Military options

The defence industry, one of the UK’s largest sectors, is actively recruiting engineers to help produce new technologies to maintain its competitive edge, reports Julia Pierce.


The UK’s defence market is highly competitive. Data from the Defence Manufacturers’ Association shows the industry is the second largest in the world after the US in turnover and employment. Employing about 350,000 people, it is one of the country’s largest sectors, accounting for 40 per cent of the UK’s electronics manufacturing.

It should therefore be no surprise that the defence market is also responsible for producing a high number of new technologies and is actively recruiting engineers who can help with this.

‘The UK defence sector continues to be the envy of many and helps provide the UK armed forces with technical superiority for its defensive and peacekeeping activities,’ said Tim Janes, Qinetiq’s head of EMEA resourcing. ‘It also delivers numerous key defence innovations, which then are also adopted within the civil sector — thermal imaging and mobile phones being a couple of good examples.’

Important work is also taking place on the research side. ‘The complexities of the modern-day battlefield, the pressure on budgets and the increasingly sophisticated threats posed to our armed forces and security services has intensified the demand for the input of science and technology research and advice at all military and security levels,’ said Sarah Hammer, strategic resourcing manager at DSTL, the MoD’s in-house centre of scientific excellence.

DSTL is looking for engineers in all disciplines for roles such as team leaders, research scientists, technologists, analysts, system engineers, technical experts and advisers due to a combination of new contracts, restructuring and expansion of ongoing work.

BAE Systems Platform Solutions in Rochester, Kent focuses on producing solutions that improve the operational safety of personnel in both the military and commercial sectors. Products include helmets and head-up displays, sticks and inceptors and flight controls, with more than 100 inventions being produced every year.

As a result, the division is recruiting engineers with strong technical skills and good leadership capability. A mixture of business growth and a desire to maintain its competitive edge means the company is looking for established team leaders with technical backgrounds and experienced electronic designers and mechanical and optical engineers.

‘Our designs are leading-edge and it is that that sets us apart from our competition,’ said Graham Cook, head of hardware engineering at BAE Systems’ Electronics and Integrated Solutions’ Operating Group. ‘Our current flight control solutions are on-board the world’s most advanced aircraft in the military sector such as the Eurofighter, Joint Strike Fighter and F-22, and also commercial sector aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus 320. We have a world-leading pedigree in displays and head-up displays, most noticeably on Eurofighter and F-16 and an outstanding breadth of mission systems capabilities including mission computing and mapping.’

The company is exploring technology cross-over between the military and commercial aerospace market. Recruitment is focusing on hardware engineering from high- speed digital to analogue design, optical design and modelling, and mechanical design and analysis.

‘The engineering skills required in the business are changing and will continue to do so as we respond to the changing market place,’ said Vivienne MacKay, recruitment manager at BAE’s Rochester facility.

‘We see an increasing demand for electromechanical skills, with capability in servo-actuator and systems design, and optical systems design skills, combining holography and display solutions.’

As the defence market has become more competitive, so companies within it have started to seek out engineers with the capability to translate military technologies to the wider world.

Qinetiq is recruiting systems engineers, safety engineers and project managers for large complex projects. ‘The core engineering skills will continue to be important but Qinetiq, like many other organisations, is looking to combine these with the necessary commercial skill to meet customer requirements,’ said Janes.

‘In particular we are interested in systems engineers, safety engineers and skill sets that help transform scientific research into commercial technology and products. We offer a stimulating working environment, interesting and challenging programmes, good career prospects and competitive packages and employees can tailor their career paths around ever-expanding opportunities.’

Despite the attractions of the sector, some staff are proving hard to find. Matchtech Group is a leading professional recruitment provider for the engineering and science, built environment and support services sectors.

Several divisions of the firm are involved in providing staff to the defence industry; its electronics and software systems team is witnessing shortages of engineers, project managers and project services personnel including planners. In the marine division naval architects, electrical engineers, marine and mechanical engineers and modellers are in great demand, while the aerospace division is seeking a high volume of structural, stress and mechanical engineers.

The shortage is partly caused by demand from parallel sectors in the civilian world. ‘Commercial work such as the need for engineers for the A380 and A350 aircraft is putting pressure on aerospace defence work by taking staff,’ said Keith Lewis, director at Matchtech Group. ‘Additionally, when it comes to project management and project services there is a shortage of personnel across the defence sector.

‘If I was an engineer looking to move into the sector I would give serious consideration to electronics, software systems, stress, structural and mechanical and electrical disciplines.’

He said movement of staff in the marine industry is an ongoing issue. ‘Migration into the oil and gas industry is commonplace, especially for those with experience in design, draughting and modelling,’ he said.

‘The rates of pay have caused issues in getting candidates to return to the defence industry from oil and gas. We spend a great deal of time on behalf of our clients working on solutions to prevent and avoid skill shortages.

‘Clients are now more willing to employ those who are not a 100 per cent match for a role, but who instead can be given training. In my opinion this will be an ongoing issue that we address via consultation with our clients.’

For those with specific engineering skills who cannot commit to the sector completely there are also more unusual opportunities to contribute to and gain experience within the defence and military sector.

The Specialist Units Royal Engineers is the main source of professional infrastructure engineers within the Army, providing the Armed Forces with capability in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering worldwide.

Within this there is a Territorial Army component that recruits from across the UK. Personnel include professional engineers bringing an increased depth of technical engineering knowledge from UK industry.

‘We are formed into Specialist Teams Royal Engineers. Three of these teams are referred to as works teams who provide an all-round general engineering design capability. In addition, we also have five specific infrastructure teams concentrating on power, water, fuels, railways and ports,’ said Lt Col Rob Somers.

‘Our typical training year consists of two weekends covering military skills and a 15-day annual exercise undertaking engineering infrastructures works on the military estates in Cyprus, Ascension Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Italy, Germany, Brunei or the UK.’

There are few places outside of the defence market that afford engineers the opportunity to produce innovations that could bridge the gap between the military and civilian worlds.

Yet taking a place in this burgeoning market could do just that, providing plenty of opportunities to forge a long-term career in one of the UK’s largest markets.