Skip to Content

The defence industry must modernise to diversify its talent pool and accelerate digital adoption.

Simon MacWhirter
Dec 11, 2023

Simon Macwhirter, Senior Vice President and Group Client Partner shares his thoughts on overcoming the lack of fresh faces in the defence industry.

Changes across the digital landscape are creating new challenges for the defence industry. In our packed Digital Culture 26 report, we discuss how much like most other industries, the sector is exploring how to turn those challenges into opportunities, harnessing new digital tools and capabilities. But unlike other industries, defence upholds a unique obligation: to provide the very best to those facing danger every day. And when, increasingly, providing the very best to their end user must include the most advanced technology the world can offer, and the most up-to-date digital capabilities available, the challenge isn’t just mighty, it’s urgent.

Impeding the pace of this digital adoption is a workforce increasingly less inclined or able to drive digital innovation. To change the culture organically, we need to attract fresh talent; people who are tech-native pulling it in, rather than technology being pushed onto the less willing.

In 2021, the UK Institute of Engineering and Technology wrote to the UK Government to highlight that there are 173,000 engineering places open, with no concerted plan to address this. This is a national issue not just a defence industry problem, creating significant pressure on our ability to research, design, supply, build, operate and maintain our critical defence platforms and products. Availability of talent is directly affecting the availability of capability. To mitigate this, the UK’s largest defence supplier, BAE Systems, made a commitment to take on more than 3,000 apprentices, with a focus on the person not just the CV to develop the critical skills needed to fulfil their order book and growth ambitions.

But what if they don’t want to join us?

Dealing with the security constraints of working in the defence sector – perceived or otherwise – remains an issue. When my daughter finished university and looked for organisations to join, she received two offers: one from a leading engine maker in the defence industry and one from a leading Formula One team and manufacturer. You can guess which one she chose. Not just because the brand oozed coolness but because of the modern benefits and fast-moving culture it offered. With old laptops and security firewalls preventing simple tasks like using social media or running her household, defence was deemed too old-fashioned for a career hungry grad.

We also have difficulty retaining or re-attracting those who do join, only to leave for pastures more exciting. These fresh-faced grads and school leavers walk into businesses and buildings that still feel like they’re in the 80s, where everything is done on paper, only to walk straight back out to join somewhere more exciting and fast-moving where they’re given the best tools and experiences to grow their careers. We need to break that with investment in new programs, innovation, and capabilities. If we genuinely want to foster a digital culture, we’ve got to change the way we do it.

We want the best, we want the ‘Formula-One-deciders’ to come work with us, to drive the same speed and accuracy, with the design capabilities to put the next submarine in the water or aircraft into the sky. A nuclear submarine is arguably the most complicated product built on the planet and there are many people that would want to come and work on such an exciting endeavour.

Next year, and in the years to come, industry events like DSEI provide the perfect opportunity for all of us to encourage those enthusiasts to walk in and see what an exciting industry ours is (and not simply on the event’s Friday open day when the excitement buzz has reduced somewhat).

At Capgemini we hire, on average, 800 to 1,000 digital new starters and returners every year – an integral part of our competitive advantage and corporate culture – and we deliver world-class engineering services and business transformations that are fundamentally powered by digital and data excellence. But even Capgemini’s own grads were amazed by what we do as both a company and an industry because as a collective we don’t talk about it enough.

It is down to us as leaders to not just sell why we’re passionate about the defence industry, but to sell the exciting digital tools used in the design, manufacture, and servicing capabilities, and to also prove that once you join us, the digital culture runs deep.

The bottom line is this: to meet the changing threats and needs in our industry, we must have a workforce that’s suitably skilled, energised and agility-enabled – which can only be achieved by investing in our digital cultures. We must create and shout about a digital culture that embraces changes in both engineering technology and information technology and integrates them both.

Mike Dwyer, our Head of Intelligent Industry at Capgemini in the UK, has authored a related piece to this one which I highly recommend. In his blog he discusses how and why the defence industry needs to collaborate and innovate to speed up the pace of digital adoption. Please click below to give that a read.

Capgemini has provided IT, engineering, and consulting services to the defence industry for more than 30 years. We are seeing, and indeed experiencing, the essential changes that companies across the sector must make to successfully compete in the market, stay ahead of challenging geopolitical actors and to keep our citizens safe.

Get in touch to join us in creating a new digital culture, for the protection of us all.

Simon MacWhirter

Senior Vice President and Global AE
A former electrical engineer in the aerospace industry, Simon has spent the last 25 years at Capgemini using this background to advise service and manufacturing clients on the benefits, challenges and transformation digital technology can make to their businesses. Now a Vice President and Global Account Executive, Simon is responsible for Capgemini’s work with one of the largest defence organisations while making sure they have the right capabilities to adapt their IT and OT systems to rapidly changing geopolitical challenges.