As part of Tomorrow’s Engineering Week 2019, the UK Space Agency’s Skills & Careers Lead, Kathie Bowden, details the array of early career engineering opportunities across the UK space sector.
Engineering opportunities in the UK space sector for apprentices and graduates
In recent years, we have seen significant growth in the UK space sector, which has inevitably led to greater numbers of job vacancies at all levels – from early careers through to highly experienced engineers, scientists, analysts and programme leads, amongst other roles.
For those considering an apprenticeship, many companies offer programmes in mechanical, electrical and systems engineering, with courses spanning one to five years, depending on the level. There are also opportunities for people interested in systems and software engineering apprenticeships, while those with a passion for data analysis and science can pursue data engineering courses.
We also have two exciting new opportunities in development, which are planned to come online in September 2020; the Level 4 (Technician) and Level 6 (Degree) apprenticeships for Space Engineering. We’re in the process of finalising all aspects of the programme, and have the support and involvement of several major players in the UK space industry including Oxford Space Systems, Reaction Engines, Airbus, Nammo, and RAL Space. We’ll publish full details in due course, once the programmes are finalised and we know the colleges and universities that will be supporting the training.
A great place to look for apprenticeships is the Government’s ‘Find an apprenticeship’ website which allows you to search by keywords, location and apprenticeship level.
For those leaving university, there are many graduate programmes offered by space companies in the UK, in the areas of electronic, electrical, mechanical, aerospace or space, systems and software engineering.
Graduates should not only be thinking about pursuing opportunities with the big companies; they should also consider the smaller companies, as they could end up working on some wildly exciting initiatives.
While spacecareers.uk is a good resource for finding early careers opportunities, I would strongly advise candidates to go directly to space companies they’re interested in working for. This is because many of them won’t necessarily have roles advertised all the time, but will certainly look favourably upon proactive applications. Lots of companies of various sizes will be interested in people who are interested in them. UKspace’s membership lists are a rich sources of information about the companies out there that could be approached, from start-ups to multi-nationals.
Another resource to use is the Knowledge Transfer Network’s Space Directory, which features links to companies across the space sector and is searchable by location.
I would also add that the Space Placements in Industry (SPIN) scheme – managed by the UK Space Agency and supported by the Satellite Applications Catapult – provides an ideal avenue for those seeking an introduction to working in the space sector. Each summer, a variety of space organisations of all sizes, including businesses and academia, offer industry placements of up to eight weeks, as they look for the most talented and enthusiastic people to ensure the future success of their businesses. The next set of SPIN roles will be advertised in early 2020.
Subjects to study at school, college or university
If you are looking to go into engineering, STEM subjects never fail. I would also include numerate geographers, studying geography at A-level or higher. This enables students to apply their knowledge of the natural world using physical parameters to programme and model the environment, and opens up possibilities to work in areas such as earth observation, remote sensing, meteorology and atmospheric science. Computer science and programming skills are also important to work in the space industry.
However, it’s vital not to ignore your creative side and imagination. Having that ability to think differently sets you apart from the crowd.
Aside from the subjects, it’s essential to focus on the softer skills too. Key attributes for a successful space career are the ability to work in multi-disciplinary teams and being interested in solving problems, which could cover anything from fixing something not working to addressing the challenges of climate change.
An exciting sector to be part of
To me, the best part of the UK space industry is the people. You’re always working with people with different skills and expertise, from all over the world, so you’re constantly learning from others.
Additionally, a job in the space sector means no two days are the same. One day you could be attending an event looking at the effects of climate change on the North and South Poles, and the next you could be learning about Artificial Intelligence and how we can develop the necessary skills to make the world a better place (and that was just this week)!