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Why a diverse workforce is key to the space economy

Texas—already inextricably woven into America’s space DNA—can facilitate another great leap toward a robust, representative space economy and society.

In many ways, Texas is already synonymous with space. Rice University was the launch pad for President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot in 1962. To this day, Houston is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center and a number of leading aerospace companies that also have operations in other cities across the state. Texas companies are helping to develop next-generation space suits, space stations and space-based engineering systems to support future space exploration and commercial activities.

A recent PwC aerospace industry report ranked Texas as the most attractive US state for the aerospace industry overall and economically. According to the report, 138,000 Texans work in aerospace and defense, and the state is home to 18 of the world’s top 20 aerospace manufacturers. The Austin Chamber of Commerce tracks 15 aerospace companies employing more than 12,000 people in the capital area alone.

Austin also features one of America’s premier gatherings dedicated to diversity, representation and the creative exchange of ideas at SXSW. This year’s program was packed with space themes. At a time when Texas is poised to make unprecedented public investment in the commercial space, SXSW’s focus on diversity and inclusion helps underscore the importance of representation to maximize the potential of the future space economy.

As the industry grows, it needs to do more to take full advantage of a diverse workforce. Not enough women or people from underrepresented groups are graduating from the nation’s college engineering programs. These groups are more prone to falling out of the talent pipeline in grades K-12, where more than 5 million students annually do not have quality access to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) opportunities.

This means that industry cannot access the talent and skills that large parts of our population have to offer. If we want to realize the full potential of the future space economy and become a truly space-faring society, we must make space inclusive and accessible to all.

I was privileged to speak on this topic during SXSW as part of my commitment to address a systemic lack of employee diversity. At the National Space Symposium last April, I joined two dozen other CEOs and senior executives to sign the Space Workforce 2030 pledge to increase the representation of women and professionals from underrepresented communities in both technical and senior leadership roles.

Success will require an industry-wide effort to invest in K-12 STEM programs and to align the percentage of these populations graduating in aerospace engineering with overall engineering graduation rates. Accepting individuals represented the entire US space industry – nonprofits, governments and private companies, from startups to large contractors. Several Texas companies, including several with strong ties to Austin, were the first to sign this pledge.

This is an excellent start, but this challenge will not be solved overnight. We hope that more companies will recognize the importance of this cause and join this pledge, which is designed to ensure accountability and transparency over time. Space Workforce 2030 companies have pledged to share aggregate technical workforce data annually through 2030 at Space Symposium, and we are preparing to release year one data in April.

Everyone who dreams of space deserves a chance to create their future. A year after his Moonshot speech, President Kennedy underscored the importance of inclusion when he said, “We can help make the world safe for diversity. Because ultimately, our most fundamental common ground is that we all inhabit this little planet.”

As Texas emphasizes its role in promoting US space leadership, its companies can also lead by example as the space industry commits to nurturing a more diverse and representative future workforce.

Isakowitz is President and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation. For more information, see Space Workforce 2030.

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