Global defence groups hiring at fastest rate in decades amid record orders

Global defense companies are experiencing their fastest recruitment rate since the end of the Cold War, driven by nearly record-high order volumes. A Financial Times survey of 20 large and medium-sized US and European defense and aerospace companies revealed plans to recruit tens of thousands of workers this year. Major US contractors like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics have close to 6,000 job vacancies. Ten surveyed companies are seeking to increase their workforce by nearly 37,000 individuals, representing an almost 10 percent rise in their aggregate workforce.

"This is the most intense period for the defense sector since the end of the Cold War, with the highest increase in order volume in a short period," stated Jan Pie, secretary-general of ASD, the European aerospace and defense trade association. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and heightened geopolitical tensions, global military spending has surged. This sudden surge in orders, after decades of lower volumes, alongside competition for digital skills from technology sectors and lingering Covid-era labor shortages, has fueled the hiring spree across the industry.

Companies report they are hiring across various roles, from apprentices to senior executives, emphasizing the need for engineers, software developers, cyber security analysts, welders, and mechanics. Antonio Liotti, chief people officer at Italian defense leader Leonardo, noted an "intense search for new hires" surpassing previous conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. Leonardo, part of the tri-national program with the UK’s BAE Systems and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop a new fighter jet, aims to hire 6,000 new employees by the end of 2024 and plans to recruit between 8,000 and 10,000 new positions from 2025 to 2028, especially focusing on industrial and software engineers.

The recruitment drive is not solely driven by conflict but also by increased competition from high-tech companies and consultancies, along with factors like people's desire for better work-life balance and phenomena like "quiet quitting" [citation:1]. Ammunition producers such as Rheinmetall and Nammo, who have significantly increased production to replenish government stockpiles, are among those with aggressive hiring plans. Nammo, jointly owned by the Norwegian and Finnish governments, increased its workforce by 15 percent from 2,700 in 2021 to 3,100 in 2023 and now employs around 3,250 people. It anticipates doubling its size by 2030. Rheinmetall of Germany recently announced it would hire hundreds of employees from leading car parts manufacturer Continental, which is struggling due to weak demand in the auto sector.

France’s Thales, known for the shoulder-fired Starstreak missile provided to Ukraine, has recruited 9,000 people—11 percent of its 81,000 workforce—in its defense operations over the past three years. Last year, BAE Systems ramped up recruitment for long-term programs like the Global Combat Air Programme and the Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigates. In the UK, BAE has doubled its intake of early-career employees over the past five years, recruiting around 2,700 apprentices and graduates this year along with thousands of experienced professionals.

MBDA, Europe’s missile leader owned by BAE, Airbus, and Leonardo, plans to hire more than 2,600 people this year—17 percent of its workforce of 15,000 . Dassault Aviation, producer of the Rafale fighter aircraft, has maintained consistent hiring despite no direct order increases from Ukraine, due to long manufacturing cycles in the sector. Companies in nuclear defense, especially those in the trilateral Aukus submarine program between the UK, the US, and Australia, are facing significant skill shortages. Firms like Rolls-Royce and Babcock International have opened nuclear skills academies, while Thales UK has launched a sonar academy. The UK government has also initiated a nuclear skills task force to train the workforce needed for both civil and military nuclear programs, with expectations for more than 30,000 additional roles by 2030.

Industry engagement with universities has increased to build a future workforce. Cranfield University, with close ties to the sector, offers new courses, including digital forensics to address cyber attack attribution."Companies are now investing in the people supply chain," said Heather Goldstraw, Cranfield’s director of defense [citation:1]. Notably, some roles require additional security clearances. RTX, owner of Raytheon, highlighted ongoing challenges in hiring highly qualified personnel, including those with security clearances. Additionally, Germany’s Renk suggests looking abroad due to domestic labor shortages in the defense sector.

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