The Albanese Government includes in its policies measures which seek to manage skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, and which place an emphasis on Australian content in defence related projects.
As outlined above, policies include the Future Made in Australia Skills Plan which seeks to provide 20,000 university places in subjects including engineering and technology as well as nursing and teaching to address shortages being experienced in the Australian workforce. It will provide opportunities for students to work towards the delivery of a skilled workforce needed in many fields including the defence supply chain in Australia. TAFE is also identified as a major feeder of a skilled workforce with 45,000 new TAFE places bringing fee free TAFE places to 465,000.
These skills from both university and TAFE will be very much welcomed by manufacturers and digital service companies alike. The skills will help to fill the demand created by the new Government’s Defence Industry Development Strategy which identifies a strong need for sovereign capability for production to supply the planned investment of $270 billion in new and advanced capabilities over the next decade.
The strategy states, “Effort needs to be focused on delivering and maintaining the equipment our forces need, and supporting our defence personnel, in an increasingly challenging international environment. The best way to do this, while ensuring Australia receives the greatest jobs and investment benefits, is to make sure these investments grow and strengthen our local defence industry capability.”
It states, “Labor will implement a new strategy delivering concrete rules and plans to maximise local content, leveraging the defence capability investment pipeline to develop sovereign industrial and research capabilities, and build-up the skills and expertise of the Australian workforce.”
These policies provide some positive direction for the thousands of SMEs who deliver services, material and components to the myriad of defence projects currently underway and the continued supply of consumables to the Australian Defence Force.
The new policies promise to address the disparity between the workforce needed for many businesses in the defence supply chain and the reality many are finding when they seek out staff with the required skills set.
Ongoing pressure will be placed on the education system to supply STEM qualified professionals especially if the Defence Industry Development Strategy fulfils its goal of adding greater Australian content to deliver defence projects.
Education takes a leading role in the delivery of such professionals as much of the defence supply chain requires exclusively Australian citizens due to the sensitive security surrounding the work they undertake. While migrants will seek citizenship, there will be a percentage of students utilising the university and TAFE systems, again necessitating continued strong investment in the tertiary education sector.
Even without defence projects, Australian manufacturing and service industries will require a sustained increase of university qualified STEM professionals and TAFE level certified individuals to deliver the workforce Australia needs.