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This outer-space job role is looking for crafty types to join the next mission

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Megan Murray
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Who would have thought you could assist hundreds of space missions with no experience required?

As far as niche careers go, we thought we’d seen (and considered) them all. 

After all, who wasn’t tempted by the ‘gintern’ tipple-tasting role doing the rounds on job boards last year, or the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cuddle baby pandas for a living? 

However, the latest job spec to catch our eye is the most out-of-this-world yet.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), based in Oxford, is one of Europe’s largest research organisations - and it’s currently looking for new recruits to assist with the creation of *drum roll* space blankets. 

That’s right, these are not your average blankets – and it takes more than the knit one, purl one technique to whip one up. But if you’ve got a hankering for haberdashery or some serious skills on the sewing machine, you could count aiding space missions as one of your career highlights. 

The role of ‘Insulation Blanket Technician’ involves the crafting and fitting of thermal insulation blankets, which are used to protect satellites and their equipment in space. The blankets are necessary because the equipment used in research missions is subjected to extreme temperatures when it leaves our atmosphere, and therefore needs layers of protection to keep it safe. 

The multi-layer insulation blankets are handmade from sheets of reflective material, which are specifically designed to be able to fold around space hardware. They are used on almost every satellite that is launched, and are critical in protecting the equipment from the cold temperatures in space.

As well as making the blankets, technicians are responsible for packing completed blankets and helping fit them to spacecraft and instruments.

You’d be forgiven for assuming you need a degree in astrophysics or experience working at NASA to bag yourself such a position. However, the STFC is looking for candidates with a little more about them than just a specific degree or qualification. 

In fact, someone with “hobbies where delicate operations with hands are needed, such as dressmaking, model making and handicrafts” is the biggest box that recruiters are looking to tick. So, if you consider yourself a Pinterest-aholic, a craft connoisseur or a keen sewer, this could be the career move you’ve been looking for.

Technicians at work

As well as being an accessible career option for creatives, the benefits of the role have been tailored to meet the needs of new parents: namely by offering flexible working.

The cost of childcare in the UK currently stands at around £889.44 a month, and work-place creches are a rarity. While shared parental leave was introduced in the UK in 2015, a study found that only 8,700 new parents used the scheme between March 2016 and March 2017. This means that fewer than 1% of the parents who were eligible for the scheme took advantage of it, with most opting to take traditional maternity leave.

But taking a break from work, or changing career paths to a role with more flexible working hours, often decreases opportunities and salary expectations for women.

Dubbed the “motherhood penalty”, the issue is a major contributing factor in widening the cavity between men and women’s salaries at work.

In addition, women can even feel pressure to leave a job after announcing that they’re pregnant, with a Mumsnet survey finding 65% of mothers felt having a child had a negative effect on their career. In the same survey, 71% of the women cited flexible working as something they would prioritise when looking for a new job.

And this is why the STFC role is so brilliant: in an attempt to eradicate the negative consequences women can face after having a child, the facility has made some encouragingly pro-active changes to their benefits package, including the aforementioned flexible working and an on-site nursery.  

The Science and Technology Facilities Council’s latest recruits, Kim, Claire and Angela.

Claire Morgan, from Oxfordshire, recently became employed by the STFC and is keen to champion the balanced way of working that the company promotes. 

After the birth of her first child, Morgan struggled with the cost of childcare and began looking for work that was compatible with her children’s schedule, registering as a childminder herself and learning to sew and bake for friends and family. 

“After my kids went to school I started thinking about doing something else but it needed to fit round them. A friend of mine who already worked for RAL Space in engineering showed me the job advert. She suggested I give it a go”, she says. 

As well as offering 30 days holiday leave, employees are welcome to work in a way that suits them and their family, with options to put in more hours one day and work a four day week the next, for example. One of the aims of recruitment is to make hours fit within school runs and employees are encouraged to communicate their work/life balance needs to their line manager.

Although the majority of those hired for the role have been female, the role isn’t aimed specifically at mums, but rather offers what should be a standard benefit in any workplace.

Since June 2014, all employees in the UK who have worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more have the right to formally request flexible working. With companies like STFC shining a light on this way of working, we can hope to look to a future where no woman feels like having a child is detrimental to her career. 

Images: The Science and Technology Facilities Council / Erin Aniker

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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