The Australian Government has set a goal to grow the space industry by another 20,000 jobs by 2030. Traditionally, those interested in pursuing a career in the space industry would leave Australia to do it. Now people are not only finding employment opportunities in Australia, there are early signs that people are coming back from overseas to continue their careers. While much of this is due to a growing national industry, it is also due to the changing nature of work within space more generally and the opportunity to work in a broader range of space related fields, particularly those associated with ‘downstream’ or ‘from space’ activities.
The space sector is transitioning from a focus of going into space and space exploration to developing technology for use on Earth. Dr Paul Scully-Power AM described this industry shift as moving from Space 1.0 to Space 2.0:
Few realise today that space is about to change every industry in Australia. I've named it 'space 2.0'. The old space industry, space 1.0, was all about launching into space. The new space industry, space 2.0, is all about what space can do for us down here. Put another way, space 1.0 is all about exploration and space 2.0 is all about exploitation.
Space 2.0 includes a range of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, remote sensing, smart sensors, nanotechnology, microelectronics, big data, robotics, drones, autonomous systems, quantum computing and the internet of things. The significance of Space 2.0 is that it will create the jobs of the future. According to Dr Scully-Power AM, Space 2.0 should be Australia’s focus for growing the space industry:
It's this litany that most people have not realised feeds the space industry today, and that's what we have to focus on to feed the space industry in Australia. In fact, I would say that that is the foundation for the jobs of the future in Australia.
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra expressed the same view:
The future space workforce will have some focus on manufacturing and operating space hardware, but that part of the industry will be exotic and boutique. The number of satellites that Australian organisations are likely to build will represent a niche market only. The majority of the workforce will be where the money is: the downstream analytics, the application of artificial intelligence, turning space-derived data into decision-ready information for a wide range of sectors and users on the ground.
The ASA described Space 2.0 as ‘an enabler and part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, often called Industry 4.0’.
Skills for the future
A recent study by SmartSat CRC examined the skills needed for a future Australian space workforce. It established a space-related skills ‘taxonomy’ specific to Australia, comprising 319 individual skills, and found that while Australia possesses ‘nearly every skill type with very minimal gaps’, there are ‘pervasive current shortages and future requirements’ across the required skills. These include technical skills, technology specific skills, business, management, and governance skills, and soft skills relevant to the higher education, professional development, workforce development and vocational education sectors. Furthermore, the study found potential gaps in training providers for these skills.
Evidence to the Committee was consistent with these findings. It found while Australia has good skill sets in some areas – for example graduate engineers, scientists and technicians – it is lacking in others.
The Queensland Government differentiated between gaps in ‘general’ and ‘highly specialised’ space skills. It noted general skills are those which underpin most of a business’ activities. Shortages in this skill set are often between the level of graduate and highly experienced – that is mid-career. While space companies can find suitably skilled graduates, they usually require upskilling and training. This is because graduates have ’academic prowess’ but limited practical on-the-job experience.
On the other hand, highly specialised skills refer to those which require ‘very precise experience not often found straight out of Australian universities’, for example launch vehicle developers, and are usually sourced from overseas.
Witnesses to the inquiry offered some practical insights. Dr Matthew Tetlow, Chief Executive Officer, Inovor Technologies told the Committee:
If you start with entry-level or early-career engineers and scientists, I think we have an incredible talent pool and we are second to none in the world. It is the same with the technicians. The skilled technicians that we have have everything that we could possibly need. When you get up to the more senior management level or systems engineers that have worked on spacecraft for long periods of time, we're lacking that, and we're lacking the very senior people who have been in it for decades and have all the war wounds to basically educate the younger team members.
So I guess there's a mix. The vast majority of our team are Australian, and we've had a couple of people come in from overseas to bring skills. We've also been lucky enough to work with a couple of returned space systems engineering experts who basically support our team, one of whom is sitting next to us. I guess that sort of enables us to go forward just with the skill base that we have.
If you then look down at the manufacturing industry that we use, which sits underneath us—including machinists, metal machinists, electronic manufacturing capabilities and all those sorts of things—they're also available in Australia at a very high level. There is some upskilling that needs to be done or that is being done, I guess.
Dr Jason Held, Chief Executive Officer, Saber Astronautics supported the view that Australia produces good entry level space engineers:
I firmly believe that we do not need to invite people from overseas…to build our country. We do not need to invite people from overseas to fill a gap in our skill set. We produce 800 space engineers a year out of all the universities. The juniors—associate engineers, graduate engineers—are sorted up to mid-career. That's what I've seen over the last 16 years in this country. The universities produce very good engineers that maybe need a little bit of tweaking here and there, in training and certain techniques. But it is not any better or worse than what you're finding out of the United States.
Boeing Australia provided a profile of one of its employees to showcase achievements within the industry:
David Corporal, Graduate Mechanical Engineer
David Corporal, an Indigenous Australian engineer, started working for Boeing as an intern in late 2016. David is working on a number of space initiatives including the International Space Station (ISS) test of the Boeing-developed antimicrobial surface coating, human factors on the Lunar Terrain Vehicle and Boeing’s solution for the Australian Defence Satellite Communications System.
David was inspired to seek a career in space after watching videos of then-commander of the ISS, Chris Hadfield. He continues to be inspired by the all that is yet to be discovered in space and human spaceflight.
David notes that the growth in the Australian space sector means he can achieve some of his space-related goals without leaving Australia. David states that ‘when [he] started university the space industry was a lot smaller and didn’t have the scope to help [him] achieve [his] career goals. Now [he’s] able to be in Australia but work with the Boeing team in Houston on the ISS program, which gives [him] experience in their processes and how ISS works.’
Mr Mark Ramsey, General Manager, Sitael Australia, identified the lack of skilled people with longevity in the industry as a workforce challenge:
We've had a period of five or six decades of the space sector globally and Australia has really been hands off and out of the loop. The challenging area in expertise that we find is finding people with five, 10, 15 or 20 years of experience. That's probably a difficult workforce. There are a lot of Australians who've gone overseas. A lot of Australians are coming back at the moment.
While some witnesses considered the space industry to have sufficient numbers of graduates – albeit in need of some upskilling or tweaking of skills – others identified a lack of graduates in specialist technical fields. The Committee was encouraged to consider how to increase the numbers of people with technical expertise to help establish a more extensive workforce.
FronterSI stated that remote sensing scientists, application developers, space engineers, data scientists and positioning experts will all be required to underpin future industry growth. Similarly, Boeing Australia urged the Australian Government to encourage education and training in advanced software development, artificial intelligence, and machine learning as critical skill areas for the high value jobs of the future.
Geoscience Australia highlighted a ‘substantial deficiency’ of skills related to space application development. It listed gaps in the following areas:
global navigation systems experts
remote sensing scientists
sensor designers and engineers
big space data skills (including artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics and automation).
Geoscience Australia stated that the proportion of Australian graduates in some of these areas is very low with little sign of increasing. As such, it recommended strategies to encourage more people to undertake stand-alone degrees in spatial science related fields and to consider opportunities to build these skill sets into other degrees such as agronomy or agriculture.
EOA also commented on the ‘skilled technical workforce shortage in EO and the wider spatial community’ including a lack of graduates with technical skills in earth observation. It noted that while most Australian tertiary education institutions include EO subjects in degrees in geographic information and technology, surveying, and spatial science, few institutions offer comprehensive EO courses along with the data analysis and specialised expertise required in other applications. Furthermore, few secondary education institutions teach EO subjects in any of their science, technology, or other courses.
Boeing Australia provided a profile of one of its employees to showcase achievements within the industry:
Kathryn Burr, Program Manager JP9012 (Australian Defence SATCOM System) Program and Space & SATCOM Market Lead
Kathryn brings her extensive experience in defence, industry and government to her current role leading Boeing’s bid for JP9102 for the Australian Defence SATCOM System. After a career of delivering large scale complex acquisition projects, one of Kathryn’s strengths is her ability to unite large and diverse teams to work together to solve complex problems.
On JP9012, her focus has been on engaging with Australian industry across all the domains that are required to develop sovereign space capability. Kathryn is highly mindful that JP9102 represents a significant investment by the Australian Government, and presents a massive opportunity for the Australian space industry to invest in the development of skills and capabilities that will enable to nation to compete on the world stage. To date, under Kathryn’s leadership, Boeing has engaged more than 200 Australian small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and is taking a long-term approach with a view to up-skilling and growing the local industry.
Growing the workforce
The skills and expertise needed to support Australia’s future space workforce will need to be drawn from three key areas – within the domestic education and training sector, other Australian industries and sectors, and internationally. Mr Matt Dawson, Director, Space Business, Thales Australia said:
It is very much a mix of the space industry actually drawing skilled resources in from across sectors—reskilling but being drawn into the space sector from other sectors—and also drawing skilled resources up through our education institutions, through the STEM fields, and all of that mixed in with moving expertise around the world globally and drawing on experts as we need them to supplement various endeavours. I think those three elements are the mix that we need to focus on to be able to build enough critical mass with the Australian industry.
The Australian space industry will need to be supported by people with the right skills, and comprise a diverse and inclusive workforce. Several stakeholders advocated for increasing the numbers of women, indigenous Australians and those from underrepresented groups. Smartsat CRC stated:
Such efforts should pay close attention to and provide support for diversity and inclusion initiatives. This will overcome a long history of male dominated STEM workforce, and retention, ensuring our best students and workers stay in the industry and preferably stay in Australia thus reaping the benefits from the capitalisation of the whole Australian workforce.
Submitters to the inquiry made a number of interrelated suggestions to build Australia’s space workforce:
increase awareness of space-related job opportunities
improve uptake of STEM related courses across education sectors
strengthen skill capacity in technical areas
develop pathways from education to industry
improve transition of skilled workers between industries
facilitate easier engagement and migration of international workers
Perhaps the strongest message conveyed to the Committee is that a future workforce needs to know that Australia’s space industry is not just for astronauts and rocket engineers. Rather, there are a range of professions – not generally associated with space - such as law, medicine, project management, communications and business that will all be required to support Australia’s space industry. It is this message that should be communicated and facilitated to grow an internationally competitive sector.
There is no problem attracting people to space. It fascinates and excites people. It is engaging and inspiring. From a workforce perspective, however, there is a need to address the perception that space is not an industry accessible to all. To encourage people to choose space as an employment option, prospective employees should be able to see and know how they can be part of the industry. As Mr Martin Rowse, Airbus, explained:
I don't think there's necessarily a problem with space being sexy as such. I think space is seen as cool. It's seen as something to be involved in. I think the problem is that people don't necessarily know how to get into it. I think there's a problem of space being inaccessible, both in terms of actual space and space as an industry, where it tends to be seen that the scientists are the ones that are needed. They obviously are, but then you need mathematicians. You also need business people. You need people with strategy backgrounds. You need people with accountancy background. You need a whole range of people to make space work, to make it a commercial enterprise.
The Committee was encouraged to consider how to make space relevant to people. Specifically, how to ‘make it a commercial enterprise so that people can see their way in’. Mr Rowse further explained:
If you try to make space sexy by looking at astronauts and by looking at very capable individuals, that makes it quite inaccessible for the majority of people. What I would focus on is how you commercialise the industry so that a career in space is accessible and is realistic, so that people can understand that you don't have to be the top physicist in the world to have a career in space, and that you can be a very good accountant to go into space, or you can be a very good configuration manager and have a career in space. It's about widening the view of space rather than rather than narrowing it.
The Airbus Faces Campaign showcases the achievements of employees throughout their career path at Airbus.
Cameron Cooke, Artificial Intelligence Specialist Originally from Sydney, Cameron Cooke moved to Toulouse, France to work as an Artificial Intelligence Specialist for Airbus. As an Artificial Intelligence Specialist, Cameron and his team are studying the use of cameras in Final Assembly Lines workstations to better understand what happens during the manufacturing process. The project aims to optimise the layout of the shop floor and make people’s jobs easier and safer.
Wensy, Intern Wensy joined Airbus Asia Pacific as an intern working in the C-130J Hercules Through Life Support Program at the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Richmond. As an intern at Airbus, Wensy was exposed to real life engineering challenges, which ‘help[ed] [her] grow as an engineer.’ As an active member in Sydney University Women in Engineering, Wensy is passionate about motivating and empowering young girls to study STEM. Upon completion of her internship, Wensy received a full time offer as an Avionics Graduate Engineer.
It was a view shared by other stakeholders. ANU InSpace argued that the growing space industry will require people from a range of disciplines and fields including law, marketing, business, science and humanities. It asserted the importance of focusing on expanding awareness of job diversity in the space industry. Similarly, Saab Australia stressed ‘importantly, informing students that not all future space sector jobs will involve building, launching or operating satellites must be part of this conversation’.
Prospective students and employees need to see a pathway to real jobs and careers in space. In other words, how their skills and expertise can be applied. The Committee heard that people seem to struggle to make that connection between studying something like engineering and the vast range of careers that are linked to it. Specifically Dr Mary McMillan, University of New England said:
I think we do have that problem where we talk to students at schools, even, and we say, 'You could be a scientist or a computer scientist,' or whatever it is. I don't think we are yet doing a very good job of actually showing young people what those careers look like. And that's what I think we need to do better right from the beginning of education. Rather than talking about learning mathematics or engineering or chemistry, we need to be actually making those connections with the skills that they're learning through these things, which is often problem solving and how to do experiments and solve problems, rather than just working in a lab.
The Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC) emphasized that in its experience, students do not avoid STEM related subjects because they are difficult. Rather, these subjects are avoided because of career expectations. Director of the VSSEC, Mr Michael Pakakis said:
Young men and women do not really understand what a career in science and engineering means. Scientists and engineers do not do a very good job at explaining just what they do from day to day. This absence of understanding is the single most important factor that leads students to studies and career areas with which they are more familiar.
Saab Australia shared the same view, it emphasized that ‘demonstrating the pathway to real careers within the space industry will be imperative’. It suggested that defining the space specific education pathways that lead to real jobs should therefore be a focus, along with articulating the broad range of skills and roles within the sector.
Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics education
While acknowledging the diversity of skills and expertise required within the new space industry, a recurring theme in evidence was addressing issues associated with the uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses as a means of future proofing Australia’s space workforce. The University of Tasmania stated:
All aspects of the space industry depend on appropriately trained graduates and those with skills in engineering, mathematics and physics will be in high demand nationally and internationally in a range of sectors. Providing appropriate support to raise the general level of STEM education from primary through to tertiary levels will be critical, as will policy settings and communication which encourage more students into STEM course at Universities.
Penten, an Australian based cyber technology company that employs over 100 people across Australia also expressed its support for greater tertiary training opportunities in STEM, noting that ‘if the space industry in Australia is to grow and diversify, its highly-specialised workforce will need a steady stream of appropriately-qualified STEM graduates’.
The VSSEC stated that the number of students currently studying STEM at the secondary level, and continue at university and TAFE, is insufficient to meet the forecast demands of industry. It observed that this will place ‘in question’ the Government’s 2030 targets as well as its ambition to establish sovereign manufacturing capability, including for space.
In addition to increasing the numbers of students studying STEM, the VSSEC advocated for properly resourced and structured primary and secondary STEM programs with teachers who are qualified, competent, and confident to teach the STEM disciplines. It also advocated for engaging students earlier. Mr Michael Pakakis told the Committee:
If we're going to create pathways and create areas that we want to get students engaged and enthused about, we have to start at that lower level. We can't be expecting them to go to the tertiary level and be interested in something in a particular area of STEM they've never heard about.
Several submitters called for greater promotion of space and its relevance to people, to help encourage the uptake of STEM education, including for women and underrepresented groups. For example, Dr McMillian told the Committee:
I'm particularly interested in women in STEM. When we're talking about the space industry, we're talking a lot about IT, mathematics, engineering—areas where we have traditionally had very low representation of women. In creating a sustainable space industry, as with any STEM industry, we need to consider how we're going to make that an exciting career for young people, how we're going to get them into that education pathway and, in particular, how we're going to encourage girls and women to also be involved in studying those subjects and following those career paths.
At the Committee’s site visit to ANU InSpace, Director Professor Anne Moore shared her own experience of being inspired as a four-year-old to be become an astronomer by watching NASA missions. In its submission, ANU Inspace advanced that developing and funding similar ‘grand science missions’ in Australia will help to create a national interest in space, help people to understand the relevance of space to their lives, and motivate children to pursue education and training in the space industry.
ANU InSpace suggested the funding of joint academic and industry space science missions as the most effective way to inspire the next generation of Australia’s space workforce and to reliably bring more women and minorities into the space industry.
Earthspace also advocated for space missions to help inspire people. It noted that encouraging students to undertake STEM courses remains a ‘perpetual challenge’ but space has the ability to inspire students to aspire to the harder STEM courses. It suggested that Australia engage in highly visible and well promoted but achievable space missions that show students that there is a future in the space sector.
Alternatively, Mr Rob Hunt, Managing Director of start-up Scubayorp STEM Outreach, advocated for changing mindsets about space not just providing education. In particular, Mr Hunt called for ‘much greater grass-roots exposure’ so that people have a positive attitude towards the space industry as a whole, and are not dismissive of its existence:
A proud, interested and aware general public will have huge economic flow-on advantages for development of hardware, international collaborations, commercialisation of R&D and overall workforce capacity.
Mr Hunt encouraged a ‘sustained visible presence in all forms of media’ and stated that this general public outreach will require long term government commitment and funding.
Training and pathways to industry
Like other industries across the Australian economy, education and training relevant to the space sector is provided through a number of formal and informal means. Universities and TAFEs offer courses in general and specialist areas, the private sector has introduced various in-house mentoring, graduate and training programs for employees as well as university scholarships, and industry more generally provides opportunities to bridge the gap between formal education and being job-ready.
While opportunities to train through education institutions and on-the-job are improving, the Committee heard that more needs to be done to develop and train a future space workforce. Submitters advocated for:
specialised space training and education centres
more space focused tertiary and education courses
better education to industry pathways
The University of Southern Queensland (USQ) is working on a program with PFi Aerospace, a company based in Darra, which provides machine automation systems for industrial operations. PFi Aerospace is one of the first to utilise the Helidon Rocket Test Site, which is owned by Rocket Technologies International and will be used to complete static rocket engine tests.
PFi Aerospace has developed a fully functioning rocket motor, sponsored by the University of Queensland, for its Hybrid All Inclusive Learning Instrument (HAILI) Rocket STEM in Schools Program. HAILI has been developed in collaboration with TAFE Queensland as part of their initiative to encourage more students to undertake STEM. Dr Fabian Zander, Senior Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland highlights that the Helidon Rocket Test Site has the opportunity to provide practical experience. Dr Zander states that ‘internationally the space industry is booming,’ and ‘a large part of that is propulsion, including rocketry and high-speed flight.’ The program therefore aims to ‘[construct] capability within Australia and [educate] a new generation of people to work in that field.’
Smallworld Communications recommended the Australian Government provide funding for an Australian Space Centre program based on a collaborative university/industry model focussing initially on satellite communications, remote sensing and geospatial positioning. It noted that although the SmartSat CRC already exists, space centres would provide a long-term but low-cost option compared to SmartSat CRC, which currently receives $55 million in funding and has a seven year term. Smallworld Communications referred to the former Australian Space Industry Development Centre as a useful model.
Similarly Earthspace recommended that the Australian Government establish ‘TAFE-like’ education facilities to train students in the ‘hands-on’ skills required to build space systems. Mr Roger Franzen stated:
we need to have a training program that's established in maybe one or two key centres within Australia that are empowered and informed with that know-how knowledge of how to screw things together so that they work reliably once they get into space. It is not trivial.
… The education part is about assembly, integration and test, and it must comply with international standards that have been set by other experienced nations with which all reliable space missions need to comply.
Collaboration and connection between academic institutions and industry will be vital in developing a future space industry workforce. It was a strong theme in evidence to the inquiry. Northrop Grumman recommended strengthening academic and industry partnerships as a means to develop tailored training and skilling packages for the space sector, and engage and future proof Australia’s next generation space workforce.
The Melbourne Space Program (MSP) is an example of an organisation that bridges the gap between universities and being industry ready. It creates pathways for university students interested in the space sector by providing an opportunity to work on projects in collaboration with industry.
The MSP argued that for the Australian Government to realise its 2030 goal, it needs to ‘grow organically’. This means the private sector hiring local graduates, and local graduates being internationally competitive. The Australian Government can support both objectives:
Government support for space related tertiary training organisations may come in the form of official partnerships or endorsements, thus facilitating and encouraging the recruitment of Australian space graduates directly. Alternatively, support could be in the form of funding to allow such organisations to support larger and more sophisticated programs, thus providing even higher quality training to a greater number of students.
The University of Western Australia (UWA) International Space Centre discussed training and development in its submission. It identified two factors central to workforce development:
Having opportunities for students throughout their studies will provide benefits for industry with access to the developing talent pool and benefits to students with career options.
Providing training to industry enables re-skilling and up-skilling opportunities for current and future skilled workforce.
The UWA recommended that the Australian Government provide funding for universities to offer a) students placement opportunities with industry, and b) industry training to up-skill the workforce.
The Committee explored opportunities to value-add to the vocational education and training or higher education sectors to support the space industry. Under this model, those undertaking trades or courses work more closely with industry to understand the specific skills and technical abilities needed for particular roles.
It was suggested that more apprenticeships would be useful to help train people with space specific skills. Mr Nick Leake, Head of Satellite and Space Systems, Optus told the Committee:
I think it's about communicating more to year 11 and year 12, because I think it starts there… it's the grassroots where we need the apprenticeships. If you join the armed forces as a technician, they train you in an apprenticeship and then you can go to fix things on aircraft or tanks. That's what we seem to be missing. If we get that coming through, we will start to get more people entering the industry, because once you get into satellites there's a love of satellites. You never leave.
The German model of masters and apprentices was identified as a good example of a training program. This model involves people undertaking a base-level apprenticeship and then specialising in particular areas. Dr Tetlow told the Committee that Inovor Technologies uses a similar informal model where younger technicians learn from more experienced staff.
As discussed in Chapter 3, many of the skills and expertise required in the space industry can be found in other Australian sectors. Opportunities to grow the space workforce can therefore be found by tapping into relevant industries with transferrable skills as well as tapping into tertiary and training courses that may not have considered space as a path.
EOS said that the surge of new space sector jobs will require a concerted effort from government, industry and academia to train and attract highly skilled workers to space-related positions. It identified encouraging mobility between the space sector and adjacent industries, particularly defence, as one aspect of this skilling effort. EOS stated:
The defence sector is currently engaging in its own drive to develop the skills required to meet future workforce requirements, with Defence releasing the Defence Industry Skilling and STEM Strategy in 2019. By engaging with Defence and defence industry, the ASA can draw on the methods and lessons that emerge the defence skilling endeavour, while establishing pathways for workers to move between the space and defence sectors.
To support future workforce development and job creation, EOS made two recommendations designed to enhance collaboration, foster career pathways in space, and enable greater workforce mobility.
FrontierSI identified significant opportunities to grow the number of graduates available to the space sector by introducing a ‘cross-disciplinary approach’ to university education and training. For example, it stated that industry ready data science graduates could be developed through relatively minimal training in earth observation and satellite data. This could be achieved by encouraging university students to undertake one or two subjects as part of their degree that focused explicitly on space priorities.
Furthermore, FrontierSI argued that universities should be encouraged to add computer science and engineering courses as official elective units to promote cross-disciplinary skill exchange. Additional PhD Masters Coursework and undergraduate scholarships could also be used to target graduate development.
International skilled workers
To support a future space workforce, Australia will still require access to experienced skilled workers. As noted earlier in the chapter, one of the workforce challenges in Australia is mid-to-senior level expertise.
QUT stated that its space industry partners ‘frequently cite access to talent as one of their key business challenges’. It noted that with the upturn in talent wishing to return to Australia and the downturn in key space-related industries such as the automated vehicle industry in the USA, there is a window of opportunity for Australia to facilitate entry for highly skilled space workers to Australia.
Specifically, QUT proposed that Australia implement visa program policies that facilitate Australia’s ability to attract international talent, including:
expedited visa processes to minimise barriers to talent mobility
supportive spouse/partner and dependent policies to assist in attracting talent
international recruitment strategies targeting those with priority skillsets
funding and scholarships for space-related higher degree research
incentive for Australian companies to offer work experience or internship opportunities to high-potential students studying in Australia or on a post-study work visa
mutual recognition of qualifications between relevant partner institutions
increased access to research infrastructure for international talent
talent exchange with international partners.
The University of South Australia also advocated for a visa program to assist international start-ups in Australia. Specifically it recommended ‘support for international start-up founders to set up operations in Australia by enabling high potential space start-ups with access to a visa that leads to residency.
Similarly, Southern Launch called for incentives to attract overseas talent. It said that ‘for Australia’s space industry to grow and remain internationally competitive, it must attract experienced skills and experts from overseas markets. Providing financial incentives to foreign nationals with certain experience or technical competencies, to relocate to Australia for the purpose of mentoring or assisting space industry in Australia, would be extremely beneficial in advancing Australian technical expertise’.
Moonshot expressed a similar view noting the value of attracting international talent. It stated that by ‘importing talented people, promising entrepreneurs, and their businesses - especially those with deep connections with the global space sector - Australia can create an easy way to keep pace with the space sectors of other nations’.
Rural and regional Australia offers significant opportunity for the Australian space sector, particularly given existing space infrastructure, regional educational and training opportunities and a skilled workforce. Regional Australia also presents an opportunity to decentralise the space sector and spread the benefits of a growing sector across the country.
The Northern Territory Government identified ‘significant synergies’ between the space industry and the Australian Government’s decentralisation plan noting the space industry as an enabler of regional growth and development. It stated:
In many cases the industry depends upon remoteness and isolation to operate effectively due to the need for radio silence, uninterrupted views of the horizon, or a low population in the case of launch. In the NT for example, Alice Springs and Nhulunbuy are both emerging as regional hubs for space industry activity due to these factors.
It also noted that the benefits of earth observation and industry specific data applications are largely unrealised in regional Australia. The NT Government asserted that decentralising Commonwealth research agencies to the regions would assist in developing research capacity, workforce development and job creation for the space industry. It would also contribute to a better understanding of local policy settings, challenges and opportunities.
For some businesses, while they are able to offer opportunities in the regions, attracting skilled workers out of the cities was as a key problem. ICT International said that this was preventing the company starting a $5 million job. Dr Peter Cull, Director, ICT International told the Committee:
It's got nothing to do with space; it's got to do with the ability to get skilled people to our region. I spoke to a parliamentary inquiry several weeks ago about skilled migration. I've put off a project of over $5 million that would employ 10 more people. I cannot get the people. The minute I get them, I'll start that project in Armidale. It is to manufacture sensors that we got an inquiry about from Riyadh the other day—180 of these sensors for one park, a central park in Riyadh. So there are enormous opportunities, for manufacturing reasons, if we can get the skills there. We know what we want to do. We have the export markets. We know that we have the customers. We can't get the people we need to work in our town. But the spouse is the problem. We can get one or two there, but the spouse can't get a job. It doesn't matter what the government subsidises, whether it's 20 grand, 30 grand or 40 grand. It will not get them there, because the spouse doesn't have a job.
Similarly, Mr Raymond McLaren from Andromeda Industries told the Committee his company set up a division to manufacture aerospace componentry but that opportunity closed after five years due to a lack of skilled people and a lack of demand. Mr McLaren said:
Well, we ran it for about five years, but there were two problems. One is to get sufficiently skilled people. That's probably the main problem. The other one is that we had difficulty with getting ongoing business. We did a lot of work developing components for people. Developing one or two parts takes a lot of time and effort, but there was always the promise that it would be 100 or 200 of these in due course. So we spent thousands of dollars developing the parts, getting them right and then that's it. We'd never see the order. That happened over and over again.
Boeing Australia identified some ways to increase the benefits of the space industry flowing to rural and regional Australia. This includes:
Regional university and training courses: many school leavers train and study in their local areas. Some may move away and return later. By focusing heavily on STEM training opportunities in space and allied industries, regional training institutions can encourage more of their young people into the industry and this in turn could spur the development of enterprises encouraged by the availability of a workforce. This would be reinforced by basing Government space infrastructure or ongoing space endeavours in the same location.
Further refinement and promotion of a database such as the ICN Gateway: the ICN Gateway is a not for profit organisation with offices in each state and territory that aims to connect those seeking products and services with small and medium-sized providers. Its primary remit is to provide local content to projects large and small. With refinements to its taxonomy, this service can be improved to capture a wider base, including the space industry, and with search criteria to include regional and remote suppliers. Work has already commenced on these improvements.
Space infrastructure in regional areas: much of the required infrastructure for launching into space, for communicating via space, and for observing to or from space requires regional infrastructure. Careful planning of proximity of future infrastructure to human resources such as regional populations, training institutions and employment opportunities for families can further encourage the growth of the industry outside the capital cities.
Role for Government
Submissions to the inquiry identified a more strategic role for government in developing education and training to support the Australian space industry. This includes articulating a space strategy to provide certainty to education providers. The Committee was told that this direction greatly assists universities to determine what courses would be needed in the future and where demand might be. Dr Brett Carter, Former Chair of the Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics Group, Australian Institute of Physics, said:
From an academic's perspective, in order for us to be able to design and offer these types of degree programs, whether they be undergraduate, postgraduate or whatever, we need support from our vice-chancellors, who are looking at things like national government priorities in order to make their decisions. When it came to the Space Agency being announced we were able to internally highlight: 'Look, no-one is offering this, and this is actually what we need now, as a very industry focused, skills focused and broad-level focused bachelor program that no-one else is offering at the moment.' Again, universities are doing their bit to try and mobilise there, but it has been in response to announcements of national priorities from the government.
Dr Carter highlighted that the absence of a long-term space strategy has resulted in Australia losing highly trained PhD graduates, post docs and researchers overseas and hindered the ability to bring people back. He told the Committee:
A long-term strategy that supports university led space R&D will also encourage Australian expats, particularly Australian space expats, to return home, bringing with them their experience and expertise, which will further boost the Australian space sector.
Swinburne University of Technology also supported national direction to inform capability development and recommended long term research funding to fill capability gaps. Professor Alan Duffy told the Committee:
I think government has the broader overview of the nation's needs. It can identify what the national need is five years hence, for example. They can determine what capability gaps—perhaps in consultation with the Australian Space Agency—and what kinds of requirements there are, and then that can be fed through via these PhDs, which themselves last three- to four-year time frame such that you can actually deliver on those needs as they are occurring throughout that PhD program. It's a long-term research commitment and engagement.
The absence of education in the ASA’s charter was cited by the VSSEC as an important issue for consideration as part of the ASA’s upcoming review. In evidence to the Committee, Dr Brett Biddington, External Relations, VSSEC suggested a Chief Scientist and an Education Directorate within the ASA would also be necessary to better foster space education.
Stakeholders suggested that a national space education and training plan or roadmap be developed. The Australian Academy of Science advanced that realising Australia’s space industry's opportunities requires a national innovation and education strategy spanning the primary, secondary, tertiary, VET and industry sectors. It notes that this strategy could use space science to grow participation in STEM, the STEM workforce, and the space sector as well as increase diversity and inclusion, improving career pathways and opportunities for underrepresented groups.
Similarly, the University of South Australia recommended that an Australian Space Sector Strategy include a training, education and skills plan. It advanced that the Australian space sector has an opportunity to draw on less traditional resources and skills to grow the space sector and consideration be given to training and skilling scholarships to broaden diversity.
The Western Australian Government suggested that the Australian Government could engage with industry, training, education and universities sector to develop an Australian space workforce development roadmap focused on building, attracting and retaining a skilled workforce to meet the current and future needs of the national space sector.
There are many opportunities for Australians within the space industry. While it is clear that space fascinates and excites people, the challenge is to convince people that they can be part of a global industry that is much more than rockets and astronauts.
Anyone wanting to pursue a career in space is likely to find a part of the industry to do it. Generalist and specialist expertise will be required as will skills from adjacent sectors.
The Australian space sector is likely to offer long-term job opportunities, which requires access to the nation’s full workforce. This includes groups generally underrepresented across the space sector such as women and Indigenous Australians. Creating awareness of the connection between education and training and particular space sector roles as well as demonstrating employment pathways to accessible jobs will be central to encouraging people to pursue space related education and training. This includes in fields outside traditional STEM fields.
Many of the issues and recommendations raised throughout this report will go a long way to shape and develop a future workforce. Strengthening the Australian Space Agency, defining a set of long term space missions and space capability priorities, fostering greater collaboration nationally and internationally as well as articulating a regulatory framework within which the sector can safely and responsibly operate will all help to inform the education and training needs to support a future space workforce.
While Australia has access to a skilled workforce, and work is underway to address skills and training shortages, Australia will still require and benefit from the expertise of skilled international workers and commercial enterprise. Efforts to more readily engage international expertise would be welcome by industry.
The Committee fully supports initiatives that promote and build on the strengths of rural and regional Australia. Regional geography, existing infrastructure, and a strong education sector offer strategic opportunities for growth of the Australian space industry as well as regional areas.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government develop a community education and outreach program to promote the diversity of employment, careers and opportunities within the space sector.
This campaign should also target underrepresented groups within the space industry to help increase diversity across the sector.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government promote the value of STEM through primary, secondary and tertiary years to ensure a continued pipeline of specialist and technical expertise is available to support and sustain the Australian space sector.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government examines options to improve education to industry pathways within the sector.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce a program to better connect adjacent industries with transferrable skills to the space industry.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government examine ways to maximise the benefits of rural and regional Australia to foster the growth of the Australian space industry.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government examine options to improve engagement and relocation of international workers and commercial enterprise to the space industry.
Mr Pat Conaghan MP
24 November 2021