At a space industry event, hosted by Shoal on 26 February, we sparked a discussion around skills needed in our future workforce. We looked at those that young people needed to develop, as well as those companies needed to hone to attract the best and brightest to the Australian Space Industry. You can find out more about our ideas here. We then held a discussion with a panel of young professionals.
Meet our ‘future workforce’ panel:
Note: This transcript was taken from a recording of the panel discussion. We have done our best to be true to the panelists words and, where unsure, have inserted [brackets like this].
John: I’d like to remind you about Nikita’s point [read her presentation here]. This is a really rare opportunity to hear directly from the next generation, who are making big decisions on what our industry will look like. We also have industry leaders in the room, decision makers, so now’s the time to make your points heard. Let’s get to know our panel members. Aiesha is currently an intern at Fleet Space Technologies. She’s been working with them for 3 months. At the moment, she is studying Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Adelaide. Aiesha, what inspired you to get in to STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths)?
Aiesha: Well, I’ve always loved maths and physics and science, and I just figured I was going to do something with that. But I actually got into the space industry back in year eleven, where I went “I know someone in the space industry. I’ll try to do my research project on rockets.” I was way over my head, had a lot of fun doing it and I haven’t stopped doing space stuff since.
John: Amazing. Thanks Aiesha. Next up we have Hannah Vine Hall, who is a space segment intern with Myriota, and she’s been working with them for about two months. She’s in the third year of a Bachelor of Mechatronic Engineering and Bachelor of Mathematics. What got you in to STEM Hannah?
Hannah: I suppose there’s three things that have happened in my life that have sort of helped me on this path. Firstly, it would be being involved in CSIRO Science Outreach Programs in primary school. The second would be having the opportunity to go up to the Simpson Desert when I was really young and getting to see the stars without light pollution and everything, and becoming completely obsessed. And, finally having some really, really great maths and science teachers in my final years of high school.
John: Brilliant. Thanks Hannah. Alright, next up, Lewis McCluskey. Lewis McCluskey is a modelling and simulation engineer with Southern Launch. That means he models rocket trajectories. He was the director of the Australian Universities Rocket Competition and is a graduate with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Adelaide. What got you in to STEM and space Lewis?
Lewis: I suppose I have my parents to thank for . From a very young age, my parents loved space, my Dad was a child in the sixties so he grew up with the Apollo missions – wanted to be an astronaut of course. And my Mother, also a huge sci fi lover. So, there’s a great photo of me as a baby in diapers, it’s embarrassing, I don’t want to show you guys, at the science convention next to a Dalek. So, really, I kept following my heart and my passion for space and that really led me to here.
John: Great. Making science fiction, science fact. Alright, finally, we have Victoria Myers. She’s now a Graduate Engineer with Shoal, and she got in to Shoal through our 2018 internship program. She has a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and Sports Engineering. What got you in to STEM and space and science?
Victoria: I think it’s kind of a mix of all the other panelists. My Dad is an engineer so I feel like he’s kind of contributed to it. He’s always got me questioning “why do things work?”, “how do they work?” and I’m sure he got a bit sick of my asking all the time. But I think it’s also similar to what Hannah said. So, having the support from my year eleven and twelve teachers and having them really try and push me to achieve my best, so I have them to thank for it as well.
John: Thanks so much. Alright, so we have some tough questions. We have got a lot of categories here. We’ve got fifteen minutes. So, I think we’ll take the conversation where it goes and where it’s interesting. But we have questions on empowering the next generation, equality in the workplace, climate change, and then one, final, challenging, hypothetical question. There’s no point having a roaming mic if I can’t roam, so I’ll move over here. Alright, so, Aiesha, what surprised you most about beginning your internship and your career in the industry?
Aiesha: I guess what surprised me was almost how different it was from Uni. I came in expecting to just sit down and do a lot of maths and instead I got to do a lot of hands on building. Just had a lot of fun – Flavia’s in the back so I’m not going to say anything negative. But I came in there expecting to just be at a desk, doing maths, getting coffees, and I’ve just had too much fun building and trying electronics and doing a lot of the things that I never that I’d actually get the opportunity to do.
John: That’s amazing. What about you Lewis? What has surprised you most about your career?
Lewis: I suppose what surprised me most about the transition from University into a career now, is outside the passion and buzz for space right now is really strong, and I was wondering if that continued on inside industry too. And it absolutely has. It was a pleasant surprise for me to see that it’s still a passion that’s driving us internally and it’s a real honour to be working.
John: That’s amazing. A lot of passion in the room. So, when Nikita introduced what it takes to employ someone of the next generation, I think we’d really like to understand more and hear directly from you on what’s important to you in an employer. Vic, what’s important to you in an employer?
Victoria: I think it’s really important to be an inclusive company and also being known by everybody and actually getting to know your staff. So, you’re not just another number, you’re not just another intern or a grad. You actually get to know everyone within the company, including Michael, I have chats with him every day, it’s great. I guess it’s also important to be challenged, but also to be trusted with the work that you do. So not necessarily being spoon fed on how to do it but also knowing that you’re able to ask anyone in the company for support when you do need it. I think that’s also really important.
John: Thanks Vic. Nikita before spoke a bit about values and impact point. Hannah, what sort of impact do you want to make in your career? How important is impact to you?
Hannah: I think it’s really important. With Space, there’s such a big potential to make a big impact. Going off what the Shoal interns are doing with that, has a huge potential to impact on an everyday person’s life. And to me, it’s a huge thing and really, really important to me.
John: Open question. Do we think that modern businesses are listening to the next generation?
Hannah: Well, from my experience at Myriota, I’ve found that they’ve been very interested to find out what myself and what the rest of the interns feel about the hiring processes. So, I remember last week, we had a very, very in-depth conversation. They’d just done a bunch of hiring for grad roles, and they were asking about our opinions on their process and then our opinions on the process that resulted in us getting hired. And they were really, really, enthusiastic about it and [it] definitely seemed like they wanted to take it on board. So, at least from my experience they seem to be.
John: So, as an intern, you feel like you’re having impact. You’re already having an influence on the Australian Space sector. That’s amazing. Lewis, what sort of influence do you get to have on the Australian Space sector at Southern Launch?
Lewis: Well at Southern Launch, […] for a rocket launch obviously. It’s really exciting to be able to [be involved in] modelling and simulating a rocket launch. And, working with international rocket manufacturers, that to me is really exciting. Yeah, I love it.
John: Amazing. Victoria, what impact do you get to make at Shoal?
Victoria: Continuing on from my last point. It’s the fact that I’m listened [to] at Shoal, and I know that I can talk to people if I have any ideas or concepts that I want to bring up. I feel comfortable doing that as well. It’s something that’s welcomed at Shoal.
John: Amazing. Would anyone else like to comment? Aiesha, what about your impact?
Aiesha: I think it’s a lot of what Vic was saying, about, just feeling welcomed and feeling that you can say “hey I’ve got an idea” and people actually listen to you and take your ideas moderately seriously. And it’s just a very welcoming environment.
John: Moderately seriously. Alright, I’ve got a moderately serious question. Let’s start with Aiesha again. What skills do you think are most important for the future workforce? They may be technical, soft skills. What comes to mind?
Aiesha: I think for the future workforce, the most important things are going to be a lot more of being connected and actually having a connection with everyone you know. Being able to communicate with more people than just your small team. Being able to bounce ideas off each other and being able to just listen and communicate with each other. That’s going to have a lot better impact on what ideas end up coming out and how the team works as a whole.
John: Hannah. What do you think? Soft skills? Technical skills? What’s important?
Hannah: Well, one thing that’s been really highlighted in the last two months of my time at Myriota has been the influence of being able to engineer systems. Just systems engineering. It’s not something that’s really taught at a University level at all, and if it is taught, it’s not taught very much. But I suppose that ability to get an understanding of all sorts of things very quickly and then drawing information from a wide range of sources to solve the problem. And, working with different projects and managing the whole project as a whole. A lot of project management, systems engineering – that’s really important.
John: Lewis, do you get to apply much systems engineering in your role? What technical skills do you think are important?
Lewis: Technical skills wise, I think there’s a bunch of them, not just technical ones. But a willingness to learn and to learn new things, are very important, especially right now, when we’re all doing relatively new things in Australia. Importantly for soft skills, it’s really important to communicate internally with all your peers. I suppose those two main ones are what I would say for the soft skills. Technically wise, in modelling and simulation, being able to self verify is very important. If anyone’s doing any modelling and simulation, garbage in equals garbage out. So that’s a really important one to try and manage and make sure that [it is effective].
John: Vic. Go on. What do you think?
Victoria: Well I feel like a lot of those important skills have been highlighted by most of the panellists. So, things like communications, systems engineering and a bit of the technical skills as well. It’s also knowing your own abilities and being able to actually figure out what those abilities are. So, knowing when to ask for help instead of getting to the end of a project and realising that you didn’t know how to do anything. Being able to speak up when its needed, so that’s really important as well.
John: Alright. Let’s change to another topic. The Australian Space sector. Lewis, what do you think are the advantages of beginning your career in Australia and even in South Australia?
Lewis: Well, as a graduate from the University of Adelaide, I walked ten steps to my first job, it was great. So being in the area is very useful. Australia, just beginning here, it’s amazing. Because we unfortunately, we aren’t [big], but now we’re really catching up and leading in other places too. And so that to me is an advantage of starting in Australia now. It’s really exciting, the emerging space sector. It’s awesome.
John: Hannah. South Australia, another great South Australian company. What are the benefits of beginning here? Do you have dreams to go overseas or would you like to stay here?
Hannah: Well, when I first started getting interested in space, I thought for sure I was going to have to go overseas. That was just not even a question. But now, I can see that there is a chance and its highly probable that I might actually get to stay, not only in Australia, but in Adelaide. And, it’s basically the same sort of thing, Adelaide is becoming the space hub of Australia. And I was able to just duck across the road for my interview, and that’s really cool.
John: Aiesha. Dreams of going over to NASA or working for the European Space Agency, when you can just do it here.
Aiesha: Well initially when I started getting interested in space I thought “I’ve got to go over to the European Space Agency (ESA) or NASA,” then I realised if I wanted to work for NASA I’d probably have to get a citizenship. So, I went “nope” I’ll go to the ESA instead. But now that we’re getting the space industry here and now that all the companies are starting to come up I’ve realised that I [don’t have to move], which is great because I love it here, and like they say, you just walk out the door, go down the road, get a bus and get to Fleet, it’s easy.
John: Victoria. What do you want to do with the space sector and are you going to do it here?
Victoria: I think, the best part about space in Australia and having this new space industry, is that we haven’t had it, and everyone has just been waiting and waiting and now it’s here. And so everyone is just super pumped and super excited and so we have such a strong community around it because everyone is just super excited to get on board with it.
John: Perfect. Let’s change topic again. So, before the drinks, we were doing a practice panel and there was a lot of passion on the practice panel on the topic of equality and diversity in the workplace. So, I did a bit of number crunching. Approximately 10% of astronauts are women, and according to an Australian Academy of Sciences Report, the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, women only make up 16% of the Australian STEM skilled workforce. Hannah, what do employers need to do better to get women in to STEM?
Hannah: There’s a lot. We were discussing before, in particular, helping to encourage the future generations. So, the problem generally starts at a young age, and we need to figure out a way to encourage a wide range of people, not just females, to pursue science and pursue STEM, and see it is a viable career option. We were talking about how companies should be involved more in outreach to school aged kids, not just university. Getting involved with twelve-year olds, where that interest seems to drop dramatically. Not just going in and talking to them, but actually showing them the potential things that they could be doing in the future and showing them that there is actually a career for them in that industry and that it’s not just an exclusive club.
John: Aiesha, do companies have a responsibility to increase diversity in the workplace?
Aiesha: I think, because we are starting the space industry right now, I think it’s very important that we do come in with that strong diversity of men and women from all across Australia, all across the world. Because if we get into the industry in ten, fifteen years and go “oh we need to start a diversity program”, it’s almost too late because we’ve been having this industry in a world that’s moving towards a diverse workforce and society. We need to start right at the beginning, and luckily, the space industry is right at the beginning, we can say from the get go “we are going to be a diverse industry.”
John: Yeah, and representative of the panel this evening. It’s awesome. So, Lewis, you’re in a rare situation, the only man on the panel in an engineering sector. What do you think companies should be doing better to increase gender diversity in the workplace?
Lewis: It’s really what Hannah said. Getting involved with outreach events is definitely the best way to do it. Sending engineers to high schools and primary schools, presenting to them and showing them the opportunities that are available and out there. Showing them hands on, practical things too. Model rockets, obviously I’m biased because I’m involved with rockets, but getting model rockets and doing that sort of outreach with them. Getting the hands on, and showing them afterwards that there is a career, there is a pathway, really inspires them at an early age. And I think back to myself, and I thank my parents for having a love in space. I remember my dad buying a telescope and looking at the moon and seeing how amazing that was. I think if we can do more things like that with anybody that’s young and inspire them then and hopefully continue to get their interest afterwards.
John: Victoria. What could businesses be doing better? I remember, in your internship interview, that was your first question. What’s Shoal doing to increase gender diversity in the workplace? It’s very important to you.
Victoria: I think, something that companies shouldn’t be doing, is quotas. I think quotas is not a fix. If anything, it makes it worse, because you have people come up to you and say “you’re a female in engineering, you’re not going to have an issue getting a job.” That’s kind of offensive, right? But, I agree with everything that all of the panellists have said when it comes to getting younger girls, younger women involved in STEM. But it’s also about keeping women in STEM, so those who study STEM subjects, but also those who are still in the actual industry. It’s keeping them within the industry. That’s where companies can change. Giving people opportunities such as flexible workhours, or just avoiding that ‘boys-club’ mentality that people always go on about. But, the thing is, things are changing. And it’s also just based on all of the colleagues surrounding you, so yes I may work in an company and industry that’s dominated by males, but, the people that I do work with are supportive and they actually make me feel like I want to be a part of that industry.
John: Amazing. Great answer. Let’s move on to climate. So, Aiesha, what approaches or technologies can the space industry use to combat climate change?
Aiesha: Well I think this is a great point that was actually brought up by the internship team of the whole space monitoring. Being able to observe our climate from space and do the monitoring without having to go out and do the individual, time consuming data collection. We can go, “this is what we’ve got, this is what we’re dealing with, that forest is burning down, we need to do something about it.” And space has some of the best observation technology that we can put out there and we can go “this is a problem, we need to fix it”. We’ve got the data without spending days upon days upon years of gathering it ourselves. We’ve got a very quick, very easy, very [accessible data set]. This is how we will make a change and this is how we can see what our policies are doing and what impact we’re having.
John: So, Hannah. Do you think the next generation are concerned about climate change?
Hannah: Definitely. There are frequent protests constantly, and a lot of them are populated by young people. And I suppose that is was a way that the space industry could attract the future workforce. It’s basically making sure that the future workforce is aware of the potential role that space can play, and actually has played, in climate awareness and climate policy and all that sort of stuff. It started with the space program, with that photo from the moon looking back at the earth. That’s basically what started it all. Making sure that young people are aware of that and aware of where it could go in the future will hopefully bring more people in to the space industry.
John: So, Lewis, what approaches or technologies could the space industry use to combat climate change?
Lewis: I suppose I’m a bit biased when it comes to Southern Launch but I think access to space and allowing for rapid prototyping of satellites that deal with climate change is very important otherwise, with long lead times developing and prototyping and you’ll find out that something is wrong and it takes a while before you can access space and get it up there again. So, that to me in a way is a critical space technology or access I suppose, which should be really focused on.
John: Nailed it. Victoria, do companies have a responsibility to think about their impact on the climate and companies in the space sector?
Victoria: 100%. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be thinking about that. I mean, every person in general should be thinking about their contributions to the environment. But as a company, you’re in this position where you can actually start to make a change, or you’re in this position where you’re contributing to climate change. So it’s up to you to make the switch to create a better world.
John: Amazing. Alright, I’m going to roam for the final hypothetical question. So, I’d like an answer from each one of you to wrap it up. You’re the head of the Australian Space Agency. There’s a healthy budget. The year is 2020. That’s now. What is your trailblazing project? A project that may inspire, may galvanise, but ultimately bring us in to the future?
Victoria: I guess mine isn’t necessarily a project, it’s more of an initiative. Do I have an unlimited budget?
Victoria: Cool. I guess it’s just giving everyone equal opportunities, so if anyone is interested in space, they can get into it. So, some people aren’t as lucky as others when it comes to actually getting educated, but giving people these opportunities, as the more people we have, the greater achievements we can meet.
John: What’s the trailblazing project?
Lewis: I’ll give two answers, because one of them is already trailblazing now, with quite a realistic chance of happening. It’s having an all Australian launch. An Australian launched rocket, launching from Australia, on an Australian owned launch site, launching Australian payloads. That to me is really inspiring, but if I had an unlimited budget, I would say let’s get a jar of Vegemite in to orbit. That would be great for Australia.
John: Amazing. Hannah.
Hannah: The reality is, space is expensive, and the way that we can increase the investment in the space industry is educating the public on the importance of space and how it impacts them on a daily basis. I suppose, we should invest as much money as we could in to doing stuff like the centre just there [Australian Space Agency] which will open up soon. Getting people excited and people understanding just how important space is and then hopefully letting the money roll in.
John: Nice. Cash money. Alright, Aiesha, lucky last.
Aiesha: So, the thing about saying unlimited budget is that I would say send a bunch of school kids to get them really passionate about it because they’ve been to space. But that is probably going to the be on the expensive end of an unlimited budget, so I’d say the next best thing is doing the outreach programs, doing the programs in school, getting engineers in to the schools and not just giving them talks but going “alright, here’s some electronics. Let’s build a very simple robot that’s going to go in circles” and get the kids involved, get them interested, get them passionate about engineering and space in particular and get them wanting to do it throughout high school and doing it in the future.
John: Amazing. Ladies and gentleman, can I get a huge round of applause for our future workforce.