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Space Exploration Attracts Engineers with a Mission

aircraft in hanger

This article originally published in Aerospace Manufacturing and Design.

By Brian Forte, Aerotek Director of Strategic Sales

Even in a market with record-low unemployment rates, engineers stand out as the professionals most in demand. Which is great news for them, but less so for space and satellite industry recruiters competing against multinational technology corporations and other deep-pockets employers. The key to attracting and retaining engineers lies in their innate curiosity and desire to be part of something new and significant — like going back to the moon or reaching Mars for the first time.

space and satellite industry employers need to ensure they’re communicating an employee value proposition (EVP) that captures the vision, purpose and passion that resonates with engineers and makes them want to be part of something unique and momentous.

Industry resurgence

The Space Race is back. Only this time, instead of trying to be first to land on the moon, it’s a competition to see who will build the rockets and satellites, and who will become the leading extraplanetary payload delivery service. As the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, it’s coinciding with a resurgence of interest in space aspirations. Globally, the U.S. is competing with eight other countries that have orbital launch capability, including Russia, Japan, China and India. While 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 that they can be the brand associated with space travel in the future when we’re regularly shipping cargo and/or passengers.

This time around, reusability and cost are among the primary goals.

The 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 like assemblers, cable harness design 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 less experienced candidates can only claim an internship. For employees with more than 20 years’ experience, companies will be paying a premium.

Worker availability depends largely on geography. In regions with a major space hub such as Houston, Huntsville or the Space Coast of Florida, there are plenty of qualified workers. However, especially 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.

5 Ways to Recruit and Retain Top Talent

To ensure you have the workforce necessary to meet your needs and fulfill your business, here are some recommendations for acquiring top candidates and maintaining a quality workforce.

  1. 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.

    At the same time, 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 the most informed decisions. And, to help hiring managers who may need to make a business case to their C-suite executives.

    Start-up companies who don’t have the cash flow to compete with more established employers can offer partial ownership via stock shares.

  2. Communicate your EVP

    Competing for talent in the aerospace industry means being able to articulate an employee value proposition (EVP) 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 what they’re doing matters.

    Aerospace companies have an innate advantage here, as so much of the work is focused on creating impactful products and solutions that likely no one else is doing. Still, organizations need to ensure their EVP aligns with their brand and truly 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 get to have more responsibility. Similarly, some employees may want to move from project to project, while others will prefer to one piece of software for a year.

    Make sure you know what advantages you have and incorporate them into your EVP. If your company isn’t a brand name, you might need to do a little more legwork familiarize job candidates with your business and want to join your workplace.

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

  3. Target passive job seekers

    Most passive candidates are relatively content in their current positions, so you have to focus on proactive ways to engage them. In order to reach passive candidates, companies need to 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. As they say, “good people know good people.” Make sure they know when and what positions you’re recruiting for 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 the time of day.

  4. 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 percent 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. And especially with this workforce, ensure that you’re offering new projects or problems that intellectually challenges your workers.

  5. Offer new challenges
  6. 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 still need a fresh challenge.

Conclusion

The Space Race of today is vastly more technologically advanced and digitized. However, what you can’t automate is 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.

Want to know more? Contact Aerotek now.