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Space workforce development with Bryce Kennedy.

Are we doing enough to prepare students for working in the space industry? Hear from insights from Space Lawyer and ACSP President Bryce Kennedy.



Deep Space


What gaps are there in the workforce for the space industry and what are we doing to provide students with the tools they need to succeed? Listen to Bryce Kennedy’s experience as the President of the Association of Commercial Space Professionals, and lessons learned from being a professor at New Mexico Tech.

You can connect with Bryce on LinkedIn and learn more about the Association of Commercial Space Professionals (ACSP) on their website.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to "T-Minus Deep Space" from N2K networks. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the "T-Minus" space daily podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program. A common theme we keep hearing about in the space industry is that we have a workforce problem. It's not just attracting the right people to pursue careers in space. It's also retaining them that's becoming an issue. A source of the problem seems to be a disconnect between education and industry. Are we preparing students for the workforce? Well, we speak to space lawyer and president of the Association of Commercial Space Professionals, Bryce Kennedy, for his insights. Bryce, it is great to have you on the show again. Welcome back. It's been a little while since we last chatted.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Thank you so much, Maria. This is -- I love the podcast, so it's always good to be back.

>> Maria Varmazis: So we're talking about workforce development. Always something that in the space industry it's a huge need, and there are a lot of different approaches to this one. But as a law professional, I'm curious your thoughts on workforce development. Specifically I guess in the law field. Maybe we talk about a little bit to start when you did work as a law professor some lessons that maybe you learned from that experience that we could take away from that.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Yeah. So I was brought on as an adjunct for an experimental class which was really cool this last semester at Mexico Tech. And I taught grad student in the engineering program space law and policy which I was surprised. I wouldn't -- I didn't think that I would get any -- any bites on it. And we have a really substantial class. And one of the things that I was really surprised to see was that all of them were looking -- not all of them, but I'd say a majority of them were looking to have a touch point in the space industry. And yet there weren't -- there wasn't a lot of knowledge about what the space industry was. It was very segmented or very siloed to what the school taught. So here in New Mexico we have the -- the national labs, Los Alamos, Sandia. We also have air force resource labs. And that's kind of where they looked. And so when I started really teaching a broader skill set of what space law and policy was, it was to focus on how they as managers in their fields could start understanding a broader context so that they would be more effective. And -- and it was one of those things where I was like, "I don't know if this is going to work." It was like water in a desert. I was amazed to see the response and the excitement of people wanting to really understand where they'd be working. And so that got me thinking on a couple of fronts. Is one. Workforce development traditionally in space has been very affected - that word siloed. Whether it's in law, whether it's in engineering, you know, because traditionally not all classified, but the commercial industry hasn't really existed that long. And so collaboration hasn't really been needed. And so we have these -- we have these industries where they just focus on, you know, working on their specific cog and then put it to the greater, you know, machine. That doesn't work anymore, and it is failing quite rapidly. And we're seeing that in a lot of things. The other thing that I'm seeing too with especially in the legal field is that you don't have to be a lawyer to have, especially for the regulatory framework -- to participate and work with space companies. So a good example is export controls. Export controls touches everything in space. Technically not in space, but everything that goes to space. And you don't need to be a lawyer for that. And -- and we've seen a lot of law students come up to us and they're like, "Boy, I wish I had known that I could have studied export controls or telecom or government contracting, and that I would have gotten pretty much a job --" I don't want to say in any space company, but pretty much any space company because they need those, these things. And even beyond law students, again, you don't have to be a lawyer to do these things. And so that's why we're starting to see a shift from traditional academic mindset of these siloed degrees that if I'm going to be a lawyer I need to do this or if I'm going to be an engineer I need to do this to a broadening perspective of collaboration and, you know, looking kind of outside your scope.

>> Maria Varmazis: Okay. So is that the employers don't know that they don't necessarily need a lawyer or is it a bit of gate keeping in a way?

>> Bryce Kennedy: I think that's a really good question. I think -- I think it's both. I think it's an old mentality. And if I go back to the engineers like all they -- job security. Who wouldn't want to work for a lab? Who wouldn't want to work for Los Alamos? You know? I mean as an engineer it's job security to the max. It's prestige. It's all of these things. But it's a limited number. And so, for example, I brought -- I brought on a VC from Space Fund. And she was like she goes, "Look. We look to invest into startups. We look for engineers, a strong engineering team, so we know that at least the tech will be completed, you know, within a level of accuracy." And these students were like, "Oh, wait. We could go work for a -- we could work for a startup? And she goes, "Yes. You should be -- you should start thinking immediately about working for a startup because, A," she goes, "You're still young enough that you could still eat ramen for the next two years. And B, you'll get more experience than you would at a lab and be thrown into the fires and have to grow faster than any other job out there. And then you can take that and work anywhere you want." And it's like -- it's like these type of mindsets, they're just not -- they're not translating the way that we're seeing it. And then back to your original question. The primes have always looked at, you know, are you a lawyer? Do you have this? Do you have that? Are you an -- and now we're seeing especially in the startup world where it's like do you have these skills as opposed to do you have this degree.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. I mean, a credential can sort of serve as almost like a guarantee and an ease of rate. It's not, but I think the idea is that it's that check mark, right, of okay, we hired this guy and they've got this credential. And that means that we know that they hit this minimum criteria. But I mean if it is a matter of just the work experience can stand in or even something like a certificate program, why does the barrier have to be as high as a degree? I mean, I love education. I love higher education. I'm the daughter of a physics professor. Like I get it. But it's -- it is a huge barrier to clear, especially now when we're talking about school debt in the United States. It's not a small thing at all. But it's also the time commitment on a lot of people's time. Like do you need four years or more in higher ed when maybe a two year or less of a certificate program can get you the professional -- I'm preaching to the choir here, but I wonder are companies set up to understand what they need? Or they're just going, "We need a lawyer."

>> Bryce Kennedy: Right. No. I don't think they are. I don't think they are. And, you know, part of our organization at ACSP is like we're -- we have a huge arm of education. And it's not just educating people on the training. It's educating people on exactly this as well. Like you don't need -- you know, one of the co-founders, Bailey, I think she's been on the podcast too. You just spaced out where I originally started. The reason she held and really was the brainchild of ACSP starting was like she was tired of seeing commercial companies fail because they think they needed a lawyer. And while that is good for business as a law firm, her desire to see commerce succeed, companies succeed, people succeed, outweighed, you know, the desire for kind of the bottom line of [inaudible] and it was like you don't need a lawyer for this. And we kind of went back to first principles. Okay. So what do you need? And it's like you just need trained on these basic -- on some really core things. And the funny thing is back to like higher ed. I was talking to -- I won't name the college, university. A very, very, very rare prestigious large university. They're like, "We fail at actually providing real world experience that someone can go into an immediate job and, you know, be successful." And -- and that's -- that's where -- that's where we started these trainings because it's like we -- if commerce is -- space commerce is going to take off and everyone's going to have access to it, we can't continue with just this higher ed positioning.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah, I mean this gets into like a meta discussion that is very for me a dining room conversation that I have with my family a lot about, you know, the -- what classical education is meant for in terms of making like a well rounded interesting human with a lot of different varied interests. And like that's great. But sometimes you also need practical training. So, you know, getting a classical education is wonderful for making you an interesting person. May not actually train you for the job that you need. Flip side we've got this great practical need for a lot of jobs that need to be spun up quickly, and you know for -- you know, for shunting people to programs where they'll read the "Iliad," wonderful. Highly recommend. But is that going to help them? You know? Is that going to help them? And I get it. Like I've read the "Iliad." I love it. But still like that's not necessarily what we need.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Can you give me the Cliff Notes on that because I have not yet?

>> Maria Varmazis: It's fine. Go read it on Wikipedia.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Okay. Good. Yeah. Who wins? The thing too is that we're seeing especially with the workforce is that a lot of people just don't have the time to do this anymore. I was lucky. I kind of found that, you're right, that four years position of being kind of where I am in society of I can take four years. I could just drink my face off. I could play around with all these other things. But man, a lot of people -- you know, a lot of the students that I saw where I taught, they were the first generation to go to school. And they're first generation engineers. And so there is no room for play there. This is like on multiple levels. They're going to be supporting their families. They're going to be supporting -- they're going to be breaking the mold for the first time ever. And so that's why this class touched me so deeply because higher ed was not a luxury. It is a necessity. And yeah. And so anyway yeah. That's one of the big things I said.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. No. And often those first generation students -- I'm married to one so I know this one very intimately. It's when you're a first generation student often that is where that huge leap can happen in terms of outcomes, in terms of lifting up your entire family. But you're also because of that responsibility you're much more risk averse. I feel like I'm preaching now, but those students are not always going to be able to be like taking the riskier potentially jobs at a startup where they know that there's a good chance of failure because they need kind of a guarantee, especially if there's debt involved. Right? So then it makes it so people can't take those jobs or maybe they want to because the project is really interesting, but they kind of need to get the money and they need the security. And then we still kind of have a perpetuation of the problem. I feel like I'm really preaching to the choir. I'm so sorry, Bryce.

>> Bryce Kennedy: No. No. No. You're right. But the other thing -- the other thing, too, is I don't -- I think people don't have a good blueprint. And this is the other thing we're really working on is like, okay, say you do have this startup. Yes. And say it fails. But the skills that you have in those two years are so transferable now you can go anywhere. And again that's not taught either. It's like, yes, yes, if we're just looking at it from a monetary perspective, but if you can hold out another two years and really, you know, do something incredible at a startup regardless of any kind of exit strategy, then you'll be able to go for the most part anywhere else you'd want to. But, again, that's not taught either. So like it's like it's just multiple perspectives of kind of this old mindset.

>> Maria Varmazis: It's confronting the reality of now which is things are moving very quickly in a lot of different directions, and our sort of educational infrastructure is not as set up for that as we need. So okay. Solutions. We talked about the problem. Solutions here. So I floated -- I mean I -- obviously your organization I think would be a big part of this as well, but I'm curious your thoughts on potential solutions here.

>> Bryce Kennedy: So we're -- I'm going to be going back to my university to talk about more of this. They're going to have -- to see if this class worked. To see if this is something the students want. But a solution that I'm going to propose is that -- I don't -- let's come up with a fake percentage, but say 50% -- 50% of to me class or at least the degree should be about getting a job. Like I don't understand how that is not just baked into the higher ed. It doesn't make sense to me. Like when I was bringing in these speakers I encouraged my students to network them, to create -- to find them on Linked In, to reach out to them, to ask them questions. And they're like, "Oh. That's normal? Can we do that?" I was like, "You better be doing this." This is the reason I brought these speakers on, you know, because -- so anyway I've seen it in every degree that I've had where that level of job outreach or career, you know -- even beyond career fairs, but networking doesn't come, if at all, until the last semester, last month, last whatever. And to me the low hanging fruit is like start this early. Start this as a sophomore if you're an undergrad. Start this in your second year if you're grade. You know, for law school start it immediately with clerkships and internships. This should be I think one of the main pushes from administration to get -- to get these students jobs immediately.

>> Maria Varmazis: And teach them those soft skills like what you just mentioned about networking. Because unless you have parents or adult mentors who teach you that, that's not necessarily intuitive unless you've got like the gift of the gab, so to speak. I didn't know that I was supposed to do that kind of stuff until someone, as you did, just said, "Yeah. That's what you're supposed to do." How would you know? So yeah. Especially if you're like, "I don't want to bother them." You know, "I'm just a student." And, you know, they're -- yeah.

>> Bryce Kennedy: But and that's the thing. And so that to me is an easy, easy, easy solution. So then the other solution too is this thing called new collar. I don't -- I'm not well versed with it so I don't want to pretend like I'm an expert, but I've read a few articles. I've talked to a few people who have set it up. But essentially it's like instead of the white collar, instead of the blue collar -- there's a great Harvard paper about it, too, article about it.

>> Maria Varmazis: Googling that right now. I've never heard that before. That's cool.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Oh. I love the idea. But essentially it's -- it's not going with traditional degrees. It's not going with traditional rules. It's not, like I said, blue collar or white collar. It is -- it is a skills based, you know, application into the workforce based on your knowledge of a particular skill. And that to me is a really, really good. So it points back to your thing about certifications. Yeah. If you get certified in this thing, but you don't have the four year or the two year or the three year degree, but you are certified as the -- this is kind of the new collar way. And to me that is very, very valuable.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. And I could see that also for people making a career change. Maybe not even people fresh out of school, but people who are going, "I want to move into this industry." Do they have to go back to school for four years to get a brand new degree or can they just get certified and have that lateral move happen?

>> Bryce Kennedy: 100%. You know, one of the things, the travesties I saw, was one of my buddies from the master's program I took. He's in sales. And he -- he stood up massive, massive, massive multi million dollar companies in biotech. And he was a sales guy and [inaudible] guy. Brilliant. His track record was amazing. Tries to go into space. The space companies were like, "But you don't have any experience in space." He's like --

>> Maria Varmazis: You don't think it could be applicable at all? Yeah. Right? Yeah. Yeah.

>> Bryce Kennedy: I can figure out how a satellite works and how to sell that. But that transition was just it's just it's not there. Like people don't understand that the skill set can transition perfectly to a different industry.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. And it feels also like a cultural thing. Like a lot of the sort of mythology, and I'm using that word sort of purposefully in this case, mythology around careers in space, traditionally -- feel free to use it. It's been like, you know, ever since I was a little boy usually -- a little boy. I wanted to be -- work in space. And it's like, well, I mean not everybody knew that that was an option. Not everybody had that capability. Or maybe not everyone was interested. And some people change their mind. And I feel like that's changing, but the mythology's very baked in right now where it's like it's what you always wanted to do. So why would you ever have done something else? So yeah.

>> Bryce Kennedy: That's a very good point. You're right.

>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you. I appreciate that. I guess it's kind of because it's a little bit my story. I mean I was interested in, you know, space and astronomy. I'm a Trekkie. I'm a geek. But I never ever, ever thought of like trying to work in the space industry because it just was like, no, I don't think I could. If I went back in time maybe 20 years it'd be a different story, but it just was never something I thought I could do. So I went -- I went into tech and cybersecurity instead because that was more of a path for me. So yeah. But that's just my -- that's just my story. So yeah.

>> Bryce Kennedy: It's a shame because you're right. And a lot of people still think that way. And that's the other thing. Oh, my god. Just opening up. I love the story of whether it's real or not when JFK was walking the grounds of NASA and he goes up to a janitor and he goes, "What do you do here?" And he goes, "I'm helping put a man on the moon." And, you know, and that type of just recognition, again, whether it's real or not, is super important. Just so you know it's like, yeah, "I'm a janitor, but I'm also helping put a man on the moon."

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. I use the word mythology very purposefully because to me these are like our modern hero stories. We're getting into some really cool territory on this. By the way. But yeah. It's like the stories that we tell ourselves, they perpetuate also who comes into the space. The space space. To some degree, some things are also cultural. So if we change the narrative a little bit, then it opens things up to people who didn't think things were possible for them.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Well, let me tell you one last story this time. I brought on a speaker who I'm hoping is going to be our board member. And she is -- she was head of NASA procurement. I forget her title. It's one of these. And she's also she immigrated into the U.S. So she had a very difficult -- well, I don't want to say difficult, but she -- being a woman, I think, in the '80s in NASA then I think she went -- I'm going to butcher her resume, but to Boeing and then FAA. She just kept excelling. And being that my students are two-thirds women I really wanted someone that, A, was not typical, you know, white American bred, and then B, female, and then C, had crushed it. And I got so many emails after that speaker of basically it blew their mind that they could also do that, especially with someone who had faced those type of hurdles and achieved so much. And just that -- just that tiny little touch point, just the opening that tiny little door, was so impactful that I -- I didn't even expect that type of thing. So that they could see themselves in those shoes.

>> Maria Varmazis: Representation matters. As much as that is almost a cliche thing to say, it really, really does. It does. So that -- I'm glad you did that because had a little Maria seen that in college that might have changed her trajectory too. So no. No. I'm happy with mine. I'm just saying like it is amazing. You know, no regrets here. I'm good with my very meandering path, but it's just like listen. There's always new people coming up through things, and people who might want to make a shift mid career. I mean all these things are valid. And letting people know that like it doesn't have to be you go on the path from age five. You just stay on it. Sometimes you can wander and it's all good. Yeah.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Can we have another conversation about the wandering path? Because I want to do that next time.

>> Maria Varmazis: I would love that because that's been the story of my life. The absolute story of my life, Bryce. I would happily I would love to talk about that.

>> Bryce Kennedy: I'm going to interview you. We're going to do a role reversal.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm up for it. I'll do it. Why not?

>> Bryce Kennedy: Okay. Next month I'm interviewing you, and we're going to talk about that. People need to see the meandering path.

>> Maria Varmazis: I have failed so many times in my life, and every single time I've learned, and it's been failure is such a great teacher, but it's very humbling. Hurts as hell. Hurts like hell, but it is the best teacher. So yeah. But I've talked about it before. I'll happily tell you my story too. It's no problem. Happy to do it. So anyway, Bryce, you're a joy to speak with, as always.

>> Bryce Kennedy: Awesome talking to you too.

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>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for "T-Minus Deep Space" for December 16, 2023. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. This episode was produced by Alice Caruth. Mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Tre Hester with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Jen Eiben. Our VP is Brandon Karpf. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

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