The Future of The No-Collar Workforce

Since NASA’s inception, the Agency’s workforce might be characterized as full-time workers with fervent loyalty to the Agency. However, as the workforce transforms, NASA is redefining their talent pool to include freelancers, remote employees, and even robots.

NASA is at the forefront of embracing digital transformation to augment the modern-day workforce and redefine the expectations of the talent pool. Through automation, the NASA Shared Services Center has already begun to revolutionize what it means to be an employee by allowing four robots the ability to operate with mock Social Security numbers for credentialing purposes.

Unfortunately, neither of these robots are Robonaut or Valkyrie.


Each of these robots, although assigned different tasks, are designed with the highest degree of efficiency and potential reduced cost in mind. Through Intelligent Automation Services (IAS), the robots acquire consuming, mundane tasks such as spreadsheets, emails, and other organization tasks. This process is also known as Robotic Process Automation, or RPA.

“IAS is a software solution that mimics human interaction with computers, enabling organizations to automate existing user actions and have those actions performed by a digital employee. Intelligent automation introduces a new type of digital employee to the Agency’s workforce, one that shares many common characteristics with human employees. Digital employees, like human employees, will require user IT credentials, licenses, access roles, desktop computers or virtual machines, supervisors, and work instructions” (NSSC,2018).

NASA joined forces with UiPath to implement RPA capabilities. RPA allows new opportunities for their human counterpart to strengthen their skill set and focus on tasks that require more abstract thought.

“Both Deloitte Consulting and HFS Research have conducted separate studies to determine how many resources agencies would free up by using digital employees or robotic processes. Estimates range from $40 billion to $80 billion in terms of resources that could be reallocated to more value-added activities that improve citizen services. (Meritalk, 2018).

Rather than remove opportunity from those doing automatable skills, this new automation will open-up new opportunities as each wave of new technology has before it. Jobs are not being replaced but, rather, shifted to allow for more creativity, value, and collaboration among people as we continue to adapt to the lack of geographically defined work.

So what, or more accurately, who is the new talent at NASA? Through partnering with Deloitte, the first bot to perform RPA at NASA was born. This HR bot is better known as George Washington to its colleagues. According to a presentation by the National Contract Management Association, NASA and Deloitte created four of these robots.

  1. HR Bot: Automating the creation of new personal cases in Service Now for position transfers and new hires
  2. OCFO Bot: Automating the funds distribution process at the Agency level NSSC Business
  3. Accounting Bot: Automating the funds distribution process at the center level
  4. OCIO Bot: Automating the purchase requisition process for goods and services

This digital wave is opening the gates for a new realm of human-to-human collaboration, and human-to-bot. This begs the question that if we are now offering full positions to these bots, are they potentially allowed the same workplace rights as their human counterparts? How do we build our systems and processes to accommodate our new digital colleagues? As we adapt to this inevitable shift, companies must remain agile in their ability to conceptualize technology as “talent,” as it is now a crucial part of the makeup of their workforce.

Attracting top talent is imperative as NASA moves forward with eyes on a new generation of space dreamers and innovators. This needs to be broadened to encompass not only a human talent pool but may also mean conceptualizing and scouting out new technologies and ways to implement them within the workplace. Redefining talent comes to fruition where the desire to pursue the latest and greatest collides with mission and people. Resilience is being developed to account for shifting mission priorities as the industry accounts for new actors in the space economy.

For NASA, this means adapting to a new mindset around what constitutes a worker. Along the talent continuum, this may range from full-time to part-time workers. Moving forward, much like these newly implemented robots, technology will need to be considered in the hiring process. Other considerations include the gig economy and crowdsourcing efforts.

NASA is a leader in the revolution in redefining talent by paving a pathway for new technology, new questions, and a new world of opportunity. As we embrace the world of globalization, we welcome new talent and the new technology that comes along with it.

About the Authors

Jenna Kay Foertsch | Jenna is an intern at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center working in the Central Operations Directorate and is focused on data visualization and content strategy.  Jenna Kay attends the University of Minnesota and will graduate in 2019 with a degree in Business and Marketing Education with an emphasis in Political Science. Jenna Kay is passionate about enabling culture change through an intersection of equality in STEAM, business, and policy. She participates in various startups, FIRST robotics, and consuming mass amounts of cream cheese rangoons.

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).