There's a huge range of careers on offer in the UK armed forces and while jobs are challenging they're incredibly rewarding. Whichever force you join, be it the British Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force, take a look at the variety of roles available

The nation's land, air and sea-based armed forces take part in combat, peacekeeping and humanitarian missions around the world to ensure the safety and security of the UK. From soldiers and pilots to engineers, medics, musicians, instructors, logistics officers and intelligence analysts, there are countless opportunities available with the UK armed forces, depending on your skills, interests and qualifications.

Careers in the British Army

The British Army recruits for more than 100  roles, both full and part time, in seven categories. Here are some examples of what's available:

If you're a graduate you're most likely to enter the Army as an officer or specialist (depending on your qualification). This is the equivalent of a leadership or managerial position, although you can still sign up as a regular soldier if you prefer. However, a degree isn't essential - learn more about ways to join.

To join as an officer, you'll need to meet the Army's entry requirements. You must be:

  • aged between 16 and 49 when joining
  • a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen
  • in good health with no injuries or medical issues
  • without any unspent criminal convictions
  • clear of any tattoos above your collar or any deemed offensive.

If you pass this basic check, you can apply online and attend an interview with a local recruiter. Get interview tips to help you succeed.

Next, you'll travel to Westbury in Wiltshire to have an Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB) assessment. This includes a 24-hour briefing with physical and practical exercises, followed by a three-and-a-half-day Main Board where you'll put your skills into practice.

Following an offer of employment, you'll go on a pre-commissioning course before starting a 44-week course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in Surrey.

Once you've joined the Army, there are lots of opportunities for professional development and career progression through the clearly defined ranking structure.

You can apply by visiting the Army recruitment website.

Alternatively, if you're interested in joining the Army part time - with a minimum commitment of 19 days per year - consider the Army Reserve (AR), previously known as the Territorial Army (TA).

Join the RAF

The Royal Air Force (RAF) splits its jobs into the following categories:

  • Aircrew - pilot, Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) pilot, weapon systems officer/operator.
  • Air and space operations - air and space operations specialist, air cartographer, air operations (control/systems) officer, air traffic and weapons controller, firefighter, flight operations manager.
  • Cyberspace - communications infrastructure technician, cyberspace communication specialist, engineer officer (communications electronics), joint cyber unit.
  • Engineering - aircraft technician (avionics/mechanical), electrician, engineer officer (aerosystems), general technician (workshops), photographer, vehicle and mechanical equipment technician, survival equipment specialist, weapon technician.
  • Hospitality - chef, air and ground steward.
  • Intelligence - intelligence analyst, intelligence analyst (linguist), intelligence officer.
  • Logistics - driver, logistics officer, mover, musician, supplier.
  • Medical services - biomedical scientist, dental nurse/officer, environmental health practitioner, medical officer, medical support officer (pharmacist/physiotherapist), nursing officer, operating department practitioner, radiographer, registered nurse (adult/mental health), RAF medic, student nurse (adult).
  • People operations - chaplain, legal officer, media operations officer/specialist, people operations officer.
  • Security and resilience - personnel training officer, physical training instructor, RAF Police officer, RAF Regiment gunner/officer.

In terms of career progression in the RAF, there are three ranking structures: commissioned officers (the equivalent of managers), non-commissioned aircrew or enlisted aviator. RAF Regulars are full-time personnel - you can also join part time as an RAF Reserve.

Once you've decided which role is for you and you're ready to apply, visit the RAF recruitment website.

There are seven steps in the application process:

  • an RAF aptitude test
  • selection interviews
  • health assessment
  • fitness test
  • pre-recruit training course
  • acceptance
  • training.

By entering your age and level of education, you'll get to see the jobs you're eligible for.

Another entry route is through an RAF apprenticeship. There are more than 20 roles to choose from, such as cyberspace communication specialist, RAF Regiment gunner, survival equipment specialist and aircraft technician (avionics/medical).

As an RAF apprentice salaries range from £15,220 to £39,000 depending on your role, plus benefits by the end of your first year. There's also a guaranteed RAF job for you if you complete the programme between one and three years.

Learn more about RAF apprenticeships, or apprenticeships in general.

Royal Navy jobs

The Royal Navy employs around 32,000 people and is organised into five services:

  • Fleet Air Arm - fighter jets and helicopters.
  • Royal Fleet Auxiliary - provides fuel for ships and supplies for personnel.
  • Royal Marines - an elite amphibious fighting force.
  • Submarine Service - also known as the 'Silent Service', it carries the Trident missile system.
  • Surface Fleet - destroyers, frigates, minesweepers, aircraft carriers.

Across these five Naval services there are nine specialist branches:

  • aviation
  • chaplaincy
  • engineering
  • logistics
  • medical
  • Royal Marines Band Service
  • Royal Marines Reserve
  • Royal Naval Reserve
  • warfare.

Within these categories there are more than 100  roles available - from aircrew officer pilot and medical officer to mine warfare specialist and weapon engineer officer.

As with the Army and RAF, many graduates join the Navy as officers. If you apply for an officer role, there are several stages you'll need to get through before you can start your training:

  • Naval Service Recruiting Test (NSRT) and informal interview
  • medical and eye tests
  • fitness tests
  • interview
  • Admiralty Interview Board (AIB)
  • security and reference check.

The AIB assessment centre stage involves an essay, leadership task, planning exercise and presentation, interview, psychometric tests and a fitness test. Get some general advice on how to approach psychometric tests.

You can apply by visiting Royal Navy Careers.

The alternative to starting as an officer is to join as a rating, while for part-time roles there's the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR).

Another option is to join the Royal Marines as a commando, officer or reserve. Learn more about joining the Royal Marines.

Inclusion and wellbeing in the armed forces

The UK government announced that women would be allowed to serve in all British military roles - including frontline infantry and Special Forces in 2018.

It was reported in the government's UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics: 1 April 2023 release that there are now around 16,450 women serving in the British Army, either in the UK or abroad - making up just over 11.5% of the total workforce, an increase of 0.2% on the previous year

Learn more about Women in the Army and Women in the Royal Marines.

Figures from the same GOV.UK report showed that personnel from ethnic minority groups made up 9% of the total intake in the same 12-month timeframe, an increase of 0.3% on the previous year.

Find out more about what's being done to increase inclusion at Army - Inclusion and values and Royal Navy - Diversity and Inclusion.

Mental health is tracked, as the latest Ministry of Defence (MOD) UK Armed Forces Mental Health report showed that in 2021/22 one in eight (12.5%) of the UK armed forces were seen in military healthcare for a mental health related reason. Rates of mental disorders seen in military healthcare services have risen since 2020/21, returning to similar levels seen in 2019/20. However, the rate for those needing specialist mental health treatment was lower in the UK armed forces than that seen in the UK general population with just 2.3% being seen by a specialist mental health clinician.

Similar to the general population women sought help more than males.

Veteran mental health charity Combat Stress is available to support regulars, reserves, veterans and their families through bereavement, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and other forms of stress.

Other charities such as the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) have campaigned for greater equality in the armed forces, with the Army recently setting up an LGBT Forum to offer advice and support to all LGBT+ serving personnel.

Read about diversity in the workplace.

Find out more

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