That’s a good question for the student studying to become an aerospace technician and current aerospace technicians. With the ending of the Space Shuttle program, tens of thousands of aerospace technicians, engineers, scientists, and managers have been thrust into the job market in one large mass with limited jobs available. Many unemployed or soon to graduate aerospace technicians prefer to stay in Human Space Flight, but it is quite probable that our nation will not be launching astronauts on American launch vehicles for the foreseeable future, quite likely 10 years or more for a myriad of reasons. Though there is a deep well of talent in this workforce, it is difficult for the aerospace industry to absorb these workers all at once, especially the fledgling commercial HSF industry. The competition for jobs is fierce with so many thrust into the labor market in such a short time span. So where do you go from here?
There are always options available to the aerospace technician that they can pursue. Some are not as preferred as others in the beginning, but they do exist. We will explore some of those options in this post.
Look outside of HSF. Though Americans are not being launched anymore on American launch vehicles, unmanned launches are still occurring. Satellites, planetary probes, cargo vessels, and telescopes are still being designed, built, and prepared for launch. The rockets used to launch these payloads still require aerospace technicians. You may not think it is as glamorous as HSF, but it is still a job that falls within your education and experience. Not many aerospace technicians in this world can say over dinner conversation that they helped prepare or launch a rover to Mars. Why can’t you be that aerospace technician?
Look outside your area. There are many spaceports throughout the nation and the world. Those spaceports are covered in the previous post here. Continuing your career sometimes requires relocation. It is a fact of life for many professionals in this economy and should not be looked upon as a burden but as an opportunity. Many companies look favorably upon an employee who is willing to relocate to help the company succeed and it helps them to find the best talent in a larger pool than just the local communities.
Continue your education while waiting for the number of people looking for work to thin out. This serves two purposes: 1. It makes you more marketable by having more education, and 2. It buys you time as new aerospace programs get started and as the labor pool shrinks due to people moving away, being hired, retiring, or changing careers. This would be a good time to supplement your aerospace credentials with an A&P license, a B.S. degree, additional certifications, etc. SpaceTEC would be a good place to start in seeking additional certifications.
Start your own business. In difficult economies, sometimes the best way to find work is to create your own work. Some Space Shuttle Technicians have recognized various needs in the aerospace community and have started their own businesses to meet those needs. These needs may have been created by poor customer service from established companies, or it is a need that has not been recognized yet. Starting your own business is full of risks and should be approached with a well thought out business plan, additional studies on other aspects of business such as accounting and marketing, etc. The local Small Business Administration should be of assistance. Do not bet your life savings, home, etc. without a thorough understanding of what your market is and how you’re going to meet it. Most new businesses fail within the first five years, so think this through carefully before selecting this option.
Change careers. This is a radical option that not only requires you to possibly obtain new certifications or degrees outside of your area, but to be prepared to enter a new job on an entry level basis that most times include lower pay. It can be a rewarding move and you will be surprised at how many of your aerospace skills will be applicable in your new career. Everything from the aerospace culture, such as how to approach problem solving, working in large organizations, etc., to your actual skills you use on the job can benefit you in your new career. New careers to consider could be teaching industrial arts or other subjects, working in a non-aerospace industry, health care industry (especially technicians who work on medical equipment), to maintenance jobs. The possibilities are actually endless. Also, changing careers does not have to be permanent. As the job market in the aerospace world opens back up, you can return to aerospace and bring along the additional knowledge and experience you obtained while working outside of your first profession.
There are many other options out there besides the four listed and you don’t have to limit yourself to just these four. The point is to never forget that you always have options to succeed and thrive. The amount of options you have is limited only by your imagination and your drive to succeed. Treat this downturn in HSF as an opportunity to “problem solve” this obstacle to your career. It is not the end of the world and the skills you have already learned as an aerospace technician will be a strength you will always carry no matter where you go. The knowledge and experience you have obtained so far in your career is yours. You own it, you earned it, and you can use it in many varied ways.