LONDON ― Britain is setting up a high-level school for defense exporters aimed at increasing the skills of executives and government officials negotiating often complex deals with foreign customers.

The scheme, known as the Defence Enterprise Export Programme, is the initiative of the Defence Growth Partnership, the joint industry-government operation set up some four years ago to boost overseas sales of British military equipment.

DEEP is aimed at executives with the potential to move into senior management or on a fast-track career path with their organization.

DGP is collaborating with the highly regarded Cranfield University to create a two-year Master of Business Administration program to bridge the skills gap in a key area of the defense sector, as Britain battles to compete in a fiercely competitive sector that saw the U.K. industry net £5.9 billion (U.S. $6.8 billion) in export sales in 2016.

The scheme will be officially rolled out by the DGP at the Farnborough air show in July.

Ed Frankland, the DGP’s program director, said a lot of effort is going into skills for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but little thought has been directed at other areas where Britain needs additional capabilities.

“The topic nobody was doing anything about was equipping ourselves to be more effective on the international stage through defense exports. In the post-Brexit world, these are exactly the kind of people the U.K. will need,” Frankland said.

The part-time course uses online learning, classrooms and other methods, and it’s set to get underway next year.

One feature of the course will see students move between companies and government posts to maximize exposure to key skills.

Allan Cook, the senior defense industrialist who co-chairs the DGP, said more than 40 people had already signed up for the first course, and hundreds more are expected to follow over the next few years.

The students come from industrial members of the DGP and government departments.

With Britain facing a chronic shortage of engineers, part of the DGP’s remit is to provide an uptick in skills for the defense sector.

“We have had a lot of success in developing programs for skills in the defense area. The first was for a masters qualification in systems engineering in collaboration with Cranfield. It’s a core capability, as everybody in the U.K. defense sector is short of systems engineers; now we are targeting export skills,” Cook said.

Other skill gaps will be identified for similar treatment to the schemes already set up once DEEP is up and running.

The DGP brings together companies like BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and Lockheed Martin, as well as academia, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Ministry of Defence, and the Department for International Trade, primarily to help boost defense exports through teaming, advancing technological innovation and providing market intelligence.

Much of that work is done through a UK Defence Solutions Centre based at Farnborough, which is tasked with, among other things, identifying key market trends, highlighting capability development themes and seeking alignment of investment by the British government and industry to meet requirements.

The effort is jointly funded, with the government providing cash and the companies backing personnel.

However, that is changing. A major uptick in government funding in the DGP is allowing the recruitment of permanent staff at the UK Defence Solutions Centre.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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