Careers in the Defence sector

Working in the Defence sector offers so many more options than simply joining the Army, Navy, RAF or Police. Although these are four of the major employers within the sector, there are many more avenues to explore.


What is the Defence sector?

The Defence sector is a vital industry to many countries. The sector and those employed in it help maintain the safety and security of citizens. It also provides numerous jobs not only on the front line of defence, but in industries including engineering, aeronautics, electronics and more – industries that support the defence sector.

The UK’s Defence industry is one of the most innovative in the world

In 2014, the EU Defence sector directly employed around 500,000 people and indirectly supported 1.2 million other jobs. The UK’s Defence industry is one of the most innovative in the world, with significant investment being made into research and development (R&D) and manufacturing, plus new areas of interest such as cyber security. It is vital to the economy, and safety, of the country.


Job roles in the Defence sector: Army, Navy, RAF, Police

Given the vast reach of the Defence sector, there are naturally plenty of jobs on offer. Let’s start with the first four (potentially most obvious) employers:

    • Joining the Army can be a lucrative career. From starting out at the lower levels, there is a lot of room for progression and also a lot on offer in terms of education and training, including apprenticeships.

      Not only does the Army offer life-long learning, including support in studying for degrees and postgraduate awards, but they also subsidise the costs and offer a structured career path. There are graduate roles in combat, engineering, medical intelligence, IT and communications, HR, finance, logistics and more.

      But apart from becoming a soldier and climbing the ranks, other roles include becoming an Engineer IT Systems Operator, Logistic Supply Specialist, Healthcare Assistant, Environmental Health Officer, Doctor, Driver, Intelligence Operative, Mechanic, Radiographer, HR Officer and more.

    • Similar to the Army, there’s more on offer in the Royal Navy than jumping on a ship as a deckhand. There are actually around 30,000 people serving in the Royal Navy, and there are opportunities for graduates and school leavers alike.

      In the Navy you can follow a graduate scheme to become an officer, air or weapon engineer, but the Navy also offers training and paid-for qualifications up to Masters level. Again, roles include starting as a Midshipman and building up to a Lieutenant or Captain, or could include becoming a Warfare Specialist, a Naval Nurse, Logistics Officer, Medical Officer, Hydrography and Meteorology Officer, Systems Engineer, Radiographer, Biomedical Scientist and more.

      There are five main strands to the Navy, and these are: the Surface Fleet, Submarine Service, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Marines and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. And there are plenty of opportunities across all these.

    • Just like the Army and the Navy, the Royal Air Force provides training and education to employees. From specialist education in Trade and Branch, there is also the choice to take part in a Standard Learning Credit (SLC) scheme or the Enhanced Learning Credit (ELC) scheme, which allows personnel to claim back money for learning costs and gain accreditation for other nationally recognised civilian qualifications.

      RAF Regulars are the full-time employees of the RAF and could be based in the UK or abroad. There are also, naturally, ranks within the RAF – from Officers which includes Air Marshals, Wing Commanders, Squadron Leaders and Flying officers, up to Airmen and Airwomen, which includes Sergeants, Corporals and Chief Technicians. Plus there are grad schemes in the RAF too, in flight-orientated roles or roles based on the ground.

      Some of the other myriad roles on offer in the RAF are Cyberspace Communication Specialist, Aerospace Battle Manager, Aircraft Technician, Media Operations, RAF Medic, Logistics Officer, Weapons Systems Officer and, of course, pilot.

    • There are various roles also available in the Police, from Constables up to Sergeants and Inspectors, all the way up to Chief Superintendent. Candidates are also able to pick a specialist squad to join, such as fraud, drugs, traffic and the Criminal Investigation Department.

      There are no strict educational requirements needed to join the Police, but you will need A-level qualifications or extensive experience as a Police Community Support Officer. However, Police Now offer a fast-track graduate programme, where you’ll spend two years working in a challenging community following a brief (but intense) training period.


Job roles in the Defence sector: Other roles

As stated previously, there’s much more to the defence industry than simply joining the Army, Navy or RAF.

Other high-profile employers include GCHQ and MI5, plus a number of other private companies used by the defence industry. These include Airbus, BAE Systems, Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce and more.

Here are some example roles that can be found in some of the other numerous companies that support the Defence sector:

    • In this role you will be expected to gather, analyse and evaluate various forms of intelligence – from communications to images – and data from different sources to predict and stop potentially dangerous situations from occurring.

    • This could be in an office or a workshop, and involves designing and reviewing specifications for various mechanical layouts. This could include designing weapons, transport and more.

    • Prison officers keep the peace for those being detained. They work to maintain a secure environment and ensure the rules and regulations of the prison system are upheld.

    • This role involves keeping the borders of the UK safe from people trying to enter illegally. This has become one sector within defence that is of high importance, with extra checks being put in place in recent years.

    • This role involves installing, configuring and testing different operating systems and software. This could include remote computer systems and systems storing incredibly sensitive data.

    • This is a particularly important role within the Defence sector, as many people may be involved in risky situations at any given time – from those employed by the Defence sector to innocent bystanders. The variety of the situations requiring attention may vary, and the role will include conducting thorough analysis of a situation and advising on the best course of action to prevent a negative outcome.

    • If you’re good at planning, budgeting, overseeing and documenting all stages of a (potentially high-risk and high-profile) project, joining the Defence sector as a Project Manager could be for you. Again it will involve analysis and implementation of the project overall and desired outcome, communicating with those higher up and either working solo or leading a team.



Where to start? From the above job list, there are numerous qualifications that could be required to join the Defence sector; so let’s start easy:

For the Army, Navy, RAF and Police, no specific degree or qualification is required for most entry-level, non-specific roles. You can join as a school leaver in various apprenticeship roles, but you will need some GCSEs and to pass some written tests and individual fitness tests.

However, for a number of the other roles available certain qualifications and degree subjects are desired. Some of the degree qualifications that are highly desirable in the Defence sector are:

Engineering; Automotive; STEM (science, technical, engineering or mathematical degree subjects); Business; Electronics; IT; Medical; Manufacturing; Physics – to name but a few.


Skills you need to join the Defence sector

Having the right skillset is far more desirable than simply having a degree; there are numerous skills that you will need to have in order to join the Defence sector, but don’t worry if you don’t have them in abundance – you will be trained up pretty swiftly! These include:

    • This is of paramount importance in this industry, as being able to work alongside your comrades in high-risk situations can literally be a matter of life or death.

    • Also of high importance is the ability to take control and lead a team if necessary.

    • You will also need to be able to effectively communicate strategy, give commands and steer a conversation if needs be.

    • The level of responsibility within the Defence sector is arguably higher than in others, so being aware of this and acting appropriately is key.

    • There may be times where different scenarios are presented and neither option is better than the other. Therefore being able to problem solve and make logical decisions is important.

    • You will need to act swiftly and without hesitation in a number of situations that you may not have been placed in before. You will need to pick up pieces of information and process them quickly to make the right conclusions.

    • This is one of the key personality traits needed in such a tense sector, where emotions can run high.

    • And finally, less of a skill and more of a lifestyle choice – but essential nonetheless – you must be pretty fit.


Work experience in the Defence sector

While you are unlikely to secure work experience on the front-line or on live missions, there is plenty on offer in the various departments within the Army, Navy, RAF and Police, as well as the various private companies involved in the Defence sector as listed above.

One of the easiest ways to gain work experience in the Defence sector is to join as a cadet, which literally means trainee. Joining as a cadet means you’ll get military training while at school age. You can become a Sea Cadet, Army Cadet, Royal Marines Cadet, Air Training or Police Cadet.

At university, you could look to join a training programme

At university, you could look to join the University Officers’ Training Corps (UOTC), which comprises of leadership training units run by the British Army. There are also equivalents in both the RAF and – with the UAS (University Air Squadron) and URNU (University Royal Naval Unit) respectively.

All these schemes help develop leadership skills and allow for members to train for their chosen sector whilst still studying at university.

Similarly several organisations offer internships, industry placements and more – you’ll need to visit individual companies’ websites to find specific details of this.

Many companies – including the public sector branches of the Army, Navy, RAF and Police – will also be present at careers fairs at schools and universities. These fairs are a fantastic chance to speak to employees and gather information on what work experience they have no offer.


Pros and Cons

There are plenty of opportunities for career progression, with set career paths laid out in a number of companies and organisations.It can be a dangerous sector to be involved in, with highly intense periods of work.
It is well paid at high levels with set promotions - reaching around £50,000 for the highest levels.You may be stationed away from home for long periods of time or need to relocate depending on work.
You can receive a lot of training and gain qualifications, some of which will be paid for by the sector.It requires you to constantly maintain your fitness, skill levels and political awareness.
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