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Defence IT: graduate area of work

In defence IT, professionals work on projects that aim to protect the security, independence and interests of the UK.

Given the classified nature of some of the work in the sector, doing research and finding out about the industry can be difficult.

The key business objective of the defence sector is to provide the security services protecting the UK, and those on the front line, with the equipment, technology and research needed to achieve their objectives with minimal risk. In the UK, organisations in the defence industry work with a number of international partners, nations and organisation types: ranging from universities to small start-ups to large global companies.

Traditionally, the sector used to be split in a similar fashion to the armed forces: into sea, land and air. However, more recently, the sector is more often divided by capability areas, the key ones being: analysis, counter terrorism and security, cyber, integrated survivability, C4ISR (command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear), weapons and human capability.

The type of work that you do will largely depend on the projects you are assigned or take on: a project could be customer-facing, working with an industry partner or with academia, an international collaboration as part of a large team, or a small-scale lab-based research project. As such, being able to adapt to different situations and places is key. There is a lot of flexibility in terms of careers, as well as opportunities to travel: a large number of people in the industry travel to international meetings, conferences and trials.

Graduates wanting a career in defence IT need to know…

In the UK, defence is linked to the government and, as such, students and graduates should be aware of the constraints and/or strategic guidance placed upon the sector. In recent years, a number of new capability areas have stood out as areas that graduates should be aware of; these include cyber security, additive manufacturing, synthetic biology and autonomy, to name just a few. However, given the classified nature of some of the work in the sector, doing research and finding out about the industry can be difficult.

Looking globally, the defence sector has a large number of major players. Some operate across land, sea and air, while others may focus on an individual domain or even solely on a key piece of technology. You’re likely to work closely, and quickly become familiar, with organisations in your chosen field.

Who can apply?

Those who have studied at STEM subject will already have technical skills that are applicable to working in the defence sector. There is currently an increasing reliance on modelling/software skills and programming, so experience in these areas can be beneficial.

The key things that will set a graduate apart are their behaviours. Given the variety of work and specialisms in the sector, a high level of adaptability is needed to cope with potentially unknown subject areas of changing requirements.

Career progression in defence IT

Graduates interested in working in the defence sector will likely be able to join a graduate scheme or an industrial placement. These schemes might be rotational, or you might specialise in a specific field from the beginning. For example, at Dstl graduates will usually first spend time working across a number of different groups, teams and areas, before settling in a home team.

Only those truly interested in defence should apply. Undertaking a year in industry will show that you can apply your knowledge to real-world scenarios and give you the skills, confidence and competencies that will set you apart during the application process.

Choose a career in defence IT if…

  • You want to experience a wide range of specialisms and technologies.
  • You are driven to develop yourself and your skills.
  • You are passionate about providing the armed forces with the equipment they need to do their job.

JAMES MCGREARY is a team leader at Dstl (the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory). He has a BEng in mechanical engineering from the University of Liverpool and an MSc in gun systems design from Cranfield University, and has worked in the defence sector for five years.

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