First came the cuts. Now in the aftermath of the defence review, the government, with dustpan and brush at the ready, is trying to pick up the pieces.
The defence review has left the industry with the prospect of losing tens of thousands of jobs. An industry-led group has been created to help soften the blow and ensure that high value skills in defence can be effectively redeployed to other sectors.
The Skills and Jobs Retention Group aims to explore how skilled workers from the defence sector can be reemployed in other sectors such as civil aerospace, automotive, energy and marine. It will also provide a forum for companies across UK manufacturing and engineering to make the most of the skills that may become available.
The group will consist of a small team of industry figures and will be chaired by Allan Cook, chairman of Semta, sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies.
But is a new quango enough to keep the defence industry happy? ADS, the UK’s aerospace, defence and security trade organisation, doesn’t describe itself as “happy”. It says the government’s message, that a lot of people are going to lose their jobs and now we’re going to jump to the rescue, isn’t a good one. However, it does admit that the defence review was long overdue and the announcement is a sensible one.
The big players in the defence industry, which are more likely to operate in different sectors, will be keen on the incentive. It’s better to retain expertise within a company than lose it. But aerospace aside, there are not many sectors that require these defence sector skills. ADS believes it is too difficult to judge if there is sufficient requirement elsewhere for a redeployment of skills to actually work. However, the potential of future growth in sectors such as aerospace and security, could create jobs and keep those highly skilled people around.
The government clearly recognises that highly skilled people have to be retained in the engineering sector. In this respect the redeployment idea should be welcomed, as these skills will be needed when the defence budget goes back up like government says it will in five to ten years time.
But who’s to say that the defence engineers affected by the cuts will be willing to play ball? The government has a lot of work to do if they don’t want the most talented to scurry off to find other jobs.