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Why and How Private and Public Sectors Should Be Skyrocketing Nationals into Space Careers

In recent years, there has been a clear focus on the development of the space sector in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The increasing interest between life on Earth and space makes it crucial for the space sector to succeed across the region. For this to happen, more participation by national citizens is vital to ensure long-term sustainability. It is important that strategies are developed to raise awareness of careers available, to attract, retrain and develop existing national talent and to inspire the next generation and equip them with the skills needed.

By nurturing local talent, the region can cultivate a skilled workforce capable of providing services to the space agency, other government entities and the wider commercial ecosystem.

Engaging nationals in the countries’ respective space programmes brings about two key benefits. First, it stimulates economic growth by creating job opportunities and expanding the workforce. By nurturing local talent, the region can cultivate a skilled workforce capable of providing services to the space agency, other government entities and the wider commercial ecosystem. This not only strengthens the economy but ensures a deeper understanding of the local culture and language, facilitating smoother collaboration with government entities.

Second, training local talent in space sector disciplines establishes a knowledge transfer system and a knowledge-based economy. While foreign expertise and private sector capabilities have played crucial roles in getting the space programmes off the ground, the primary focus should now be on transferring operational knowledge and capabilities into the region’s own talent pool to secure a long-term solution.

The goal is to empower nationals with the necessary skillsets to contribute effectively to a self-sustaining ecosystem that drives innovation, research and development in the region, in view of achieving diversified economic prosperity.

Careers in the space industry are not out of reach

I believe space is and always will be a popular career ambition. News stories like the recent Saudi astronauts are both exciting and inspirational. However, a lot of people think it is perhaps a career out of their reach, or aren’t aware of the bigger ecosystem needed to support the more well-known elements of the industry.

The sector will require a variety of different roles, but these aren’t all new. STEM roles (science, technology, engineering and maths) for example, are at the beating heart of the industry and the skills are transferable across sectors. There is also a whole ecosystem of other equally important roles in other fields – be that in strategy, law, finance, logistics, marketing and not forgetting customer service – as space travel will almost certainly become a reality in the next few decades and beyond.

If the mission to the International Space Station by Rayyanah teaches us anything on the ground, it is that it demonstrates the huge strides being made to create a more open, inclusive and diverse environment. Given the space economy is on the brink of exponential growth in the region, it is an ideal opportunity to showcase what anyone can achieve. 

There are several routes that can be taken to develop the talent skills needed to nationalise the space sector. These will work best when combined, to not only ensure we have the right talent available now but also future proofing it for many years to come. Building a supportive programme for nationalisation will require:

On the job training

In these early days, much collaboration is needed between the public and private sector. Companies like my own, Serco, have decades of experience in the global space industry and of running training programmes internationally, so we can support by bringing this operational context into the region. We have trained personnel in various countries, such as the UK, the US and across Europe, in roles across operations, ground segment engineering, satellite communications and Earth observation and we provide dedicated training to spacecraft operators, for example.

This means we already have training packages that can be easily adapted to the needs of the local market. Take the training services we provide to future spacecraft operators handling European Space Agency missions. It's basically a spacecraft operations 101 for the government agencies or government personnel!

By investing in local training programmes, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can ensure the continuous passing down of knowledge and expertise within the country. This creates a circular ecosystem that can drive innovation, research and development in the space sector. Our Middle East Space Division will offer a variety of these types of training and career development programmes and will prioritise local hires to ensure we are bringing more nationals into these roles.

Targeting Younger Generations

To future-proof the space sector, there also needs to be plans made to not only train and empower those already in the job market but ensure that interest in the field is stimulated with younger generations. We have already seen great strides being made on this agenda, with the recent announcement by the Saudi Ministry of Education to integrate space sciences into secondary school curricula from 2023-24 onwards.

We could further complement this through Space Camps – that are already very popular internationally and a common educational resource in many markets. We have sponsored one in the UK, as an example, alongside the National Space Academy.

These Space Camps bring together a group of academics and industry to deliver immersive programmes in STEM related fields, applying theoretical knowledge in the context of space. Together with private sector companies with space experience, such as ourselves, we deliver weeklong, interactive and hands-on programmes to get students excited about space and make them more aware of the opportunities out there.

Space Camps can be tailored for younger teenagers to start impacting their future aspirations and also for students slightly older, who are applying to university, considering what subjects to study and whose career path is a bit more immediate. It is a useful exercise for providing younger generations with the ability to apply their knowledge into the space sector and improving the visibility and accessibility of the sector itself.

We know there are outreach programmes in the region already doing these types of initiatives, but I think there is more of an opportunity for the private sector and local government to get involved as part of the necessity for nationalising the industry.

Partnering with key research and academia

An essential component of nationalisation are research and academic entities, who are at the heart of nurturing the skills and talent that meet the growing needs of the national space sector.

Working with key academic and research partners within the Kingdom and within the UAE, we're seeing how we can build out both types of the above training programmes that leverages our operational experience.

Whether that is as whole training services we can provide, or whether through training centres that are established with some of these academic institutions.

Building training facilities

To enhance the impact of training, it is essential that nationals are provided with operational experience. There are two potential approaches to achieve this. The first is through a local simulation environment that is built around the operational experience we have accumulated over more than four decades. The second would leverage accessible operational facilities, such as our Serco ones in Europe, that are used to support civilian space programmes.

By sending personnel to these facilities, trainees would gain hands-on, operational training and first-hand exposure to the services we offer; we know international experts are highly supportive of this approach.

Collaborating with academic partners would also allow for the use of their facilities and resources for classroom-based training. Ultimately, the approach chosen would depend on the specific needs and objectives of our customers, and is one that we would adapt and tailor accordingly.

Start-up Programmes

Developing start-ups and fostering entrepreneurial mindsets in the region is a major opportunity that we know, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the region, is high on the agenda. Not only does this provide opportunities for economic growth, but it also facilitates the establishment of a nationalised environment with local champions.

Two routes exist to achieve this: incentivising global start-ups to establish local bases, hire and train local talent and creating local start-ups that directly employ local talent. Both approaches stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation and both are a necessity if space ambitions are to be realised.

The private sector with the help of government plays a crucial role in supporting innovation and the start-up ecosystem. This includes establishing accelerator and incubation programmes, providing a welcoming environment with support mechanisms to stimulate and prototype new ideas and to build sustainable businesses. Businesses supporting businesses within the same burgeoning sector, will stimulate economic growth and will secure more national roots.

In conclusion, building out the space economy into a viable, long-term pillar of the national agenda is a big task, but a necessary one. The nationalisation part of this plays a significant role and it can't be done in isolation. 

It needs to be a collaborative effort between governments, private sector organisations of all sizes and academic institutions – both schools and universities. Programmes need to be established to support that ecosystem, tailored to the needs of the local market, whilst still utilising international knowledge and experience to bring in operational context. It is a very exciting sector to be a part of and one that will undoubtedly bring stellar opportunities for many here in the region.

Amar Vora
Head of Space

Amar Vora is the Head of Space for the Middle East and is leading the growth and operations of Serco Middle East’s space business. Our aim is to build a local Space division, with locally trained team members, that will support the goals of national visions and space strategies in the region, while providing extensive space services for the benefit of local governments and the private sector across the region.

Amar has spent over a decade in the space industry, with experience across the value chain, defining new solutions and market strategies, across the space sustainability, Earth observation, satellite communications, launch, operations and space data services domains. Amar is also active in STEM-related space skills and outreach initiatives, supporting the growth of knowledge and future workforce in the industry.

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