The pressure on defence budgets across Europe, has reduced confidence that the large procurements of yesteryear, that supported the diversity of the skills in the EDTIB as well as the volume of skills, will continue into the future. The increasing complexity and cost of major procurements means that the interval between one platform and the next is increasing, making it harder to sustain the key skills and competences in the industrial base during the interval period. In some areas, the demographic of the defence workforce in industry and government is tending towards the older generation and fewer graduates are choosing defence as their career area. In certain areas the combination of these factors can lead to the erosion of critical skills.
The Heads of State meeting at the European Council in December 2013 acknowledged the problem of disappearing skills and know-how and “stress[ed] the need to further develop the necessary skills identified as essential to the future of the European defence industry.”
To address increasing pressure, the EDA seeks to map key European defence skills and competences, and to develop concrete recommendations to maintain key defence skills and competences across the defence sector by:
- Facilitating access to the EC’s instruments with relevance to key skills and competences for the EDTIB. At the European level, there is a range of different instruments that could support essential skills and competences (e.g., Erasmus+, the European Social Fund, and COSME). EDA aims at launching technical assistance on key skills and competences related projects, starting with the European Social Fund.
- Launching an analysis on key skills and competences in the Government domain (primarily from within the NAD’s realm of responsibility) among the EDA Member States to complement the Key Skills and Competences study on defence industry, as the Governments are facing analogous challenges with regard to access to required skills and competences.
- Assessing skills and competences element within the Key Strategic Activities as skills are integral part of defence industrial capabilities.
In the past, the EDA has undertaken studies on the air, land, naval and ammunition industrial sectors. At scientific and technology level, EDA’s Capability Technology (CapTechs) networks have identified capabilities at risk (affecting technologies, skills, know-how, competencies, non-EU dependencies etc.). At strategic level, coordination has started with the European Commission on EDA’s work in the European Technology non-Dependence (ETnD) area.
From this work and from EDA’s daily engagement with industry it is apparent that engineering and know-how is eroding in many of the important industrial and technology areas of the defence sector.
Given the lack of new programmes, design skills are particularly at risk. The number of experts, specialists, mechanics and scientists in the defence sector is shrinking dramatically; the situation is becoming more critical due to defence budget cuts. As a prime example, engineers are predominantly middle-aged as the younger generation is less attracted to apply for engineering jobs in the defence industry and research institutes. This is likely to cause major problems in 5-15 years, with the risk of a significant loss of knowledge and experience and a consequential loss of industrial capability.
The requirement for skilled personnel for future defence related projects is generated by governments and official services. The natural source for the recruitment and further education and training of engineers, service personnel and experts in research, development, testing, manufacturing, procurement and management processes, are civilian universities, supplemented by defence universities. However, programme curricula at civilian universities does not usually cover defence technology and/or defence related management processes. Concomitantly, defence universities do not always cover the full spectrum of education and training needed to ensure a stable future supply of key skills and competences for defence. These courses are also organised and managed nationally, seldom taking advantage of joint initiatives and pooling and sharing education and training offerings across Europe. There is a missed opportunity to create the best possible pool of talent and avoid duplication.
As stated above, the process involved in the development and sustainment of specialised skills within the EDTIB is primarily driven by procurement programmes (equipment requirements). The EDA can support the generation of those programmes, and corresponding skills,directlythrough join programmes and procurement initiatives, some of which are already under way. The EDA can also support specialised skillsindirectlythrough the development of supporting instruments, which are outlined above in the project goals. These instruments aim at helping to sustain key skills and competences of cutting-edge technologies of today, and through encouraging technology breakthroughs also the key skills and competences of tomorrow. In doing so, the EDA needs to work together with a number of different actors, such as EC, NDIAs, and academia, to address collectively the factors that inhibit the development of skills in a dynamic defence labour market across the EDTIB. The end state is to create an environment, in which it will be easy, at least easier than today, to meet the demand for specialised defence and dual-use skills with their supply.
One of the recent EDA activities in supporting skills development is ESF4KSC process which aims at facilitating an access of defence related skills projects to the European Social Fund.