• NSW  university students talk with defence industry representatives during the Defence Pitch@Parliament event on Tuesday 28th March at NSW Parliament. Credit: Michele Mossop
    NSW university students talk with defence industry representatives during the Defence Pitch@Parliament event on Tuesday 28th March at NSW Parliament. Credit: Michele Mossop

Patrick Durrant | Sydney

In an event that bore more than a passing resemblance to a speed-dating night for amorous singles, defence industry employers and university students gathered at NSW Parliament on Tuesday night to share their attributes in what NSW Industry Minister Niall Blair described as a “win-win for Defence, industry, graduates and [the] future economy”.

The Defence Pitch@Parliament brought together 14 defence companies including major primes such as BAE Systems, Thales, Raytheon and Rockwell Collins with 150-odd masters and PhD students from seven NSW universities.

Organised by the NSW Department of Industry in conjunction with Data61's job matching service Ribit, the aim of the night was to link students studying defence related disciplines such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and information technology with prospective employers who were also given the opportunity to pitch their appeal.


“[It's a] win-win for Defence, industry, graduates and [the] future economy.”


ADM spoke with Ribit developer and director at Data61 Liz Jakubowski about the evening and the need to establish effective connections between prospective future employees and industry.

  “It was amazing, the event was supposed to finish at 8pm but we still had lines of students waiting for a chance to meet with companies as late as 10pm.”

 Jakubowski explained the genesis of Ribit within NICTA, which was merged with the digital productivity unit of CSIRO to form Data61. Originally intended to be an online platform connecting researchers with industry, Jakubowski's team soon realised it would be more productive to link students, particularly post-graduates, with prospective employers.

“It creates a pipeline, and undergraduates see they'll have opportunities working with companies, particularly when they see they can study while taking a part-time placement or internship.”

Jakubowski said Government could also see the model of engagement between students and a career employment trajectory needed change and that internships, for example, needed to be happening earlier. She said the Ribit platform has been in beta for 13 months and has grown to a community of 10,000 students across NSW, Victoria, ACT and Queensland.

“We really try and target students in STEM, research and digital and thanks to algorithms developed by Data61 data scientists, we're able to match student skills with those needed by business.”

She said students who had registered with Ribit could than be alerted to particular job opprtunities or internships and events such as Defence Pitch@Parliament.

On the night, company senior representatives, including CEOs, gave a short one minute pitch to the students about their companies and the types of students they were looking for. As Jakubowski explained, students were then able to spend about five minutes with the employer of their choice; this was then followed by a minute to locate their next ‘date’ before the bell signalled the start of the next round.

“We try and make it fun and light-hearted, it's a novel experience for many of the students and so they are quite nervous, we also try to prepare them as much we can by giving them tips beforehand,” she said. “Either they'll go away with the chance of a job offer or at the very least they'll pick up presentation skills that can only help them in the future.”

Software, mechanical and mechatronic engineers were all in high demand, according to Jakubowski.

“Other disciplines where companies are seeing shortfalls include materials science, computer science, aeronautical engineering; cybersecurity skills are also very sought after.”

Niche skills, such as the pressure hull welding skills required by ASC to build and sustain submarines represented another area experiencing shortages.

Overall the event was a great success and Jakubowski said a DST Group team lead by acting chief of Science Partnerships and Engagement Mark Petrusma was very impressed with the calibre of students.

“A representative from one of the big primes also said that in principle they would've hired at least half of the students they had met on the night.”    

Jakubowski said there had been interest by other states for similar defence events and Ribit had also co-hosted events for the medtech industry and the cybersecurity community. The startup community was also very interested.

“Wherever there's an interest we're there to assist in making those connections, we'll always do it in partnership, we're agnostic for example regarding universities, we just want to support the need.” 

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