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Defence contractors are some of the largest contributors to the British economy and form a distinct sector away from the British Armed Forces. They provide much of the strategic technology and capabilities to defence forces as well as vehicles, aircraft and ships. British defence contractors alone such as BAE and MBDA employ over 100,000 people and achieve revenue of over £20 billion. The defence industry is currently growing steadily at around 3% p.a. Starting your defence graduate career with a private defence company can open up job opportunities all over the world, particularly in the United States to work with new technologies going into projects such as the F35 Lightning.

Over the last 20 years, changes in terms of the relevant degree programmes reflect a more diverse sector in general. From soldering computer systems for a SAM (Surface to Air Missile) to designing new aircraft for Armed Forces across the world to use, the Defence Sector is a lucrative employer of graduates. The technological advances within defence are one of the principal pull factors of graduates to the industry. Much of the technology available in the defence industry 30 years ago, is still perceived as revolutionary in civilian life e.g. drone technology, with defence companies manufacturing drones as far back as the 1970s. The precision of this technology must be absolute as it could be used by British and foreign Armed Forces in active combat.

The technology side of private defence has grown exponentially since the end of the Cold War, in response to the declining need for conventional weapons or equipment. Britain remains a market leader in military technology. A large proportion of technology in everyday life was first developed in the Defence sector including LCD TVs and microwaves. In 2010, a solar-powered drone developed by British company QinetiQ broke the UAV record by flying for 14 days without landing and also broke the record for highest UAV flight at over 70,000 feet. Being part of the Defence industry in Britain can lead to a diverse and technologically innovative career.

Many defence roles also include training the Armed Forces to use the systems or equipment in active service. Projects that defence companies are currently working on include:

  • Advanced radar and early warning systems
  • Propulsion engines
  • New Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
  • Cyber Defence Systems
  • Two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy

Average Defence Graduate Salary

Defence Graduate Career Path

Most graduate defence jobs do remain in the Engineering sector. British and American defence contractors based in the UK are looking for the next generation of engineers for careers in building a new nuclear deterrent for Britain to replace Trident, and to innovate the building of new conventional armaments using the modern technologies available.

After training in the private defence sector, the potential job opportunities are diverse. Those who have completed design or engineering graduate training in defence are not necessarily limited to a career in this sub-sector in the long-term. Individuals who can demonstrate exceptional networking and sales skills could be fast-tracked to Sales Management, to sell components, computer systems or even aircraft across the world to governments.

The career opportunities within large defence companies will have promotion prospects, depending on quality and development of work. Travel options are also available across the world, particularly within companies like Airbus who have offices all over Europe and North America. Opportunities have become more widespread since the 1980s, with the devolving of formerly government-held roles into private defence contracting and other areas. Specific promotion roles include advisory roles within the Ministry of Defence and executive roles within the private sector.

A defence graduate career is not restricted to large companies. There are hundreds of small companies which supply the defence industry exclusively, all over the UK and in many locations. These smaller businesses innovate specific elements of technology or manufacture parts for maintenance or construction within the sector. A successful career in the Defence sector can lead to further benefits such as a high pension and an excellent bonus system, on top of good quality promotion chances.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

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

GRB Placements for Defence by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

While graduate opportunities in this sector are most likely to be taken by engineering graduates, they are not limited to this degree programme. In the 21st century, with the beginning of an internet age, defence companies have increasingly employed Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics graduates. Companies such as BAE systems and Airbus in particular have become much more flexible in accepting other related Science, Maths and Technology related degrees. Larger defence companies such as MBDA, BAE Systems and Airbus have numerous career opportunities in wider skills areas such as Human Resources, Marketing and Business Management.

A degree mark of a 2:1 is almost always a minimum requirement for working in defence. Degree programmes for Defence are primarily within Science, Engineering, Maths and Computer Science. Other areas such as Humanities are not normally accepted without exceptional work experience. Despite this, there are often roles within Defence Contractors’ marketing, HR and networking departments which are more flexible. Some roles also require GCSE passes in Mathematics and English as a minimum. The following skills are of vital importance for a career in the Defence sector:

  • Strongly motivated within the field of Defence
  • Excellent grasp of basic numeracy and scientific principles
  • Appreciation of engineering practices
  • Good computer skills
  • Flexible in terms of location or travelling
  • Willing to adhere to legally binding confidentiality agreements such as The Official Secrets Act, 1989.

In addition to the skills listed, some particularly technical areas of graduate programmes in Defence within the private sector will still require very specific degrees and or work experience in that sector.

If you feel that you match up to these skills and think you could succeed in a role in the industry, you can search for Defence Graduate Jobs here.

Sources for Further Information

Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies
United Kingdom National Defence Association (UKNDA)