A decade ago, NASA’s workforce was nearly twice its current size. But as the shuttle program wound down, about 7,400 contractors were shown the door.
That opened what Sean Snaith, an economist and director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, described as “a pretty big crater” in the region’s economy.
”In the beginning, there were numerous jobs for mechanical engineers, but the problem I’m running into is that they’re looking for people who have experience in computer-aided design in 3-D and I don’t have that background,” said Irwin Minsky, 61, who was laid off by shuttle prime contractor United Space Alliance in April 2011.
Minsky, who holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, said he had not had any job interviews, but was considering taking classes to update his skills.
Ed Avery, a former launch pad technician and quality inspector, is not waiting any longer. The 51-year-old is recruiting former colleagues to staff work-at-home call centers, a job he says pays between $8.50 and $19 an hour.
That is less than what Avery earned at the space center, but it beats most wages in Titusville and elsewhere in the so-called Space Coast region, where a close association with the U.S. space program is reflected in the 3-2-1 telephone area code.
Brevard Workforce, the county’s training and job placement agency, reports that about half of the 5,700 workers it tracks have found jobs, although about 900 had to relocate.
NASA’s layoffs coincided with the worst housing crisis to hit central Florida since the shutdown of the Apollo U.S. space program 40 years ago.