I often describe BAE Systems as a “skills enterprise” because core parts of the business – defence, aerospace and security – are absolutely reliant on the knowledge and expertise of people with specialist science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills.
Thanks to the brainpower of our 35,000 highly skilled UK employees, we have developed long-term defence programmes like the Astute and Dreadnought classes of submarines – which are currently in build at our shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria – and the Tempest Future Combat Air System project, which is underway at our military aircraft business in Lancashire.
We also describe these skills as “sovereign” due to the power and authority they hold over the UK’s security – the equipment and services we provide support our armed forces in defending the UK’s interests at home and abroad.
Alongside being a crucial piece of the UK defence sector, high-value engineering and manufacturing skills are vital for the economy. In 2020, a year of economic turmoil due to the pandemic, they helped deliver exports of £3.9bn and generate £10.1bn for the UK’s GDP.
BAE Systems wants to make engineering and manufacturing an attractive career choice for young people. That’s why we invest nearly £100m per year in skills and training, working with schools, colleges and universities to promote STEM and provide hands-on experience. The challenge of encouraging more women and those from ethnic minorities into the sector is of particular importance – improving the diversity of our workforce is a real focus for us.
Unfortunately, some technical skills are in very short supply, including nuclear engineering skills, systems engineering, naval architecture and combat systems skills. Some of the skills our business needs, such as welding and pipe fitting, also require expertise and take many years to develop. This is why we run apprenticeship programmes: they have consistently proved to be very successful in helping us develop these specialist and sought-after skills while also supporting social mobility.
We continue to recruit hundreds of apprentices and in this coming year will be taking on 939, of which 580 are from the north of England and 131 from Scotland. In 2021, 26 per cent of our England intake also came from disadvantaged communities. We are a founder member of Movement to Work, a programme run by youth charity The Prince’s Trust, and provide around 100 work placements for young, unemployed people every year. We also continue to support the government’s Kickstart programme, which funds employers to create jobs for 16-24-year-olds on Universal Credit, and have a second cohort of young people due to complete the programme in 2022.
The STEM skills we so urgently need are lucrative, desirable and fit for the future of work. This coupled with our wide geographic footprint means that our skills enterprise can make a valuable contribution to “levelling up” across the UK, helping to support employment in the communities that need it most.
Richard Hamer is the education and skills director at BAE Systems.