The space industry is one of the most future-focused fields, intent, in part, on seeing humankind achieve a robust off-planet existence. Whether it’s settling on Mars, finding more efficient ways to grow food or searching for life beyond Earth, space exploration has captured the minds of young people for decades. But it has been somewhat of a challenge to encourage Gen Z, who are as of this writing about 10 to 25 years of age, to choose aerospace careers as they enter the workforce.
During their early years, Gen Zers witnessed unprecedented technological transformation. They also saw firsthand the devastating results of global warming and systemic inequality. On track to be the highest-educated generation yet, their unique experiences and skills could revolutionize the way we think about space.
Young adults working in the industry have already made clear what needs to happen for Gen Z to embrace the new era of space travel. For starters, they want to see changes in the industry, such as greater diversity and gender equality, stronger sustainability policies, and more youth-oriented programs.
With that in mind, here are four ways aerospace leaders can appeal to the next generation.
CREATE A VALUES-ORIENTED MISSION STATEMENT
As a whole, Gen Z tends to be more progressive than previous generations. They take the effects of climate change, inequality, and discrimination seriously and want to work for companies that share their values. They especially hope to work with ones that go beyond lip service when it comes to practicing sustainability, supporting people of color and LGBTQ folks, and supporting mental health initiatives.
Aerospace organizations and the space industry at large are focused on the future: one where humans reimagine life both on and off Earth in more equitable and sustainable ways. Proving to Gen Zers that these space exploration efforts align with their values is the first step toward encouraging their participation in the field. We should take time to review any mission statements and make sure our forward-thinking messages are clear to prospective employees.
GET SERIOUS ABOUT INCLUSION EFFORTS
Gen Z is also more racially and ethnically diverse than older cohorts. But the space industry remains predominantly white and male. Only one in five space industry workers are women, according to the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs. People of color constitute an even smaller amount of the workforce.
Efforts to correct this imbalance are already underway, as evidenced by the signing of the Space Workforce 2030 pledge at the 2022 Space Symposium. The pledge—signed by more than 20 leaders in the industry—aims to “significantly increase the number of women and employees from underrepresented groups” in the workforce, among other goals. The pledge requires signatories to submit annual data on their efforts.
Other ways to increase diversity are centered on the hiring process itself: studies suggest that “blind job applications” (i.e., reviewing applications without names or other identifying materials on them) can significantly increase the number of underrepresented people hired by a company.
Many Gen Zers are passionate about space exploration and far less willing to tolerate discrimination and unfair workplace practices. If we’re to meet Gen-Z where they are, the space industry must implement new policies when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
FOSTER A COLLABORATIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT
Like Millennials before them, “Zoomers” tend to value teamwork over individual success. As digital natives, many grew up sharing important milestones, goals, and dreams with peers across the globe. Recognizing and supporting Gen Z workplace habits like this can benefit the space industry, which is already leaning into collaborative practices such as open-source projects and vows to tackle the issue of space debris. Being transparent about organizational decisions and requesting feedback will help build trust and rapport with Gen Z employees.
If the original Space Race was defined by nations vying to be the first to achieve space flight, lunar landing, and satellite launches, Gen Z will all but guarantee efforts at international and inter-organizational collaboration to define the new space age.
SUPPORT STEAM OPPORTUNITIES IN K-12 SCHOOLS
The people who make up Gen Z were born between 1996 and roughly 2012, meaning many are still in middle and high school. These years are crucial for developing an interest in STEAM fields (science, tech, engineering, art, and mathematics), which are crucial to the future of space flight. From sustainable food-growing technology to accessible space station design, Gen Zers are especially cognizant of how we need to adapt to protect our environment and build new ones.
But while many schools incorporate STEAM education, resources for such programs are often unequally distributed along socioeconomic lines. As this generation enters the workforce, their understanding of what opportunities exist is influenced by what they were offered in their formative years. Supporting organizations like Geeks Rule and ELSO, which provide STEAM programming for disadvantaged children, can help bring more bright young people into the space industry. Similarly, aerospace companies can devote funds and services directly to schools in order to foster curiosity about space travel and exploration in Gen Z students.
Chairman & CEO, Voyager Space Holdings. Full bio available at www.dylantaylor.org.