UK space sector needs more people with AI skills, according to survey

Space sector survey shows machine learning and artificial intelligence skills are highly sought after, as the industry struggles to recruit and retain people with the necessary talent

The UK space sector is in desperate need of more people with skills in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and software and data analysis skills, according to a survey.

The UK Space Agency’s Space sector skills survey 2023 surveyed businesses, government and academia, and found skills such as software and data analysis accounted for half of the unfilled roles across the sector.

It also found 95% of space organisations are experiencing skills-related issues, with 37% missing expertise in software and data analysis, and 21% needing AI and machine learning skills specifically.

The survey reported that while the demand for these skills has risen over the past three years, the demand for software and radio frequency engineering skills has decreased. This is due to recruitment and upskilling as well as changing priorities. And the need for software and data specialists is set to increase even further, according to the survey, due to the advancement of AI tools such as ChatGPT.

Half of those surveyed said they are struggling with skills gaps in their organisation, with 72% having skills gaps in software and data skills.

Many of these organisations are currently trying to recruit to fill these gaps, but 80% have found it difficult to find the right applicants, either due to them lacking the specialist skills or knowledge required, or because they didn’t have enough applicants for the position.

Several organisations (36%) are also trying to recruit from abroad, but 83% of those found it difficult to do so due to high costs and the complexity of the visa process.

Read more about the UK space sector and technology:

  • UK government committee clears regulation as contributing factor to UK satellite launch failure, but slams UK government for lack of action on vital component of space programme.
  • The UK Space Agency is funding projects such as climate change sensors, compact propulsion systems and satellite image analysis to support the nation’s space ambitions.
  • Cloud-based machine learning and other services are finding their way into space to analyse satellite imagery and monitor space debris, among other space applications. 

Dougle Liddle, chair of the Space Skills Advisory Panel and CEO of In-Space Missions, said in the report that the UK space sector “is not achieving its potential”.

“The sector’s ability to innovate, scale-up and deliver next generation solutions to today’s problems is being throttled by access to the diverse skill sets it needs to face these challenges,” he said.

“Unlocking this growth in the UK space sector requires a skilled workforce fuelled by a pipeline of talent and world-leading training provision. Addressing skills gaps and recruitment challenges are therefore a key priority for both government and industry.”

The survey was commissioned by the UK Space Agency and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to be the primary source of evidence to support the government’s understanding of the skills gaps in the sector.

The Space Agency has committed £15m across programmes aiming to inspire young people to pursue STEM careers and empower teachers to include space learning experiences in the classroom, as well as help open up pathways for more people to get into the industry in efforts to grow the national space workforce.

Anju Ojha, director for Championing Space at the UK Space Agency, said the rapidly evolving sector is home to “ambitious organisations pursuing cutting-edge science and technology, and generating significant investment opportunities”.

“We’re committed to catalysing this growth and ensuring a strong pipeline of highly skilled professionals into the sector,” he said. “The valuable information from this report strengthens this work by helping us build a clear picture of the skills landscape across the board, so we know where to focus our support.”

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