Key Skills and Competences for Defence

The forward island of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier being attached to the main body of the carrier

Photo by ChrisPAD34e (Rosyth Shipyard)/CC BY-SA 3.0


The strength of any defence industrial base is underpinned by the skills and competences of both the employees within the companies that provide support to governments, and the officials that place the equipment capability requirements with industry.

However, the nurturing and maintenance of critical skills depend on numerous factors, including the defence sector’s pipeline of work, skills transfer to the next generation of defence employees, and the number of new employees entering the workforce.


The European Defence Agency commissioned RAND Europe to identify and define the key skills and competences for defence, within the context of both current and future supply and demand, in order to provide recommendations to ensure that a stable supply of such defence skills is able to be maintained.


The project created a taxonomy of skills across all main platforms within defence domains, ranked and prioritised by experts and industry stakeholders, which was complemented by a literature review ascertaining both current and future supply and demand. Drawing on these findings, the project then made a series of recommendations which could be implemented to sustain these key skills and competences in the future in order to ensure the capabilities of the European defence sector.


Based on literature review and consultation with a range of European defence industry, education and government stakeholders, the study team identified five key findings in relation to the supply and demand of key skills and competences for the EDTIB.

  1. Where there is uncertainty and limited communication in relation to equipment requirements, this hampers industry’s ability to manage skills through recruitment and retention
  2. The lack of a strategic approach to the management of skills across government, industry and the education sector means there is little coherence in skills planning, demand and supply
  3. Where there are negative perceptions of the defence sector, these may make defence companies less attractive to new employees and graduates
  4. Where defence companies face a skewed demographic and competition from other sectors, effective recruitment and retention strategies are crucial for maintaining key skills
  5. Security and nationality considerations can hinder development and cross-fertilisation of skills, exacerbated by a lack of common competency frameworks


During this study the team developed a range of potential measures that could help to address some of the problems identified in the labour market for defence key skills. In these recommendations, the team focused on areas where action can be taken at a European level to add value to existing national, regional or company-led initiatives:

Recommendation 1: The EDA should coordinate a strategic approach to the defence labour market with active involvement of the defence industry, national governments and the education sector. To facilitate this, the EDA should set up a permanent EDA Skills Special Advisor to the Chief Executive.

Recommendation 2: The EDA should take the initiative to maximise the skills impacts of EDA joint procurement programmes.

Recommendation 3: The EDA should act as a forum for the defence industry, the education sector and national governments to share good practice on existing initiatives to address skills gaps.

Recommendation 4: The EDA should help facilitate access to the European Commission’s instruments with relevance to key skills and competences for the EDTIB.

Recommendation 5: The EDA should support knowledge and information sharing to improve the image of defence.


Project Team

Lucia Retter
Jon Freeman
Louise Taggart