National Defence Skilling & Workforce Summit

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The Hon Melissa Price MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for Science and Technology

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6 November 2019


Thank you, Dr Kearnan, for your introduction.

Before I go on, I would like to pause to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Noongar People, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I’d like to acknowledge;

  • The Honourable Bill Marmion MLA – Shadow Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Local Government, Defence Issues, Science and Deputy Leader of the Opposition
  • Industry leaders from defence businesses across the country, industry associations and representative organisations
  • Also pleased to have two local apprentices from Austal joining us over the next two days
  • And of course my federal colleagues Minister Cash and Assistant Minister Irons – who will be joining us over the next couple of days.

It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to vibrant Western Australia.

Not only is Western Australia my home state, but it’s also home to a proud and thriving local defence industry — so it’s a fitting backdrop for today’s National Defence Industry Skilling and Workforce Summit.

When we released the Defence Industry Skilling and STEM strategy in February, we made a commitment to bring our key stakeholders together.

This summit is the delivery of that commitment.

Of course, it’s important to understand our commitment to defence industry skilling in the context of our ambitious plan for Australia’s defence industry.

Simply put, we are building a world-leading defence industry here at home.

Our Government is 100 per cent focused on increasing the capability of Australia’s Defence Force.

Right now we’re making a $200 billion investment, and this investment is helping our defence industry flourish.

We’ve already established great initiatives, like the Defence Innovation Hub — a ten-year, $640 million investment to encourage and harness the ingenuity of Australian businesses.

The Hub’s investments have directly led to the creation of 200 new jobs so far –

That is especially important because more than 85 per cent of the Hub’s contracts are with small businesses.

I don’t think it’s any secret that Australia has some incredibly creative people — people who are developing the technologies of the future.

As Minister for Defence Industry, each and every day I get to witness the latest and greatest innovations coming out of the sector.

Everything from autonomous air and land drones …

… to artificial intelligence that deploys wireless cyber security measures …

… and sophisticated sensors that can detect explosives, chemical warfare agents and narcotics.

They’re just some of the new technologies that will help our Defence Force maintain its strategic advantage.

But these innovations don’t just happen overnight.

For any technology to go from idea to reality it takes a highly trained workforce with specialist knowledge.

To design a drone, you need an engineer.

To develop artificial intelligence, you need a computer scientist.

To detect chemical residues, you need a chemist. 

Of course, people with these skills don’t just appear overnight either.

Each profession needs foundational training in science, technology, engineering and maths.

These are the skill sets in demand today, and we know that demand will only increase in the future.

It’s predicted that by 2030 workers will spend 77 per cent more time using science and maths skills.

But to deliver our substantial investment in Defence capabilities we will need more than degree qualified scientists, engineers and mathematicians. 

We will also need people with technical skills and trades:

… welders and electricians,

… builders and data analysts,

… cyber security experts

… and cryptographers, just to name a few.

And all sectors of the economy will want to employ people with these skills — not just defence industry.

So if we want a thriving defence industry, it’s clear that we have to build a workforce with the necessary skills.

This means we have to increase the uptake of students studying relevant subjects.

And, in a highly competitive market, we have to find ways to attract them to the defence industry, and retain them once they’re here.

The only way we’ll achieve this is if we focus on the complete life journey — from early engagement, to education, to employment.

Defence Industry Skilling and STEM Strategy

That’s why the Government released the Defence Industry Skilling and STEM Strategy.

This is the first step of a long-term, coordinated, national approach to help build the skilled workforce our defence industry needs.

The strategy also recognises that to get the right outcome we have to work together.

The solution demands a comprehensive, national approach.

When we drafted the strategy, we consulted extensively with all levels of government as well as industry and the education sector.

It’s a $32 million investment — from this year until June 2022 — to build the skilled defence industry workforce of the future.

So I want to take a moment now to briefly step through the Strategy’s four key focus areas.


The first stage is engagement.

If we want students to choose a career in defence industry, they have to know it’s an option —

And that means improving access to information about defence industry careers.

For the last 12 months we’ve been promoting ‘Workforce behind the Defence Force’ at career expos across the country.

This is on-the-ground engagement with students, parents, teachers, and career advisers.

It’s one of the best ways to show them how a range of studies could translate into diverse career opportunities within defence industry.

We’re also continuing to fund the Schools Pathways Program.

This is yet another avenue for young Australians to get information about career opportunities in defence industry.

At the same time, they can make connections with industry to inspire them towards study.


Of course, once a student has put in the hard work, and gained those valuable skills, they need a way to move seamlessly from education to employment.

This is the next step — attraction.

Today I’m pleased to announce we have expanded the Defence Industry Internship Program.

The program links engineering students in their third and fourth year of study with an employer.

By offering a 12-week internship, the program gives students a real taste of what a career would look like, while at the same time giving them that all-important foot in the door.

This year, we committed almost $2 million to the program and have increased the number of funded internships to 70 places nationwide because of high demand.

This is good news, because it means young Australians are thinking about careers in our defence industry.

The Program is providing the next generation of Australian engineers with the hands-on experience they need to help defence businesses thrive.

Train and Retain

So, our student has a job, but now we have to retain them.

After all, what is a business’s secret weapon?

It’s their employees.

Your employees know the business, have expertise and a wealth of on-the-job experience.   

Plus, it’s always cheaper to retain existing staff than train someone new.

But as I’ve already acknowledged today, technology is rapidly advancing.

Once employed, the next step is to keep an employee’s skill set relevant and up to date.

That means embracing the concept of life-long learning. 

We need to support small businesses in reskilling and upskilling their staff so they can keep up with advancements, and retain this valuable human resource.

This is why we’re establishing a new, targeted defence industry skilling grant program.

We’re making $4 million available each year through grants to support small businesses train their staff.

These grants will support training in technical, trade or professional skill sets that are required to meet a current or future Defence capability need.

The grants will also provide support for businesses to improve their human resources practices and training plans.


Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is collaboration.

To achieve these outcomes — to build the workforce we’ll need for the future — schools, employers, industry, universities and vocational education providers, as well as federal, state and territory governments, will have to work together.

This is a national endeavour.

Here today we have representatives from each of these sectors — the leaders in these fields.

And to draw together each thread — to create a cohesive tapestry — we have established the National Defence Industry Skill Office.

The office will act as a central point of coordination.

It will give each stakeholder a single point of contact to drive the implementation of the Strategy.

Later this morning, and tomorrow, you will hear from my federal colleagues Minister Cash and Assistant Minister Irons, about their ongoing work in VET Reform and how our vocational education sector is providing our students with the skills they’ll need to succeed.


As you can see, when it comes to building capacity in our defence industry, there’s no single solution — there’s no silver bullet.

We recognise this, and we have put together a comprehensive plan which will build capacity at every step along the way.

The initiatives I’ve mentioned today are just the beginning.

It will take all of us working together.

Together, we can grow awareness of defence industry careers.

Together, we can provide students with the support they need to enter the sector.

And, together, we can take the necessary steps to retain staff, and build their expertise.

Ultimately, we will create a truly thriving sector that can deliver the capabilities our defence force will need.

This summit is an important first step towards bringing us together, and starting the national conversation we need to have.

So to continue that conversation, I would now like to open this Summit and commence the day’s proceedings.

Thank you.


Authorised by the Hon Melissa Price MP, Minister for Defence Industry, WA, Australia.


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