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Aging NASA - and Industry - Workforce Creates Concern

The recently released Space Foundation report on the state of NASA and its potential future, PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space, addresses a number of aspects of the agency's performance and culture. It focuses on high-level issues at the agency and addresses performance and culture. While not specifically covered in the report, a frequently noted concern facing NASA - and, to almost the same degree, the aerospace industry as a whole - is the aging of the workforce.

Our analysis in The Space Report 2012 showed that, as of September 2011, more than 70 percent of the NASA workforce was between 40 and 60 years old. By contrast, the age profile of the overall U.S. workforce was more evenly distributed, with less than 45 percent in this range. The NASA workforce also had small number of younger professionals, with less than 12 percent under age 35. This age group made up 34 percent of the U.S. workforce.

SOURCE: NASA, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and U.S. Census Bureau

The demographics of the overall aerospace workforce show that, as older employees retire, companies are hiring young professionals to take their places - but attracting younger employees can be difficult. The 2011 edition of the annual Aviation Week Workforce Study found that 22 percent of U.S. aerospace and defense company workers were 35 years or younger, a percentage that nearly matches those 56 or older. The Aviation Week study included a targeted survey of young professional aerospace and defense workers that revealed concerns that the industry and government appear to be cutting back research and development expenditures, potentially resulting in less exciting and challenging work. The young professionals surveyed also said they felt that the industry was decreasing investment in continuing education support, something they value highly. Taken together, these two trends cause concern over retention of younger workers - a theme expected to come into greater focus as the U.S. space industry becomes increasingly multi-generational.

The recommendations in PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space do not directly address these workforce issues. They do, however, provide a means for NASA to regain the tools and stability to undertake an ambitious long-term program that expands human reach into space, which could re-energize the workforce and attract more workers. Read more about PIONEERING here and learn more about The Space Report 2012 here.

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