed public concern over aging employees as outlined in the April 9th, 2009 Universe Today article "NASA Looks to Rebalance Aging Workforce."

However, based on several recent news stories and articles circulating around the web, it's quite possible that many of our existing students and future, potential aeronautics, avionics and space engineers simply don't yet believe the story being promoted by Mr. Hoskin and others.

Not the final frontier for jobs?
Here are a few examples of stories that are presently circulating the net, which are likely to influence the career choice of our future movers and shakers:

AO-26 Space Careers from Ott Planetarium on Vimeo.
    • Why are there no Canadian space companies on the Talent Egg list of top 25 employers that engineering graduates want to work for? That's easy to understand, if you've read the January 6th, 2012 Globe & Mail article "MDA's Daniel Friedmann likes the Earth under his feet." The article, a profile of MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) CEO Daniel Friedmann, reminds readers that the iconic Canadian manufacturer of the CanadArm's and RADARSAT isn’t "widely recognized by most people because it generally operates unseen." According to the article, the company has tried (and failed) to make a "big-impact acquisition to give it much more heft in the space technology market in the United States" where it has been unable to compete effectively and is presently holding off on a potential $280 million CDN deal with international communications provider Intelsat Ltd. to provide on-orbit satellite refueling and servicing of Intelsat communications satellites because of possible US competition. The article quotes Friedmann as stating that “we’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, in a country [Canada] that is not at the forefront of space exploration. So it’s tough. And we’re not going to do it unless it makes sense for our shareholders. It’s not something we have to do.” Freidmann, who was appointed CEO in 2003, attempted to sell the space focused assets of his company to US based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in 2008, but the sale was blocked by the Federal government.
    The Canadian $100 bill, issued in 2004, includes an image of RADARSAT 1 and a satellite picture of Canada. The bill is not generally accepted for retail transactions.
      • Maybe what the space industry in Canada needs is an old fashioned jobs board. According to the January 4th, 2012 post on the UK based Register website titled "UK space agency to boldly send techies ... behind a desk" the UK Space Agency (UKSA) has launched a 'jobs feed' on its website "to keep Brits up to date with all the career opportunities relating to exploration above and beyond Earth's skies." According to the article, "there's room in that field for engineers, physicists, mathematicians, machinists, technicians and IT and software systems experts." The jobs board also presently includes at least one junior receptionist position along with more traditional types of opportunities with Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL), satellite broadband services provider Avanti Communications and Vega Space. The UK government expects to add 100,000 new jobs in the space industry over the next 20 years.
      A variety of potential engineering career choices. But where is Mr. Scott?
      • There are, of course, numerous online websites and job boards focusing on space available to anyone who wishes to do a little due diligence. These include the Space Careers website (which bills itself as providing the "best jobs and the best talents in the space industry"), the Space Job Center website, the Commercial Space Gateway listing of Commercial Space Careers, various Linked-In groups (such as the Defense, Space Jobs directory) and quite a few others. Most of these opportunities aren't Canadian, which makes sense if we accept at face value MDA CEO Freidmann and his earlier comments that Canada "is not at the forefront of space exploration."
      US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
      • Even the US is slowly working towards a realization that "space investments" are good for the economy and also for national defense. According to the January 5th, 2012 Space Policy Online article "Panetta: Space Investments Among Those to be Protected" it is expected that "while cuts are made to the defense budget, investments in several areas will be protected, including space capabilities." Unfortunately, according to the article, "specifics on what programs will be cut or increased were not announced" and that information "must wait until the President's FY2013 budget request is submitted to Congress, which is expected on the first Monday in February."
      Lana Sator, at the Energomash Rocket testing facility, outside Moscow.
      • Despite the slowly changing perceptions at senior levels, the best indication of how students and young adults presently perceive of the space industry is encapsulated in the recent adventures of urban explorer and blogger Lana Sator. According to the January 3rd, 2012 article "Urban Exploring a Russian Rocket Plant" on the New York based Animal website, Sater and several friends managed to sneak into "an unguarded strategic military rocket motor factory near Moscow" and spent several hours walking around photographing what looked to be an abandoned facility. Russian officials (who insist that the factory is still open and producing liquid propellent rocket engines) have sent threatening letters and instructions to “not make [her] situation worse” which she has posted on her website here. Surely, she'll be at the top of the list the next time the Russian space program decides to hire.
      No footprints in the snow in this external shot of the Energomash facility. Photo's c/o Lana Sator.
      Let's hope that all the new hires needed to fill out the ranks of employees at Canadian aeronautics avionics and space firms will ignore most of the articles and reports listed above and be kindly disposed towards job opportunities in the space industry should those promised job opportunities ever come calling.

      We need them to grow our industry and replace many soon to retire existing employees.

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