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The armed forces are major employers within the UK job market and also recruit a wide variety of graduates each year. Over 185,000 men and women are given the responsibility of providing a defence force for the United Kingdom. Due to the nature of the work, an army graduate career could involve deployment to anywhere in the world and also at short notice. The armed forces can be sub divided into three main sections: The Army, The Royal Air Force and The Royal Navy.

Joining the armed forces is a very viable career option. As well as the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, there are cadet ships and apprenticeships to be found in all sections of the Forces. Each option brings with it a multitude of skills; an armed forces career is a good alternative - as well as being given the opportunity of serving your country, you'll belong to a microcosm of private society, with promotion options, travel and further education opportunities all available.

Probably the most exciting aspect of a defence forces career is the chance to participate in multinational peace missions and humanitarian relief operations in support of the United Nations and under UN mandate. UK Armed Forces get involved in a number of operations around the world.

Emergency and various ad-hoc duties crop up from time to time for the armed forces at home in the UK. This usually happens in response to national emergencies; when the fire service went on strike, the Army was called; when floods cut off rural communities, the Army goes out to rescue people. Other duties regularly assigned to the Navy and the Air Forces include search and rescue, air ambulance service and air transport for Government ministers. The armed forces are on standby in case of natural or other disasters, maintenance of essential services and, increasingly, assistance in controlling oil pollution at sea.

The defence industry is an appealing sector for graduates particularly because engineers and scientists get to deal with cutting-edge technologies in world-renowned organisations that have a diverse range of capabilities. There are tremendous opportunities to work on many collaborative programmes, and to work with leaders in their various fields.

Average Army Graduate Salary

Army Graduate Career Path

The Army is the largest employer in this sector. All trainee officers will begin training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where graduates will spend 44 weeks learning basic military skills and developing their leadership, interpersonal and managerial abilities. Graduates can choose which one of a number of different areas they wish to follow for their army graduate career path. This can include opportunities in aviation support, combat arms, communications, education and training, engineering, intelligence, logistics and personnel.

The Royal Air Force is divided into branches and graduates are inducted onto a six month training course. After gaining their officer status graduates then proceed to professional training in areas such as administration, air traffic control, engineering, fighter control, flight operations, intelligence, law, medicine, physical education.

Graduates joining the Royal Navy will spend a period at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth before going on to train at sea. Continuous training follows in some of these areas: aviation; engineering; management; supply and secretariat; warfare.

Within each area of the armed forces there are opportunities to study for postgraduate, military, professional and chartered qualifications.

The defence industry in the UK has a long history of developing diverse and specialised equipment for the armed forces. The sector is mainly concerned with research and development of solutions to technological needs of the armed forces. This can include:

  • radar
  • sensors
  • telecommunications
  • networking and software engineering
  • propulsion engines
  • and defence systems evaluation

Recruiters in the defence industry say that while the traditional engineering disciplines remain popular, there is a drive to draw in people with software experience, as so much of modern electronics is based on computer modelling. Often, experience in different departments forms a substantial part of in-house schemes. This can involve spending up to 18 months in different parts of a company on 8-10 week secondments.

New recruits may complete training schemes accredited by the Institution of Electrical Engineers or the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Other training is often tailored to suit the individual with opportunities to work to towards chartered status within four to five years. Continuous advances in technology mean that there are challenging opportunities in practical implementation or theoretical analysis and development. However, not all scientists and engineers who begin a career in research want to remain there. There are often options to progress within the business side of the defence industry, in marketing, operations management or finance, for example. In most companies, opportunities to travel abroad increase after a few years' service. Many defence companies have facilities around the world, so there is great potential to move around.

Careers also exist within the Government. Dstl - the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, is the centre of scientific excellence for the UK Ministry of Defence, housing one of the largest groups of scientists and engineers in public service in the country. They recruit 80 graduates and 150 placement students every year and are based at sites all over Britain. Their workforce includes some of the nation's most talented and creative scientists. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is an intelligence and security organisation. A Civil Service Department, they report to the Foreign Secretary and work closely with the UK's other intelligence agencies (commonly known as MI5 and MI6). Their primary customers are the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and law enforcement authorities, but they also serve a wide range of other Government Departments.

Graduates are exposed to all areas of defence research programmes that are of a sensitive nature and must be retained within government. This requires new trainees to develop a considerable depth of skills and knowledge across the full range of science and technology. Defence laboratories encompasses chemical and biological defence, chemical and electronics, defence analysis, defence research information capabilities and a range of systems integrations activities, creating comprehensive centres of excellence.
Secret intelligence gives the Government a vital edge in tackling some of the most difficult problems we face. Intelligence forewarns us of threats to our national security; helps the Government promote international stability; provides support and protection to our forces; contributes to our economic health and strengthens our efforts against terrorism and serious crime.

The UK defence industry is changing to reflect greater internationalisation and the influence of new technology on military requirements. New opportunities arise from the increase in service and support activities devolved to the private sector from governments. Technologies that we take for granted such as liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and microwave technologies were originally developed in this sector, so you can be sure that work is at the cutting edge of science.

Many of these specific departments make sure that the UK armed forces and Government are supported by world class scientific advice and security intelligence, delivering defence and communications research, specialist technical services and the ability to track global technological developments. Their capabilities compare with the best in the world, supporting procurement decisions, defence policy making and operations.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Army graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Army by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Some jobs in the armed forces sector are of a highly technical nature and therefore require a degree in science or engineering. However you will find that most jobs are open to any degree discipline and of high importance will be your commitment, fitness and motivation. Management and leadership potential are also essential. It is highly likely that applicants will need to demonstrate resourcefulness, decisiveness, responsibility and the ability to follow orders. Some posts will require GCSE passes in Mathematics and English as a minimum.

In defence, the government recruits over 100 'high-calibre' graduates into technical or project management opportunities that cover a broad spectrum of disciplines. Other major players in the industry may focus on more specific areas like materials science, aerospace, mechanical, marine, chemical and systems engineering or electronics as well as those from applied and physical science backgrounds, however this does not restrict the variety of projects that are available to new recruits. Employers look for evidence of extra-curricular activities and experiences relevant to your application.

Sources for Further Information

The British Army
The Royal Air Force 
The Royal Navy
Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies