Katherine Ziesing | Canberra

There is much talk in Defence when it comes to the procurement of long lead items for platforms. My favourite example is the Commonwealth ordering Aegis shipsets for the AWDs in 2008 and taking almost a decade to install them and turn them on. The establishment of long lead items is often a function of commercial concerns; it takes time to design, manufacture and deliver complex items in a cost constricted environment. It’s easier to produce an item when a production line is hot, negating the start up costs and re-climbing the learning curve.

Despite the fact that people are economically termed as capital, they are a lot less moveable than other traditional items considered capital such as machines or infrastructure. They tend to have a mind of their own, which in many cases does not align with the national interest. Convincing a nurse to retrain as an electrical engineer might be a challenge.


Given the naval programs on the horizon, this is a failure of market forces


An alarming announcement came from UNSW Sydney (provider of courses at UNSW@ADFA) that the UNSW Engineering School intends to suspend intake for the Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Naval Architecture in 2017 while it is reviewed for possible closure due to lack of demand.

The suspension only relates to new enrolments, and does not affect current students. Students already in the program will be able to continue with their Naval Architecture studies with a view to completing their degree.

Given the naval programs on the horizon, this is a failure of market forces.

Government has made some steps in the right direction in this matter. As Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne announced in March, the government has plans for a $25 million Naval Shipbuilding College. Tenders for this school were released late last month. Minister Pyne said while the Naval Shipbuilding College would be headquartered at Adelaide – hardly a surprise given the government’s shipbuilding strategy centres around South Australia – it would provide opportunities for education and training providers across Australia.

“Training providers from across the country such as the Australian Maritime College in Launceston and TAFE providers across the country are in the perfect position to benefit from this government initiative,” Pyne said.

“The Naval Shipbuilding College will be national in scope. It will work with, rather than compete with, existing education institutions across Australia. Over the first few years of operation it is expected the College will have to attract, train or retrain more than 1,500 students across the country.”

The initial focus will be on key entry-level trades, and will later expand to include higher education qualifications such as naval architecture and engineering. Minister Pyne said there would be opportunities for current workers in shipbuilding, sustainment, and supply industries.

“Developing training to facilitate career paths from entry level trades to more senior positions like foreman and middle managers will be important. The Naval Shipbuilding College will also reach out to workers in adjacent industries, including those recently made redundant in the automotive industry,” he said.

The Naval Shipbuilding College will commence operations on 1 January 2018.

These are all fine sentiments but how do you get people to be interested in this industry in the first place? Early engagement through school-based STEM programs is one way to attract a younger demographic.

There is a trend emerging in today’s young Australians – changing jobs! A recent study by McCrindle showed that after leaving school the average Australian will have 17 employers from the age of 18 to retirement. This could mean five separate careers in an Australian’s lifetime, given that it usually takes working in around three jobs before upskilling or having a career change. Long gone are the days where you notice which career your skills suit and run with it until retirement. Young workers today have more choice, more fluidity and more power in the workplace.

Today, the national average time spent in a position (i.e. 'tenure') across all age groups is three years and four months, so it seems that a ‘job-for-life’ may be a thing of the past, and job mobility is the new trend. One only has to have a look at LinkedIn to see the job-hopping nature of the market, a market that is not specific to Defence.

What about those who are looking for a career change later in life? How does the Defence community reach them? I’m afraid I don’t have the answers.

This article first appeared in the June 2017 edition of ADM.

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