Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Special issue:
GC Insights
29 Apr 2022
GC Insights |  | 29 Apr 2022

GC Insights: Space sector careers resources in the UK need a greater diversity of roles

Martin O. Archer, Cara L. Waters, Shafiat Dewan, Simon Foster, and Antonio Portas

Educational research highlights that improved careers education is needed to increase participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Current UK careers resources concerning the space sector, however, are found to perhaps not best reflect the diversity of roles present and may in fact perpetuate misconceptions about the usefulness of science. We, therefore, compile a more diverse set of space-related jobs, which will be used in the development of a new space careers resource.

1 Introduction

Educational research shows participation issues across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are not due to school students' disinterest but whether students see these fields and their potential career opportunities as being for “people like me” (Archer and DeWitt2017, and references therein). These perceptions form early and remain relatively stable with age, which has led to recommendations for increased provision and quality of careers education/engagement at both primary and secondary levels (Archer et al.2013; Holman2014; Davenport et al.2020). Careers education provision in the UK specifically, however, is still not universal (despite mandates being in place), and that which is provided can often be patterned by societal inequities, unfortunately leaving some students' aspirations “dampened” (Abrahams2016; Archer and Moote2016; Moote and Archer2018a, b). It is therefore fair to say that high-quality careers-related materials are in demand by schools now more than ever.

A key problem in STEM participation is the perception that studying science is only for those that aspire to become scientists (Archer and DeWitt2017). This is in contrast with the wide range of careers both related to and beyond science that further STEM education can enable. Therefore, this “science = scientists” link needs to be broken by highlighting to young people and their key influencers (e.g. teachers, parents/carers, community leaders) the prevalence and relevance of STEM subjects to everyday life and a diverse selection of potential career paths (Archer and DeWitt2017; Davenport et al.2020; Archer et al.2021).

Good practice towards diversity in communications more generally may be gleaned from the numerous efforts aimed at improving the diversity within STEM fields, due to the under-representation of women, disabled people, and those from ethnic minorities or socially disadvantaged groups (Campaign for Science and Engineering2014). One common approach is to strive for equal representation of minority demographics, in for instance role models, so that those aspiring towards STEM can see “people like me” in those fields, which may help tackle damaging stereotypes (e.g. Huntoon and Lane2007; Prinsley et al.2016; González-Pérez et al.2020). In other words, equal weight should be given to all categories, irrespective of whether they constitute a majority or minority within society.

In this paper, we investigate the representation of the space sector within current careers resources to ascertain whether they align with these educational recommendations.

2 Current space careers resources

The space sector involves a wide range of upstream (making and sending objects to space), downstream (using these objects to deliver products/services for exploitation), and ancillary (providing specialised support) roles, with scientific activities spanning all three (Sadlier et al.2019; Sant et al.2021; know.space2021). In the UK alone there are 45 100 space-related roles in industry (0.14 % of the workforce), which support 126 300 jobs across the supply chain and generate GBP 6.6 billion (0.30 % of the gross domestic product). The UK space sector is currently undergoing rapid development with many emerging opportunities (e.g. space ports) that aim to drive further economic benefits. However, this can only be realised if there is a workforce trained and willing to undertake these new roles, highlighting the need for representation of space sector roles in careers education.

Figure 1(a) Breakdown of current UK space sector careers resources compared to the UK Space Census 2020 (Thiemann and Dudley2021). (b) Outcomes of χ2 statistical tests from these distributions. (c) Word cloud of the space roles chosen for a new resource, where colours relate to the categories in panel (a) (font sizes have no meaning).

The 2020 Space Census was the first national survey of the UK space workforce (Thiemann and Dudley2021), inclusive of both industry and academia. It provides, to our knowledge, the best current classification scheme and breakdown of the diverse roles present within the UK space sector. These are shown to the right of Fig. 1a. This scheme and these data are used as a benchmark for assessing current space careers resources.

We undertook desk research to find which careers resources for young people currently exist within the UK that aim to raise awareness and that describe a range of roles across the space sector. Our search criteria meant that we could not include resources targeted at other countries (e.g. USA; Angeles and Vilorio2016), which promoted careers within specific organisations (e.g. Serco2022), focused on only one aspect of the sector (e.g. Royal Academy of Engineering2018), simply listed current vacancies (e.g. Careersin.space2022), or just directed readers to other organisations (e.g. UK Space Agency2019). Only five sets with at least nine roles (i.e. one per space census category if evenly distributed) were found: Edge Barrow School (2017), European Space Education Resource Office (2021), Royal Astronomical Society (2017), (2021), and University of Edinburgh Careers Service (2016). If other resources within our criteria exist, they likely do not have considerable reach or impact. The jobs featured in each of the resources were classified using the space census scheme, performed independently by two people finding 91 % agreement (Cohen's κ=0.9; see Appendix A). Breakdowns of each set of resources by category are shown as the first four stacked plots in Fig. 1a. We tested whether the resources either had an even split of categories, which would best reflect diversity, or were representative of the space census. This was done through χ2 statistical tests (see Appendix A), with the outcomes listed in Fig. 1b below each stacked plot.

Our results show that, to high confidence, none of the current space careers resources has a near-even split of 11 % per category (corresponding to one to three roles in each). Indeed, between two and four of the categories are missing in each resource. Combining these tests into an overall result (see Appendix A) shows this conclusion is highly robust. Therefore, current resources are perhaps not best representing the diversity of space-related careers available.

Comparing the resources to the space census, we find that all of them over-represent scientific careers. Given the low levels of young people aspiring towards being a scientist from an early age (Archer and DeWitt2017), it appears that these resources may perpetuate misconceptions about the usefulness of science. On the other hand, the large proportions of “Other” careers across most sets mean that several less traditional career options related to space are being highlighted, which is advantageous. The statistics indicate the Edge Barrow School, Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), and resources are highly unrepresentative of the UK space sector. We cannot confidently claim this for the others, though they have relatively small numbers of roles. Nonetheless, combining the results again yields a highly significant conclusion that current space careers resources are generally unrepresentative of the sector.

Finally, we note that these resources tend to be targeted at upper-secondary and university students. Therefore, there appears to be a lack of space-related careers material aimed at the ages most in need of engagement, i.e. primary and lower-secondary students (Archer et al.2013; Holman2014; Davenport et al.2020).

3 Developing a new resource

Given these findings, we endeavoured to create a more diverse set of UK-based space careers for a new resource to be aimed at younger ages. This was achieved by contacting Imperial Space Lab's industrial partners, reading reports on the UK space sector (e.g. Sadlier et al.2019; Sant et al.2021; know.space2021), finding advertised vacancies, and more general online research. The list of roles was iterated several times until it was felt that the final set of 36 careers displayed in Fig. 1c, greater in number than current resources, well captured the diversity of the sector.

Our aim was that this set would have near-equal numbers in each job category. The breakdown is shown as the fifth stacked plot in Fig. 1a along with results of the statistical tests (panel b). These reveal that our set is indeed consistent with this aim and hence better represents the sector's diversity. Consequently, it is significantly different from the space census, though importantly no majority category from the census is over-represented. As with existing resources, “Other” careers form a significant fraction of the set, thereby highlighting less traditional paths. It is also worth noting that the high number of roles in administration, i.e. relating to the running of a business or organisation, was deliberate since “business” is by far the most popular aspiration amongst young people (Archer et al.2013). The application of these compiled roles to the design of a new careers resource is beyond the scope of this paper.

4 Conclusions

Educational research has revealed that improved careers education, particularly for younger ages, may be required to improve participation in STEM. This needs to highlight the diversity of career options STEM subjects can enable, breaking the misconception that science is only for scientists. Focusing on space-related careers, we have found that currently available UK resources perhaps do not best represent the diversity of roles present in the sector. In particular, there is an over-representation of scientists within them, which may perpetuate stereotypes. We have, therefore, compiled a more diverse set of space-related careers which does not appear to suffer from these issues. These roles will form the basis of a new space careers resource for primary and lower-secondary students, which we hope will better align with the recommendations from recent educational research.

Appendix A: Statistical methods

Cohen's κ is a measure of reliability for coding categorical items (McHugh2012). It is calculated as


where p0 is the proportional agreement among coders and pe is that expected by chance. κ ranges between 0 (consistent with random) and 1 (perfect agreement).

A χ2 test compares observed frequencies Oi within k categories to those expected Ei under some (null) hypothesis. The statistic is given by


where df are the degrees of freedom. Due to small numbers, p values (the probability of obtaining test results at least as extreme as those observed) were computed via 10 000 Monte Carlo simulations of χ2 for each resource's size under the hypotheses. If p<0.05, then the observations are considered significantly different.

p values of n independent tests for the same hypothesis can be combined using Fisher's 1925 method to arrive at an overall χ2 statistic


whose p value can be calculated.

Author contributions

MOA was involved in the conceptualisation, funding acquisition, supervision, formal analysis, visualisation, and writing of this work. CLW and SD designed the methodology, performed the investigation, and undertook data curation. SF contributed to project administration and supervision. AP provided resources and assisted with validation.

Competing interests

The contact author has declared that neither they nor their co-authors have any competing interests.


Publisher’s note: Copernicus Publications remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


We thank Jonathan Eastwood for his support in this project and research. This work has been made possible by Imperial College London's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme through funding from the Department of Physics and Space Lab. Martin Archer holds a UKRI (STFC/EPSRC) Stephen Hawking Fellowship EP/T01735X/1.

Financial support

This research has been supported by UK Research and Innovation (grant no. EP/T01735X/1), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (grant no. ST/W00545X/1), and Imperial College London (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme).

Review statement

This paper was edited by Shahzad Gani and reviewed by two anonymous referees.


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Short summary
Educational research highlights that improved careers education is needed to increase participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Current UK careers resources in the space sector, however, are found to perhaps not best reflect the diversity of roles present and may in fact perpetuate misconceptions about the usefulness of science. We, therefore, compile a more diverse set of space-related jobs, which will be used in the development of a new space careers resource.
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