In the second of a two-part employment series, Via Satellite takes a look at the state of technical hiring in the global satellite sector — what’s driving it and what’s next for young people looking for opportunities to make their mark in space.
The satellite sector in the markets of Asia, Europe, South America, the Middle East and Africa continue to see strong employment momentum. Hiring requirements are driven by the jump in new satellite build outs, with nearly 1,600 satellites forecast to launch in the next 15 years.
A Graying Workforce?
Keeping engineers on a technical career path has not been an issue for SES. Approximately 40 percent of SES’s 1,200 employees are technical staff. To attract key technical talent, SES has developed an associates program to bring in professionals with advanced degrees in engineering and offer them four six-month rotations throughout the company. At the end of the two-year program, some are moved into a technical leadership position.
“An important goal in the satellite industry is to recruit more women engineers,” says Grace de Latour, executive vice president of HR at Luxembourg-based SES.
The Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI)’s Satellite Industry Workforce 2009 Report finds that the satellite industry suffers from a striking gender disparity with men making up 83 percent of the industry across all age groups. In engineering and operations roles, women only account for 13 percent of the workforce.
“The engineering schools only have a small percentage of women in their classes so I think we need to work with the secondary schools and colleges on internships to bring more young people into this industry and try to include as many women into that group as we can,” says de Latour.
Other key findings in SSPI’s report argue that the workforce isn’t aging as rapidly as previously believed. The study found that while government and military aerospace programs may face the challenge of a graying workforce, the commercial industry does not, with 43 percent of the members falling within the age of 18 and 39 and 80 percent under the age of 54.
SES’s experience globally reflects these numbers, however in the United States de Latour observes that “definitely the workforce is graying but the good news is that employees are working longer, which is a positive development.”
One report finding is undisputed: many satellite employers need more specialized industry experience in their new hires, even those from university programs.
“The complaint you hear today is that a satellite or teleport operator specializing in the media industry can’t find people with broadcast experience,” says Robert Bell, president of SSPI.
He notes that when the satellite industry was smaller and less diverse — catering largely to broadcasters, telephone companies and the government — those customers acted as a natural training ground for satellite technology staff. “The industry has become far more diverse in its markets and applications since then. It has also become IP-centric,” says Bell, recalling a recent conversation that he had with a middle manager, who said that he had learned not to try to teach RF engineers about IP.
“It worked better to hire IP people and teach them about RF, the manager told me,” continues Bell. “The broadcast and telephony markets have also become far less stable and far more complex, further eroding the body of knowledge that a new tech hire is likely to have.”