STEM skills strategy as national endeavour, says Department of Defence.
Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, Minister of Defence implored Australians to ‘let loose their inner geek’ at the inaugural STEM in Defence, co-presented by the Australian Defence Magazine and Informa, held in Canberra on 30th of November.
“It’s not possible to overstate the level challenge we are faced with,” the Senator said when talking about the critical need to rapidly drive a STEM-skilled workforce, a concept echoed across the day by representatives from the Department of Defence, Defence Science Technology group (DST) and industry partners including Boeing, BAE Systems and Navantia Australia.
“We are changing the shape of our workforce and our recruitment messages needs to reflect that,” she continued, advising a broad, cross-agency approach to avoid inter-departmental ‘cannibalization’ of talent.
Matt Ramage, Assistant Secretary, Defence Industry, Department of Defence also recognised that a Defence STEM strategy is a national endeavor rather than a Defence endeavor. The Department of Defence, he believes, will play a critical role but will need to work with other parts of industry to raise the broader level of STEM skills in all Australians.
“With the continuous shipbuilding program in South Australia, specific skills will be required,” Mr Ramage said. “And more advertising and promoting of the Defence Industry as a career path for young Australians is needed.”
The common perception remains that a career in Defence involves front-line combat and uniforms. However the sophistication and breadth of skills required over the next 40 years is staggering. The DST has $1.6 billion allocated to innovation initiatives over the next ten years, including $730 million for the Next Generation Technology Fund.
The Defence STEM strategy will reference five domains. The domains of land, sea and air have been included since World War One. Newly added are cyber and space.
“Scientists will be just as important as our front line soldiers and their ability to cut code quickly will be critical,” said Army Drones Programs Brigadier, Chris Mills, Director General Modernisation – Army. Unmanned aerial systems including drones that use swarm mentality will shape the future of Defence. Soldiers at all levels will need to understand and engage comfortably with these technologies.
The future Defence workforce is not confined to the Defence Force. The Defence Industry includes thousands of businesses, men and women across the country who aren’t in the Defence Force but they use their skills to supply and support it. It’s equally important to companies in the Defence industry that Australia builds its STEM capacity.
Shelley Willsmore from BAE Systems explained that 60% of their workforce is STEM related but 35% of their workers are already aged over 50 years.
“Looking at the growth that’s about to hit us, we see the challenges” she said. With the increase in shipbuilding, BAE Systems plans to recruit 2000 STEM graduates by 2018 and they need to look at new avenues to attract people at all levels of their careers.
The challenge is to communicate the full breadth of high tech jobs in the Defence force, added Pauline Richards, Director – Human Resources at Navantia Australia. “Australia will be at the forefront of the shipbuilding industry. We need to sell our industry as an industry where you can gain more than you ever thought possible.”