EU defence industry faces staff shortage amid increased production demand

A European Commission plan to boost ammunition production capacity across Europe, including training personnel, runs the risk of further burdening companies that are already struggling to recruit personnel to produce the equipment.

The European Commission presented on Wednesday (3 May) its proposal for the Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP) meant to incentivise Europe’s defence industry to invest in ramping up production capacity, be it supply chain components, machines, or personnel.

The plan has the target for the defence industry to produce one million shells in 12 months.

One of the hurdles the EU executive proposes to lift in order to boost production is a regulatory waiver that would ease the rules restricting working shifts at night, for instance, in the EU members that currently do not allow to do so.

Troubles in hiring

Defence companies, including the biggest ones, are struggling to recruit personnel to work in their factories, several industry officials told EURACTIV ahead of the proposal’s presentation.

“We have a hard time hiring personnel,” two industry officials told EURACTIV, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Engineers and manual labour jobs are essential human resources needed, they said.

If factories cannot find people to assemble the equipment, or operate the machines,  they will not be able to ramp up production, they stressed.

Getting a long-term vision for orders and investment would also help with the hiring of employees, the industry sources said, explaining that without a long-term vision and orders, companies cannot offer long-term contracts to employees either, which will make it even more difficult to hire or train people.

“We have identified the problem” of certain skills shortages, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told EURACTIV when asked whether the EU executive has been made aware of the problem.

“At all the sites [of factories] I visited, we talked, first and foremost, about skills, because there are women and men who operate the systems and the machines,” said Breton, whose portfolio also includes the defence industry and space.

Not all tasks would require the same amount of training, but “some, for example in pyrotechnics or in technology” require a longer training time, he added.

Mobilising skills

“Certain member states have expressed their requirements and have come up with plans to speed things up”, Breton said, without specifying which ones have done so.

“We can use the European Social Fund. When talking about a war economy, we’re trying to find solutions, we are thinking out of the box.”

Breton mentioned the example of COVID-19 vaccines production, which was strained, and the decision to “set up a sort of skills pool and set up partnerships with skills transfers, to help us speed up in this transition period” when “we needed to mobilize skills, to share skills from one member state to another”.
“Some of the [defence] industries very much worked on a silo basis and didn’t really see what was going on next door,” he added.

[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski/Zoran Radosavljevic]


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