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Defence Industry and Space

Skills in the defence sector

The defence sector has a high percentage of skilled and specialised employees. However, companies are experiencing skill shortages and this trend is expected to increase in the future.



The European defence industry has to retain key skills and acquire new ones to remain in a position to deliver high-tech solutions in a global setting.

The skills required in defence are not necessarily industry specific, as most of them are similar to skills required in other industrial sectors. Most of the companies related to defence are also involved in civilian activities, and this will increase further in the foreseeable future. This means that the majority of company staff will work on civil and defence technologies and products during their career. This makes it even more important to make use of EU policy instruments in the defence sector.

Since 2013, the European Commission has been encouraging industry and stakeholders to make the best use of existing EU programmes and tools. All designed to address skills gaps and to foster new skills, retraining, and reskilling to tackle the challenges of the sector. This was reiterated in the European defence action plan.

The European Defence Fund (EDF) is addressing Europe's future security needs by introducing means to support the complete capability development cycle: from research, through development, to acquisition. A successful EDF relies on technological skills being available to the industry to develop and produce common capabilities.

A successful fund relies on industry's access to technological skills to create common capabilities. EU countries funding joint development projects will face increasing pressure on their pool of skills, calling for action. Europe needs the security of supply and strategic autonomy. This means ensuring defence-specific skills in several technologically advanced areas for effective and efficient production, and ultimately acquisition of capabilities.

Commission policy on defence-related skills

The Commission is developing a comprehensive approach addressing skills at all the levels – regional, national and EU. It involves all supply chain players, from SMEs and mid-cap companies to prime contractors. This strategy is implemented through the blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills initiative, launched with the new skills agenda for Europe and supported by the European defence action plan.

The following EU instruments support the 3 stages of the blueprint

1.       COSME to gather evidence and develop the defence sectoral strategy on skills

2.       COSME & Erasmus+ to help set up a European sector skills partnership and implement solutions

3.       ESIF to roll-out scalable and sustainable actions at the national and regional levels


Policy implementation

The first COSME-funded project kicked-off in March 2018. An industry-led European defence skills partnership was set up. The partnership supports cooperation between key stakeholders and contributes to the development of a sectoral strategy on skills, based on consensus and commitment to implementation.

1st event: Launch of the 'European defence skills partnership' on 19 June 2018

2nd workshop of the European defence skills partnership on 18 July 2018

Survey on defence-related skills launched on 23 July 2018

3rd Workshop of the European defence skills partnership on 18 September 2018

4th EDSP workshop on 14 November 2018

Erasmus+ call for proposals on defence technologies - now closed (deadline 28 February 2019)

Summary report on 'European vision on defence-related skills for today and tomorrow' presenting state of play and skill gaps in November 2018

European vision on defence related skills for Europe today and tomorrow (2019). The report presents the European defence industrial skills landscape, highlighting the skills which will be needed in future, while also identifying the defence market dynamics and technological development trends shaping these requirements. This research identifies defence-related skills gaps and shortages, emphasising the challenges with different sets of skills, in different defence domains and across the stages of the defence equipment life-cycle.

Workshop on knowledge and innovation community in defence on 4 December 2018

Workshop on education & training on 5 December 2018

Workshop on the use of ESIF for skills in defence on 6 December 2018

5th EDSP workshop on 15 January 2019

6th EDSP workshop on 12 February 2019

High level conference on skills in defence on 13 March 2019. See the conference programme and find additional information

Regions and clusters play a key role in building skills at the national and regional/local levels. Through the European network of defence-related regions, the Commission is raising awareness about the use of the European structural and investment funds for fostering skills. Training, up-skilling and re-skilling can be carried out for the needs of the defence industries, particularly through the European social fund.  The European regional development fund can also support the creation of skills as long as they are linked to smart specialisation.


This approach started in September 2016 when the Commission organised the first stakeholder workshop on skills for Europe's defence sector. The aim was to present the findings of the first study on defence skills commissioned by EDA, discuss upcoming Commission initiatives and foster the defence community's commitment.  

Relevant tools and links

  • The European defence skills partnership stimulates cooperation among defence stakeholders to address the sector's skills gaps. Its members regularly meet to define the European vision on defence skills. They address specific areas such as education & training, the use of ESIF to build skills at national and regional levels, and synergies with existing EU and national initiatives.
  • ESCO tool - a classification of European skills/competencies, qualifications, and occupations developed to help education and training systems, as well as the labour market to better identify and manage the availability of required skills. Defence-related terms are included in the system to facilitate job matching, the identification of skills shortages, provide career guidance, or present sector-specific labour market information.
  • The EU skills panorama turns labour market data into useful and timely intelligence that helps policy-makers decide about skills and jobs in Europe.
  • Brochure on the blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills for the defence sector