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Out of Work Astronauts? Changing Labor Market Signals Need for Flexible Career Skills

Some people dream of careers in space, but many more people these days are just dreaming of a career--any career--and that includes thousands of people who had careers in the space industry. In July, United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor that is a company equally owned by Lockheed Martin Corporation and The Boeing Company, sent layoff notices to 1,394 employees in Texas, Alabama, and Florida, noting that as of October 1, their NASA careers would be over. This initial downsizing represents 15 percent of the 8,100 people that are expected to be laid off because of the shuttle fleet's scheduled retirement in 2011. In total, CNN.com reported that 9,000 people are employed by the NASA shuttle mission.

Many of these displaced workers are doing one of three things: adapting and going after space industry jobs poised for growth, parlaying their technical skills into other strong industries that require a similar skill set, or transitioning to a new career. In addition to learning what industries and careers have strong opportunities, you can also learn a few important career tips, all thanks to the NASA layoffs.

Changing Job Market Requires Flexible Skills

Although many of the layoffs over the past few years have been due to a poor economy, others are a result of deeper structural changes in the labor market. And those jobs aren't likely to come back, leaving some workers in need of new career skills to deal with a new job market.

According to a May 2010 article in the New York Times, nearly 1.7 million Americans in office administrative positions have been downsized since the beginning of the recession. Other hard-hit industries include autoworkers, travel agents, and printing press operators. The New York Times reports that advancing technology and outsourcing of labor means many of these jobs are gone for good.

Yet even as jobs previously seen as stable disappear, new opportunities open up. Although NASA is laying off thousands of workers, that doesn't mean that the aerospace industry isn't looking for skilled employees. This industry is shifting its approach from reusable launch vehicles to single-use vehicles. Because of this, fewer production and assembly jobs will be available. However, the industry is expecting an increased demand for workers with skills and experience in new technologies such as robotics, advanced avionics design and engineering, and environmental systems design, among others.

Take-Away Career Points, Thanks to NASA

Even though you may not have been one of the NASA employees laid off, you can still learn a few things from their experiences and apply them to your own career plans.

  • Invest in continuing education: While many soft skills like communications or leadership are important in any industry, the value of most technical skills rises and falls over time. Stay current with new trends and techniques in your field through continuing online education or certification courses to make sure you stay as flexible as your industry.
  • Update your resume: Even if you're not job hunting, make sure you're documenting your positions and your achievements in quantifiable ways, just in case you need to look for a job.
  • Take advantage of programs: When he found out his 23-year career as a Boeing aerospace engineer would be coming to an end, Juan Vasquez took advantage of some free entrepreneurship classes so that he would know how to successfully operate the two laundromats that are now his full-time job and business. With the condition of the economy, many state and local agencies are offering career training and services that can boost both your resume and your hireability.

With so many industries shifting priorities, restructuring their workforce, or just plain downsizing, career flexibility is key. Whether you're an astronaut or an office clerk, online education is one way to make sure you keep your skills current and stay ahead of shifts in the job market.

 


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