Working in Defence and Aerospace

We all talk about transferable skills and using them to enhance post service careers. While many say that life as an infantryman or in another teeth arm doesn’t prepare you for civilian life, one thing that everyone has some knowledge of is defence equipment. And that could open up opportunities in the defence and aerospace industry.

The UK defence industry is a significant component of the UK economy through its contribution to exports, research and development, production and employment. The defence industrial base is a very diverse collection of companies that supply military or dual-use equipment to the Ministry of Defence or foreign governments. Britain’s most important industrial sectors, like aerospace, shipbuilding, electronics and vehicle manufacture, are reliant upon defence contracts and research and development expenditure. The UK defence industry has achieved considerable export success and has been at the forefront of global defence and security for the last few years.

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. While many do leave the services with appropriate degrees in technology there are also opportunities in defence sales and in routine administrative roles where a knowledge of the services and equipment can be a positive bonus.

A good starting point is to research the UK based defence manufacturers such as BA e and visit exhibitions such as the DVD Show at Millbrook (25th – 26th June 2014) or DS Ei at London’s Docklands, next scheduled for September 2015.

In the UK there are over 10,000 companies that are partly or fully involved in the defence business, and there are few significant Western high-tech defence programmes that do not have some level of UK participation.

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.

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 eight to ten week secondments.

New recruits complete training schemes accredited by the Institution of Electrical Engineers or the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for example. Other training is often tailored to suit the individual with opportunities to work 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. Its 3,000-strong workforce is based at sites all over Britain and 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. For more information on the careers available visit

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.

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.

Qualifications and skills needed
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 itself 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.

Defence and aerospace companies such as BAe offer opportunities throughout the world for suitable candidates and there are many recruitment agencies that either specialise in the industry or have a specialist division. Visit their websites to get a feel for what’s out there. For example, or CBSbutler has an impressive heritage as a provider of contract and permanent technical staff for international and UK defence jobs covering the battlefield, marine, homeland security and aerospace domains. The company’s clients include the MoD, major defence contractors, consultants, component vendors and system integrators. CBSbutler has deployed  personnel in both UK defence and jobs throughout the EU, USA and Middle East. – See more at or telephone 01737 822 000.

CBSbutler specialist defence recruitment division is able to fill defence engineering jobs with proven engineers and technology professionals with the necessary security clearance for the complete project life cycle. We draw on rigorous profiling and sophisticated databases of top graduates and experienced engineers to find the best candidates for Defence Engineering areas including: Nuclear Special Projects MOD Defence Primes Defence Engineering Some of the Defence & Security vacancies we regularly have on offer include. Mechanical Engineers Software Engineers Electronic Engineers Project Managers Engineering Consultant If you are looking for permanent or contract work in the Defence sector and have relevant skills and experience, take a look at our latest vacancies, register your details and get in contact to discuss your career. See more at: Some of the Defence & Security  vacancies that CBSbutler regularly has on offer include Mechanical Engineers, Software Engineers, Electronic Engineers, Project Managers, and Engineering Consultants. If you are looking for permanent or contract work in the Defence sector and have relevant skills and experience, take a look at the latest vacancies, register your details and get in contact to discuss your career.

Finally, visit, formerly known as the Defence Manufacturers’ Association. The website has a list of over 300 member companies covering every aspect of the industry including security, research and manufacturing # from clothing to weapons, from vehicles to ships and aerospace.