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.
“On June 10, 2011, the SpaceTEC program received formal safety approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation for the SpaceTEC Certified Aerospace Technician™ process, the first such approval of this kind.
Based at Brevard Community College on Florida’s Space Coast, SpaceTEC is the National Science Foundation’s National Resource Center for Aerospace Technical Education. Since 2004 SpaceTEC has offered the nation’s only performance-based, industry-endorsed certification for aerospace technicians in the United States.”
The FAA gave safety approval for the four current areas of the SpaceTEC program:
- Core Certification
- Aerospace Vehicle Processing
- Aerospace Manufacturing
The approval for all four areas is valid for five years.
You can read more of the announcement and what it means for the aerospace technician field here.
To the staff at SpaceTEC, well done!
In this video, Gordon Snyder talks with Al Koller, Carolyn Parise and Joyce McClellan from SPACE-TEC at the 2010 HI-TEC Conference in Orlando, Florida.
A recent interview with Dr. Koller from SpaceTEC.
The purpose of this blog is to be a resource for aerospace technicians and students covering various topics that relate to the profession from job issues, to a review of basic skills, etc.. We would like to invite the aerospace technicians out there to take some time and let us know what you are interested in seeing covered in Space Update. So, here is an invitation for you to send us your ideas! Remember, this blog is written with you and your profession in mind and we would like to hear from you. So, speak up and be heard!
Before you do send in your ideas please remember these guidelines:
- This is a site for aerospace technicians and students. So please no astrophysicist topics, politics, cooking questions, Dancing with the Stars applications, etc. Just aerospace technician topics folks!
- If you want to add your information/experience to the idea please do so! Just make sure you also give references if possible. We will make sure you get credit for sharing your knowledge.
- Aerospace technician instructors are welcome and encouraged to send in their ideas too.
- If you don’t see your idea show up in a blog post right away don’t worry! We are expecting and hoping for many ideas from all of you and will sort through and get your idea looked at ASAP. If you can’t wait, then feel free to join our forum and start a topic about your idea. We would love to have your participation and experienced knowledge. The Space Update Forum is also a great place to network with other aerospace technicians in your profession or just to hang out.
- Any ideas you wish to submit should be emailed to the Space Update webmaster.
So think over what it is you want to see covered on Space Update and let us know. We are looking forward to hearing from you and meeting you on the forum.
Recently, Dr. Al Koller, Principal Investigator of SpaceTEC, appeared on Syndicated News, a web based journalist site. You can listen to the 15 minute interview below.
You can discuss the SpaceTEC interview or any other aerospace subject on our forum.
Dr. Al Koller, of SpaceTEC, was recently interviewed by Dr. David Livingston on The Space Show. Dr. Koller spent the 1 and ½ hour interview discussing the founding and purpose of SpaceTEC, the importance of aerospace technicians and the need for national certification, and also discussed the uncertain future of America’s Human Space Flight program. You can listen to the interview here.
“Expert-a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.” – dictionary.reference.com
Leading up to my appearance on The Space Show, I had stopped by the web site to check on upcoming guests. Along with other guests listed, my upcoming interview was listed and the host had titled me as a Space Shuttle expert. I was horrified! Though I had worked on the Space Shuttle fleet as a technician and had a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science, I was no way an expert in mine or many of my peer’s eyes. Many of my peers at KSC had much more experience and had forgotten more about the shuttle systems than I would ever learn in a lifetime. I immediately wrote an email to the host and asked him to take the word “expert” off the section announcing the upcoming interview.
A week later I was recounting the story to a friend of mine whom I considered an “expert” in academia. After I told the story, he told me that he considered me an “expert” on the Space Shuttle. I protested and reviewed the reasons as to why I couldn’t be an expert. He then countered with this simple argument: “You are the only person I know that has worked on the Space Shuttle fleet and you have taught me much about something I knew little of. In my eyes, you are an “expert.””
I reflected later that evening on what he had said and he was right. In his eyes, and many other people’s eyes, I am an “expert.” And, as an aerospace technician or student in an aerospace technology program, so are you.
How many aerospace technicians do you deal with on a daily basis outside of work? How many people in your life, family, friends, internet, business acquaintances, etc. outside of work are aerospace technicians that have actually worked on space related hardware? Probably very few people. How many people inside your workplace do you encounter that would have no clue as to what you do? That makes you an expert and a teacher to anyone that is a willing student.
During my time at KSC, I sent many personal pictures and emails detailing my day to day activites, for I felt working there was truly an adventure that should be shared. The surprising part was the feedback I got. Instead of people complaining about my numerous emails and pictures, many friends and family (and some others that the emails got forwarded too) wrote back thanking me for teaching them about the Space Shuttle in such a personal way. Much of the information I shared was just common day to day stuff for the aerospace technicians, but for the general public it was all new, interesting, and educational. I would venture to say that probably 99% of the general population in our country and world has no clue as to what you do as an aerospace technician to prepare a spacecraft for its mission or what that mission is. I have had contact and questions from people literally all over the world showing an intense desire to learn more and that in turn pushed me to learn more to be a better teacher and technician.
Even at work, astronauts would approach technicians and ask what they were doing and would become the student learning from that technician. Same goes for some of the upper management and even VIP guests such as senators and ambassadors. During those times, the aerospace technicians are the expert and have a duty, in my humble opinion, to teach and hopefully give that person a positive experience during their visit.
Just getting through the first semester in the aerospace technology program has already made you an “expert” in relation to the general public. The lessons you learn on space history, aerospace culture, safety, etc. is much more than most people get in a lifetime. And, as people in your life find out that you are learning to “work on spaceships”, they will look to you with many questions they have had but never knew where to find the answers. You are now their “expert” and it is a great opportunity to teach someone about space exploration and why it is important to our country and our human race as a whole.
Getting public support for our Human Spaceflight Program doesn’t entail full page ads in the paper or busing in as many people as you can to watch a launch. It does not entail having an astronaut appearing on TV or at a public appearance. It does not entail press releases by NASA. Gaining support and understanding for what we do is done one person, one taxpayer, one politician, one child, etc. at a time and it’s done by you.
You want public support for our HSF? Then it’s up to you to garner it. Teach your family, friends, post a blog, whatever, but make time to teach about what you do. That child you see playing with a toy spacecraft at the store or on the playground, can be overjoyed at their good luck to have you talk with them and their parents for five minutes (show some pictures on your phone of your workplace) about what you do and why you do it. While you may not remember the encounter days later, they will remember it for years to come and will have passed on the news that they met someone from “NASA” who works on rockets to their family and friends and that he took time to speak with them.
When someone sees your Boeing, Lockheed, USA, SpaceX, etc. sticker on your car or on your tee-shirt and ask about it, make time and show them some pictures and talk a little bit about your job. You are the “expert” to them and they may never have an opportunity again in their lifetime to meet someone from a space center. Is five minutes of your time worth it when you will give them a positive memory of space exploration for a lifetime? I hope so. You will find the experience just as rewarding as the person will when you make time to share your “expertise.”
Last night Gregory N. Cecil, M.A.S., a 2003 alumni of the SpaceTec program (the Gemini Class) appeared on The Space Show hosted by Dr. David Livingston. The interview went so well that it went a half hour over the scheduled time. There were many good calls and email questions from all over the world and Kennedy Space Center.
You can download to the interview or listen online at the following link:
http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/1452-BWB-2010-11-03.mp3 This is the direct URL to the interview.
You can also subscribe to The Space Show podcast on iTunes and download this interview and many other worthwhile interviews to listen too.
This is a discussion forum unlike many on the web today. It’s actually an adjunct to a serious professional development site run for the National Science Foundation, and as such, it has a defined goal and some boundaries within which we operate. Even so, we have an enormous amount of flexibility in what we do, and that’s a good thing because it’s required for our success in a very large endeavor – preparing the next generation of space explorers to reach out and touch the stars.
Blogs are many things, depending on both the people who prepare them and those who choose to tune in and contribute. I hope you find on this blog the opportunity to learn some new things about our current and future space programs, and to leave your own “mark” among the many thoughts that we hope will take up residence here. We ask only that you maintain an open mind, use decent language, and engage in respectful debate as we explore for ourselves some of the most interesting and challenging work available to humans today – the fruitful exploration of space using both manned and unmanned means.
This blog is sponsored by SpaceTEC® – the nation’s only Center designated as a focal point for education and credentialing of aerospace technicians. Although many know about the engineers, scientists, and astronauts who make the news from time to time, few know much about the lives and careers of the people who touch the hardware and operate the software that powers the machines designed to take men, women, and robotic probes into deep space and eventually on to the surfaces of planets well beyond our own small solar system.
If you want to know more about what it takes to begin a career as an aerospace technician or to join in discussions about the world of hands-on work in some very fascinating fields, this is the place for you. Sign on, join in, and let us hear from you. With a little luck you’ll find friends and ideas that stimulate your interests and cause new ambitions in your life. One thing is for sure; as quoted from Ken Blanchard, who helped author the book: “One Minute Manager”, none of us is as smart as all of us.
Let’s have some fun as we make things better, pass along what we know about this world, and reach for the stars.