Types of jobs and employers in the armed forces
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The armed forces offer a wealth of opportunities to people who want to start work and gain qualifications and experience along the way, whether you have a degree, A levels or equivalent, or no qualifications at all. There is a broad range of specialisms you can apply for, including technical, engineering, medical, logistics and personnel support roles.
There are special arrangements for prospective graduates who wish to join the armed forces to practise medicine or as engineers, so if this is a career path that appeals to you, you could be eligible for support with the costs of study. There are also undergraduate bursaries available for students on other courses. You can find out more from our advice on the university route into a career with the armed forces.
The armed forces are structured in a different way from civilian organisations and have a different approach to recruitment; they don’t run graduate programmes and school leaver programmes in the same way as big commercial companies. On joining the armed forces you’ll be assigned a rank and will then be able to progress to higher ranks. If you have a certain level of achievement at GCSE and A level, or equivalent, you are eligible to apply to join as an officer and to take on leadership and management responsibilities.
Graduates go through the same recruitment tests and assessments for officer training as non-graduates and graduates with professional qualifications. The minimum qualification requirement for all the jobs listed here is A levels or equivalent and training will be given as required.
There is a vast range of jobs on offer in the Army, covering areas such as logistics, engineering, HR, intelligence, medicine and education. Women can apply for most jobs in the Army, with the exception of the Household Cavalry, Royal Armoured Corps and Infantry.
Here are some examples of jobs you could do in the Army:
- design engineer team officer – a degree is not essential to apply for this role, but if you have an accredited engineering degree you will have the opportunity to work towards chartered status
- communication troop officer – responsible for leading and directing the soldiers responsible for battlefield communications using equipment such as satellite systems
- learning development officer – you will have the opportunity to gain a PGCE (teaching) qualification in service and you are also likely to gain a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)
- aviation support officer – manage soldiers responsible for keeping helicopters refuelled and fully prepared for their next task.
- medical support officer – lead and direct the medical team responsible for treating frontline casualties.
There’s a broad range of jobs available in the six main branches of the Royal Navy: warfare, engineering, logistics, medical, chaplaincy or aviation. You could work on the surface fleet, submarine service or the Royal Navy’s aviation branch, the Fleet Air Arm.
The Royal Marines forms part of the Royal Navy, as does the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which is manned by civilians and carries out functions such as supplying ships on operations with food, ammunition or fuel.
Here are some examples of roles you could do in the Royal Navy:
- air traffic control officer – lead a team responsible for maintaining the safe flow of air traffic, whether in peacetime or at times of political tension, conflict or natural disaster
- aircrew officer pilot – you’ll drop Royal Marines commandos into action and carry out surveillance and anti-submarine operations and search and rescue missions
- warfare officer (submariner) – you’ll be responsible for navigating your submarine and could be given the job of launching torpedoes or cruise missiles against targets
- logistics officer submariner – responsible for making sure your submarine has everything it needs on operations
- hydrographic and meteorology officer – collect and analyse information about the environment to help with tasks such as predicting weather conditions, carrying out scientific surveys or tracking hostile submarines.
The Royal Marines are part of the Royal Navy. They take part in frontline combat on land and at sea and are sent at short notice to deal with emergency situations. Jobs with the Royal Marines are only open to men, though women can apply to the Royal Marines Band Service.
If you join the Royal Marines as an officer, these are some of the specialist roles you could undertake as your career progresses:
- heavy weapons officer – you’ll be trained in the tactical use of mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and the heavy machine gun
- mountain leader officer – you’ll specialise in mountain and cold-weather warfare
- intelligence officer – you’ll put together and interpret information
- pilot officer – you could fly helicopters to deliver supplies to the front line or evacuate injured people
- special boat service officer – you’ll become an expert in swimming, diving, parachuting, navigation and reconnaissance.
The key areas of employment in the RAF are: personnel support, medical, logistics, force protection (this includes the RAF police and firefighters), technical and engineering, communications and intelligence, aircrew and air operations support.
All RAF roles are open to women, with the exception of RAF regiment officer and RAF regiment gunner. Here are some roles you could apply for in the Royal Air Force:
- flight operations officer – plan, coordinate and monitor flight operations
- aerospace battle manager – you could be a surveillance officer, monitoring the skies for airborne threats; a weapons controller, directing fighters onto aircraft that are suspicious or identified as threats; or a space specialist, searching for missiles and military surveillance satellites beyond the atmosphere
- radiographer – use imaging equipment to help with the diagnosis of patients
- intelligence officer – gather and present intelligence, for example from images or signals, and analyse threats
- Pilot – fly fast jets for combat or ground attack missions, transport aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid or military support, and helicopters for duties such as search and rescue missions.
If you are interested in joining the armed forces but do not wish to commit on a full-time basis, you could consider applying to the Reserve Forces. These are the Army Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Reservists are drawn from all walks of life and provide support to the regular forces at home and abroad in their spare time, undertaking a broad range of roles that mirror the jobs open to those working full-time. They are paid a salary and work alongside the regular forces when needed.