The event provided a rare opportunity for delegates – mostly representing small to medium enterprises (SMEs) – to discuss problems around building and maintaining a skilled workforce.
The common thread running through the numerous presentations was the challenges the defence enterprises faces when it comes to delivering the capabilities laid down in the recent Defence Strategic Review (DSR) – and in particular the future nuclear-powered submarines to be realised under the AUKUS construct.
Following video presentations from the Federal Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor and Tasmanian Minister for Advanced Manufacturing and Defence Industries Madeleine Ogilvie, the opening keynote speech was delivered by Major General Wade Stothart, Head of Military Personnel for the Defence People Group.
MAJGEN Stothart stressed to delegates that the people and culture of Defence is fundamental to the future of the organisation. “People are the foundation of our capability,” he said. Acknowledging the recent “historically high” separation rates suffered by Defence, MAJGEN Stothart said that the organisation is currently “off track” to meet the target of a 30 per cent increase in personnel by 2040, called for in the DSR.
“We have much to do on recruitment, our target is to grow the ADF to almost 80,000 people by 2040,” he said.
“We are engaging in a new approach to recruiting, a new brand, a new recruiting model and we’re in the transition of the pivot to the new recruiting model now.
“We have to create an environment where people want to join the ADF, where they thrive as they serve and whether it’s for a few years or a few decades, or a series of returning careers.”
The second keynote speech was delivered by Rear Admiral James Lybrand, Commander of the Australian Defence College, who also highlighted the challenges of building a skilled nuclear submarine propulsion workforce – which attracts the added problem of restricting potential recruits to only those able to hold Australian citizenship.
“We need you to help us,” he told delegates. “We need to create attractive employment propositions.”
In a panel discussion focussed on the problems faced by SMEs of attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, General Manager of northern Tasmanian SME Elphinstone Ben Sandow, warned of the risk associated with Defence contracts.
“One of the challenges of working with Defence is that it’s very contract-based, but what does it mean in the long-term,” he commented. “It’s a risky business being on the acquisition side of Defence contracts, because you don’t know what is around the corner.”
The day following the summit, the Tasmanian Government hosted an informative tour of Hobart SMEs, including CBG, Fiomarine, Currawong Engineering and Lightning Protection International.
A detailed account of the Defence Skilling Summit will appear in the October/November issue of ADM.
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