How is recruitment in the satellite industry changing?

With technology advancing at speed and acquisitions aplenty, it’s a challenging time for those in the satellite industry. How has this change impacted recruitment in the sector? We caught up with Ian Stammers, Founder and Managing Director of Satellite Talent Ltd to find out.

  1. What are the key challenges currently facing the satellite industry in terms of recruiting talent?

Companies are currently facing three key challenges:

  • Competition: Over the past 12 months the industry has become candidate driven, which will continue in 2017. With more players moving into the market, salaries will be driven up as companies fight for the best talent and work to retain their best.
  • Lack of talent: There are not enough graduates coming through. Why is this? From what I have seen over the last 10 years, I’d say that larger OEM’s within spacecraft manufacturing haven’t been able to keep up, in terms of offering attractive salaries which are in-line with the operators.
  • Churn: This is due largely to a lack of talent alongside a skills shortage.
  1. How has recruitment in the satellite industry changed over recent years?

I started recruiting into the industry back in 2006. I placed some of Yahsat’s ‘C’ Level team and around 30 others throughout their business. Their recruitment procedure was tough, but they had the backing of Abu Dhabi’s Investment Arm so had the budget to attract the best – which of course they did.

Since then, many new players have come into the market, both operators and Earth Observation companies. There have also been acquisitions; Hughes bought out by EchoStar, O3b acquired by SES, EMC acquired by GEE, Harris CapRock acquired by SpeedCast, and so on. Due to competition, bandwidth prices have been driven down which has had a knock-on effect for recruitment.

Globally, salaries have stood still over the last 2-3 years. Despite this, companies are demanding more. It’s common for job descriptions to compress two or three positions into one. On top of this, ever changing technologies provide challenges to recruitment and within IT / Networking companies are increasing the knowledge and experience criteria within job descriptions, you often have to be a SME in multiple areas to be successful.

  1. What are the key skills you look for when recruiting a graduate or young person into a role in the industry?

Most of the positions we recruit are mid to senior management. The graduates we have placed previously i.e. spacecraft controllers, would usually have an MSc in Mobile and Satellite Communications / BEng Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering or similar, and would have attended a reputable university like Surrey University in the UK, or Delft University in Netherlands. Unfortunately, without the degree it’s extremely hard to get into the satellite industry on both the manufacturing and engineering side.

At present, there aren’t enough graduates coming through in order to keep up with the pace of the industry. It’s an industry worth over $200 billion and with a 3% growth rate YoY, we need to do more to get young people through. Not all companies have the time, capacity or budget to do this, they need experts who have the experience which is why you see an average age of 45-55 within the sector.

  1. Advances in tech are changing the scope of the satellite industry massively, to what extent has this changed the roles that you typically recruit for?

The release of new technologies means that we are always recruiting for new positions, covering areas including HTS in Engineering, SDN/NFV within Network Architecture and more. There are limited numbers of people experienced in new technologies, so it’s important to partner with the right recruitment firm that has the network to source these niche candidates.

Another recent change has come from service providers who are fighting it out within IFC (In-Flight Connectivity), a huge global market. Over the coming years we will see In-Flight Connectivity on long-haul and short-haul flights alike. IFC is a hugely competitive sector and again a candidate driven market. Car connectivity is on the horizon too, resulting in even more companies fighting it out to attract the best talent.

  1. Tech start-ups and tech giants like Facebook are beginning to move into the satellite space, has this widened the variety of roles on offer in the sector?

The aim of the industry is to provide reliable, fast, cost effective connectivity to consumers, businesses or governments within a geographical area. Regardless of the technologies being used, the core areas of the business will stay the same.

The expected launch of hundreds of LEO satellites over the next two years may introduce a problem though, in that launch companies may not be able to keep up with the demand. Perhaps there’ll be a gap in the market here, especially in the UK who are wanting to establish a UK Spaceport by 2018. This will allow smaller satellites to be launched from the UK, which will boost UK competiveness and reduce reliance on other spaceports out of our control.

The satellite industry is a tough, challenging and demanding industry to be involved with, but it’s also highly rewarding if you get your business model right.

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