Europe’s space workforce: Same age, less crisis

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This article originally appeared in the April 23, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

Similar to the U.S., Europe’s median age for members of its space workforce is between 45 and 55, but that doesn’t foretell an impending talent shortage, according to ASD Eurospace, the space division of the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe.

“I remember a number of analysts grabbing that figure and drafting catastrophic forecasts that those people would retire and that there would be a shortage to replace them,” said Pierre Lionnet, ASD Eurospace’s research director. “But what we saw was that every year the age pyramid remained stable.”

Annual workforce studies performed by Paris-based ASD-Eurospace for the past eight years show that while the median age remains close to when most people retire, workers tend to join Europe’s space sector later in life.

ASD Eurospace Employment Facts
2017 European space sector employment figures from ASD Aerospace research. Credit: ASD Eurospace

“The age distribution in the sector has been extremely stable since 2009,” said Lionnet. “Our analysis is that in space in Europe, most engineers are hired after previous experience. Between the age of 35 and 45 is where most people come into the sector. Then they stay maybe 10 to 15 years and move out, and the new generation comes in again.”

The influx of middle-aged professionals means people cycle in and out of the industry “without creating a generational gap,” he said. New hires seem to often come from the electronics and aeronautics industries.

Lionnet said ASD-Eurospace surveys European companies representing around 95 percent of the continent’s space industry. The most recent study measures the European space industry at 40,000 people, with only around 400 to 600 being young graduates. Lionnet said there is no shortage of interest in space among Europe’s young professionals, but rather an apparent preference by European space companies to hire older workers with more experience.

Lionnet said the percentage of women in European space has remained the same throughout the surveys, hovering around 22 or 23 percent.

“A positive thing about gender equality is that the qualification distribution between men and women is the same,” he said. “We do not have a situation where you will find women occupying low qualification posts. The rate of PhDs is the same with women and men.”