As the security and defence sectors gather in London for DSEI 2023 on 12-15 September, Jeff Lewis, chief executive and managing director of Raytheon UK, explains how ADS Group’s Defence Sector Board (DSB) is helping to address workforce and supply chain issues, and support SMEs in growing a complex sector.

“Defence Sector Board in ADS is the element of ADS that represent the defence industry. All the member companies that have a role and an interest within defence use the opportunity to feed in their voices, working closely with myself as the vice president of that sector, and the executive group,” he told FINN.

“We work with all of that group across the community to ensure that we have an understanding of the shared challenges that we all face – and the DSB brings that all together to ensure we provide a collective and single voice to government and specifically the Ministry of Defence (MOD).”

Championing small businesses

Often people think of the largest companies when it comes to the defence sector, but Lewis argues that the industry is predominantly made up with small and medium enterprises and it is important for government to hear their voices.

“They provide that ability to innovate in a much more agile way than some of the larger organisations, and it our role [at ADS Group’s DSB] to ensure they have an equal role within the sector,” he added.

Global disruption

The instability around the world over the past 12 months has had an impact on the defence sector, from an employee perspective and issues around cost of living, to supply chain challenges and an increase in demand for services.

However, the sector’s ability to innovate is helping to address and solve some of those issues, according to Lewis. “Sometimes I go in on a Monday, and I have a whole list of issues that we’re facing in terms of deliveries that we need to make to our customers worldwide. Then I find by the Friday and the team will come back to me and say, ‘we’ve resolved 15 of those 20 issues and we’re going work on the next five next week.’

“So, what I’ve seen is an adaptability and an agility across the entirety of the sector to deal with the issues that we face to ensure that we can continue to deliver to all of customers to ensure that our national security stays assured,” he added.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Improving and increasing the diversity of the defence sector is an important focus for the DSB, and Lewis believes it will help the industry to address skills shortages and workforce challenges.

“The sector has had challenges as it is not naturally seen as somewhere where a diverse group of people will want to joint,” he explained. “It’s getting better, and it has improved over the last five years, but it is still not a reflection [on society].”

To address these issues, Lewis suggested three main points for businesses to look at: “You’ve got to acknowledge that you need to make some changes, you’ve got to measure where you are and you’ve got to put some actions in place,” he said.

Lewis is working with the MOD and industry to create a set of principles that businesses can sign up to collectively and move diversity, equity and inclusion forward across the sector.

Skills shortages

For Lewis, STEM is another important part of addressing workforce issues, and in particular skills shortages. “We’ve got to work on how we encourage more people at a younger age to get interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] so they can add more to our sector,” he commented.

“Then, when we’ve got them interested at that young age, we’ve got to encourage them to transition into industry, either via apprenticeships, graduates or experienced hires and remain there. I’m 100% convinced if we can get people to join our sector they will remain – the challenge is to get them to join our sector and see it as an exciting future career,” he concluded.

The DSB is now named the Defence Sector Council – discover more here.

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