NASA’s space program is a “job for life,” and the job is increasingly getting more challenging for young engineers who can expect to earn less than $100,000 a year.
A new survey finds that aerospace engineers are leaving their jobs because of the competitive landscape, lack of flexibility, and poor pay.
One in five aerospace engineers say they are now planning to leave the job in the next two years, a number that is higher than the average attrition rate for other STEM fields, according to the survey.
The survey of more than 700 current and former NASA employees also found that most aerospace engineers do not feel their skills are valued, and that they feel they are underpaid compared to other STEM workers.
The survey also found a high percentage of respondents say they were not told how much they could expect to be paid in the upcoming two years.
The average annual salary for a spaceflight engineer is around $130,000, according the survey, which was conducted by CareerBuilder, a recruiting and job-hunting platform.
The median salary for aerospace engineers is around the $130k range, and those who have made a career out of the industry are earning more than half that, according a recent report by HR magazine.
“In this field, we’ve been conditioned to believe we are valued and we’re getting paid well,” says Jason L. Pappas, who leads the aerospace program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The reality is that in this field you have to take a big risk to get a good job.
In some ways, we have a little bit of a bubble here.”
A few factors are driving this exodus of space engineers, according, according Lottie Fink, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Washington.
The cost of spaceflight, the competitive nature of the job, and the perception that the industry is less flexible than in other fields, which has also caused some aerospace engineers to leave, have all played a role in the decline of the aerospace engineering industry, she says.
“Spaceflight is very competitive and the space industry is a very small market,” Fink says.
“We have been in a competitive market for decades and that has played a huge role in this.”
In the last few years, NASA has been working to streamline its workforce by reducing the number of space missions and reducing the size of the space station, a move that has helped to drive a surge in aerospace engineering students and jobs.
But, Fink notes, this is also causing a backlash in the industry.
“If you are going to do something that is not the right thing, then you need to be flexible and do things that you think will work out well,” she says, “or that are not going to create as much trouble as you think they will.”
“I think the biggest thing that’s holding us back is we’re not taking risks,” Fisk says.
The Next Web spoke with aerospace engineers about what it’s like to leave their job and what they’re looking forward to next.
Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauraSexton.