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.
With the major changes in Human Space Flight due to the end of the Space Shuttle program, many aerospace technicians are dusting off and updating their resumes. But, how many of you have gone over interview techniques lately? A good resume can land you an interview, but it is the interview that lands you the job. Your interview technique has to be as good as or better than your resume. After all, this is the first time a representative from the company you’re applying too will see you face to face and it is of the utmost importance to give a great first impression. Below are some tips and techniques I have found successful in the past and may be of some benefit to you.
- Dress for success. When I first moved to Florida over 13 years ago, and started interviewing for jobs, I would show up in a nice suit as I was taught to do when I was a younger man. I was surprised to find myself competing with other people who showed up for their interview wearing shorts, tee-shirts, and flip-flops. Trust me, I’m not exaggerating. These people ended up having very short interviews, usually lasting less than five minutes, and were not hired. A good rule of thumb to use when interviewing for a job is to dress one step above the position you’re applying for. If it is a technician’s position and their normal wear for the job is jeans and a shirt, then you should be wearing at least dress slacks and a dress shirt. Of course, wearing a suit and tie is even better. Don’t forget to shine your shoes either. I’ve learned working in the aerospace industry that many managers are former military and they do pay attention to your shoes. So learn to shine your shoes like the guys in boot camp.
- Hygiene: Dressing for success also means showering and shaving before the interview, so don’t forget to wash behind your ears and to shave away that five o’clock shadow. Make sure you clean your fingernails too.
- Research the company. If you want to work for a certain company, you should know something about them. Go to their website and learn about the company, its type of business, its goals, mission statement, etc. You want to be a team member, so you need to know about the team.
- Research the job you’re applying for. Talk with people who already do the job, research the position on the web, learn the average salary for the position as it relates to your experience level, etc. Coming into the interview with a good, solid, basic knowledge of the job and its expectations will give you a leg up on the competition and grant you the ability to ask better and more knowledgeable questions. This shows the interviewer that you have initiative to learn on your own.
- Speaking of questions, make a list of questions to take in with you. Have questions about the job, work environment, dress code, benefits, etc. If you are interviewing with the person who would be your boss, ask him/her what they expect of you and what their management philosophy is.
- Remember, an interview is actually a two way street. The company is there because they want to learn more about you and you are there to learn more about them. By asking educated questions and keeping those questions positive you will learn quickly if this company is a good match for you or not. I’ve actually had interviewers get hostile over my questions and I have ended those interviews on my own initiative because I knew they would not be a good match for me. Other interviewers have been pleasantly surprised at my questions and took a large amount of time to answer them fully. Also look at the interviewer’s appearance and conduct. Are they professional? Do they represent their company well? Do they treat you with respect? If not, these should be taken as warning flags that you might want to reconsider working for them. No one says you have to accept every job that is offered to you.
- Be prepared to answer any question fully and in as much detail as possible. That does not mean tell your life story, but stay on topic concerning the question. Such questions as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” are classic ones that are asked. Start out with a specific weakness and what you are doing to correct it and always end on your strengths. For example, you could say that time management is a weakness of yours, but you are currently reading a book on time management to learn new tips and techniques to strengthen that skill. You might even ask if the company has any educational programs in house that teach better time management skills. Never give general answers without having specific examples to back them up. Saying, “I never call off work” and backing it up with, “At my last job I went 3 years without a sick day” is a good example.
- Stress that you wish to continue your education. This shows that you won’t be idle and content with “just a job” but are looking to improve yourself and in turn improve the company. Ask about tuition reimbursement programs and if the company has an in house education department.
- Don’t forget about hobbies. Some employers during an interview want to know what you like to do in your spare time. And, make sure you can point out that the skills you use in your hobby can be useful in the job you’re applying for. For example, I think the two main reasons I got hired into the Space Shuttle program was my Aerospace Technology degree and my hobby, which is model building. I told my interviewers that my hobby taught me how to do small precise work, and to read and follow instructions/processes to the letter. These turned out to be skills that were very much applicable for working on the thermal protection system of the Space Shuttle as a technician.
- Always be pleasant and rested for the interview. Not getting enough sleep or having a bad day affect your mood will end up being reflected during your interview. Make sure you are well rested, have eaten, and in a good mood prior to the interview.
- Never, never speak ill of your past employer. Even if you did not have a good relationship with your past employer, keep the hard feelings away during the interview. If you speak ill of your past employer, then the prospective employer will assume you will speak ill of them someday.
- Be frank about your past work history if there is something negative there. If you were fired, and it comes up during the interview, be frank about why you were fired, and what you have done to correct that behavior to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If you have been laid off for an extended period of time, then make sure you have something going on in your life to show you were active during that time period and not just sitting around idle collecting unemployment. Talk about volunteer work you did, a side business you did, etc. during that time unemployed. Never allow your resume or your interview to show you as being idle and having no initiative.
- Always have a notebook and pen to take notes with during the interview. Also, bring at least two copies of your resume with you, one for you to refer too and one for the interviewer to look over in case he lost his copy (It has happened many times in my experience.).
- Always use the “King’s English” when speaking. Other words, watch your grammar and spelling. Fair or not, people will judge you by your grammar and spelling. Poor grammar such as slang, cursing, etc. along with poor spelling (Learn how to use spell check!) tells an interviewer that you might not be so bright or care about your linguistic appearance. Proper grammar and spelling are just as important as the clothes you wear to an interview.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. It never hurts to ask for a better salary, but be prepared to back it up with good solid reasons as to why you deserve a better salary than being offered. Some aerospace companies will negotiate with you, especially if you have experience.
- Always write your interviewer a thank-you note the next day after the interview even if you don’t get the job. Remember, he/she took time out of their busy day to talk with you and it is only courteous to tell them “thanks.” You may not get hired this time, but if you apply again later on for another position at that company, that interviewer will remember your courtesy.
- Learn from the interview no matter if you’re hired or not. What did you do right? What can you do better? List all the questions you can remember being asked and keep them in a notebook. It is a good chance that many of those questions will be brought up again someday at another interview. This way you can improve your chances by being better prepared the next time.
This is not a full list of interview techniques, but it should give you a start. Talk with managers you know and ask them what they look for in interviews and research it on the web or in books. And, if you have any other techniques you wish to share, please feel free to share them in the comments section. Good luck!
A while back I was a guest speaker at an aerospace technician class. This was the first semester for the class in a two year program. I asked the students where they planned on working after graduation and to the man/woman, they all said “the Space Shuttle program” at Kennedy Space Center. I pointed out the program would be over by the time they graduated in two years and a look of surprise and dismay crossed their faces. I then asked if they were aware of and could name other space ports in these United States of America and they indicated they were not aware of any others. I proceeded to teach them about the other space ports and to explain that the skills they were learning will be needed there also.
Kennedy Space Center gets all the publicity because of Human Space Flight, but there are currently nine space ports in use and 3 proposed ones. The nearest space port is just right across Mosquito Lagoon from KSC at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). The primary companies that launch there are United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. (SpaceX also has a launch facility at the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.) Many unmanned NASA probes, government, and commercial satellites are launched from this facility at multiple launch pads. Also Pegasus launches are conducted from there. CCAFS has been launching rockets since the 1950’s.
Further up the east coast is NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Goddard Space Flight Center. Wallops is responsible for launching sub-orbital and small orbital launches along with testing and research. Wallops has been in business launching these smaller rockets since 1945.
Just next door to Wallops is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). MARS launches both commercial and government payloads. MARS has been launching rockets since 2006.
Moving out west, there is the Nevada Test and Training Range responsible for launching sounding rockets and test vehicles. It was formally known as Nellis Air Force Base and is also home to Area 51. They have been launching since the 1950’s along with many other activities.
The next launch facility is in New Mexico called Spaceport America. It’s most famous resident is Virgin Galactic which will be launching tourists into sub-orbital flight within the next year. Spaceport America also does sub-orbital commercial launches. Spaceport America has been an operating spaceport since 2006.
California has three spaceports, including one that is mobile. First is the Vandenberg Air Force Base which specializes in ballistic missile tests, along with the typical government and commercial satellite payloads. Vandenberg has been launching rockets since the 1950’s.
The second California spaceport is the privately owned Mojave Air & Space Port. This facility is famous for the two historic launches of Space Ship One. Mojave Air & Space Port has been operating since 2004.
The third California space port is Ocean Odyssey Complex owned and operated by Sea Launch. Ocean Odyssey Complex is a converted oil rig with associated support ships whose home port is in Long Beach California but does the actual launches at the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Ocean Odyssey Complex has been doing commercial launches since 1999.
If you don’t mind the cold, there is the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. Kodiak is operated by the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation and specializes in satellite and ballistic missile interceptor launches. They have been in operation since 1998.
There are also numerous spaceports throughout the world if you feel like working outside of the country. You can find a list of these spaceports along with the appropriate links here.
The point is, though Shuttle work at KSC (though some other work there continues) is coming to a standstill, there is still lots of work at CCAFS (for example SpaceX and ULA) and other spaceports throughout the country and the world for certified aerospace technicians both in government and private companies. Don’t limit your talents and skills to just one spaceport. Think outside of the box and the area when it comes to pursuing the career you have chosen.
These are challenging times right now for our nation’s Human Space Flight program and the aerospace workforce in general. With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program and the future of America’s HSF in doubt, there is cause for pessimism. But, I don’t think that all is lost or doomed.
I’ve been a “space nut” ever since I first saw Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon and when I was first hired to work on the Space Shuttle fleet, it was a dream come true. I used to get up every day, kiss my wife goodbye, and say to her “I’m going to work on my spaceship!” I remember reading an article once quoting an engineer working on the Mars Rovers who when asked at a dinner party what he did at work, he replied, “I drive a rover around on Mars. What do you do?”
These are the unique experiences we all have. Out of the billions that live in this world, just a few thousand of us have had the experiences being part of space exploration. Every day was an adventure at Kennedy Space Center and though some days the particular job I was doing may not be “fun”, KSC was still the coolest place to work. The same applies at all the NASA centers no matter if you were working in HSF or planetary probes, etc. Those memories and experiences cannot ever be taken away once you have lived them.
Working in a space program requires you to be a problem solver. While others in this world were trying to figure out what to wear for the day or what fast food restaurant to have lunch at, you were figuring out unique problems and solving them so you could once again “touch the heavens” and make our world a better place.
With the unknowns facing our workforce right now, those problem solving skills need to be used to the fullest extent, not just in a space program, but in your own personal lives and careers. How can you survive the time between programs? How can you influence what HSF program will come into being? What can you do to make yourself more marketable? If you are currently a student in an Aerospace Technology program, you might ask, “Is there any hope that I will get to use my degree in a space program?” For those questions and many others, I have some humble advice.
Increase Your Vision
Kennedy Space Center, or Marshall, or Houston, etc. are not the only space centers in this great world of ours. Too many people become focused on the one space center in their area that they forget that NASA, private companies, and other countries have space centers throughout the world. With English being the common language for airlines and science in this world, you already have an advantage being able to speak the language. You can apply to other space centers and combine your adventures working in space flight with living in a new place.
Be a Problem Solver Outside of Work
What can you do to survive while awaiting the next program? You have an experience that most people in this world will never have. You may want to try to find a way to communicate that experience and share it with other people. You can do this with a blog, lectures, write a book, or maybe teach. As a technician, why can’t you build a “Launch Control Center” with bells, buttons, and blinking lights to enhance some child’s experiences with his model rocket he got for
Christmas and sell them? The media and the government may not be too interested in space flight right now but Joe Public still is. You are truly limited by only your imagination on how to share these experiences with other people and profit from it.
Be Politically Aware and Active
Whether you like it or not, politicians determine our programs and fund it. Nearly all of these politicians couldn’t tell the difference from the nose of the Space Shuttle to the tail. Most people in aerospace think that only CEO’s and rich entrepreneurs have exclusive access to our politicians, but that is not true. You have access also through email, regular mail, town hall meetings, phone calls, etc. You can find your contact info at this website. You just need to input your zip code. Use these methods of communication to teach your politicians about space exploration and why it is important to our nation. Remember, these politicians actually work for you and they need to hear from you. Ask them what HSF plan they support. Did you know there are four leading HSF plans out there right now? Educate yourself as to what each of these plans are and decide for yourself if any of them are right for our nation or if another plan not being thought of right now is better and let your politicians know. Tell them why you think the plan you’ve chosen is the right one and be specific about it. Ask them if they support your plan and don’t accept a general answer such as “I support the space program.” Ask for specifics. Be a frequent communicator and teacher with your politicians. Just because you are a technician does not mean you don’t have credibility to lobby your politicians for what you think is right for our nation’s HSF program. Vote for and donate to the campaigns of the politicians that share your dream. Support them by working in their campaign office as a volunteer.
Be Aware of Your Industry
Learn as much as you can about all the different space programs, ones that are currently in place and ones that are coming online. Broadening your knowledge about the different space programs out there gives you an advantage to seeing opportunities to find work that others may miss. Check out their websites, get on their press release email lists, network with people inside those programs, go to various space websites and participate in the comment forums. If you work on satellites as a technician, did you know that NASA has programs that send satellites into the upper atmosphere via balloons? How can your skills translate to that program if your current program ends?
Don’t Stop Learning
Some people think that once they obtain their degree and learn their job, they don’t need to learn anymore. You should always be stretching and growing or you risk being left behind once your program ends. If you are a technician on the Space Shuttle, think about learning about robotics, composites, etc. Look at other space programs, both current and future ones, and make an educated decision as to what their needs will be, and then get certified or degreed in those areas so you can be more marketable. The worst thing you could do is just sit home and collect unemployment waiting on a space program to call you. Get out there and add to your education and pursue those opportunities.
Most Importantly Do Not Give Up Hope
“Chance favors the prepared” as the old saying goes. Being an aerospace technician has already given you the most important skill set and that is problem solving. Make use of it in your pursuit to further your career and you will be surprised at the potential opportunities that will come your way.
Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments area as to what our community of technicians can do to weather these uncertain times.