Australia is facing the most challenging and complex set of strategic circumstances since the Second World War. Geostrategic competition, disruptions to global supply chains, and economic transformations highlight the critical importance of a strong and stable defence industry that can meet Australia’s future strategic needs.
This will be a national endeavour. The Commonwealth and the states and territories need to work together and with industry, unions and the education and training sectors to build our nation’s sovereign defence capability to secure a strong and prosperous future for all Australians.
Securing Australia’s national interests requires a regionally competitive maritime capability, including naval ships, Collins Class submarines and the forthcoming conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines. This will require a whole-of-nation effort, with South Australia playing a central role. By the end of this decade, Australia will begin building its first SSN-AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine in Adelaide.
SSN-AUKUS is unlike anything Australia has ever built. It will be one of the world’s most complex machines and building it will require new technologies, capabilities and skills. South Australia will be the manufacturing hub for this cutting-edge technology and the construction of a new capability. To succeed in delivering SSN-AUKUS, continuous naval shipbuilding and sustainment, and our other defence projects, South Australia will need to grow the capacity and capability of the industrial base.
This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our nation and for South Australia. A comprehensive and integrated approach is required to upskill and retain our existing workforce while growing the pipeline across the learning journey – from primary school through to mid-career transitions. We need more students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in primary and secondary school, and for them to continue the journey to become STEM-qualified graduates, tradespeople and professionals. We need increased employment opportunities for women, First Nations people, other under-represented cohorts, and security-cleared skilled migrants. Those wanting a career change should be encouraged to embrace the unique opportunities offered by a defence industry career in South Australia.
Building a skilled workforce and an enduring pipeline will not be easy – competition for labour is high and workforce shortages already exist. The 2023 Intergenerational Report and the 2023 Employment White Paper highlight that Australia’s labour force participation rate will decline as our population ages. Responsive, effective education and training systems, forward-looking skills-based policy, and well-targeted migration are needed to position Australia to adapt to future labour and structural changes.
Building on action already being taken, new initiatives are needed to train and retain suitably qualified and experienced personnel. Our efforts now will help to deliver a defence industry workforce that supports not just naval shipbuilding but programs across all defence domains – contributing to Australia’s sovereign defence capabilities.