South Australia: building the defence workforce the nation needs

South Australia has a well-deserved reputation as the nation’s Defence State, responsible for the largest, most complex naval shipbuilding and Defence projects.

That leadership – and the growth of the local workforce – is set to be propelled to a whole new level, with the announcement that South Australia will be home to Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine build.

Children who are currently in primary school across Australia, will be the professionals working on and leading the submarine program in the future.

The workforce required to safely and securely build, operate, sustain and regulate Australia’s conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet is diverse. It will require engineers, scientists, technicians, submariners, administrators and tradespeople and many more skilled professionals.

So while there are more than 14,000 workers employed in South Australia’s defence sector now, it is anticipated more than 10,000 jobs across all domains, will be added to the defence industry pipeline plus thousands more in adjacent industries over the next two decades.

The scale of future workforce requirements is the focus of strategic discussion among defence industry primes, small-to-medium enterprises, government and the education and training sector.

It’s the strength of these networks in South Australia, that’s giving defence industry leaders the confidence to drive workforce projects forward at a pace some say is not achievable in other jurisdictions.

Greater access to vocational education and training


Vocational education and training pathways are expanding with the establishment of five new technical colleges for senior high school students across South Australia.

The first of these, Findon Technical College, is due to open next year, and will focus on developing advanced manufacturing and engineering skills for the defence and shipbuilding industries.

Georgette Elston, BAE Systems Australia’s Head of Resourcing and Early Careers, said the company would be partnering with the College to help students gain a head start on a defence industry career.

“The College will be a straight feeder into our apprenticeship and degree apprenticeship programs – we’re excited to be expanding our excellent relationship with the education sector,” Ms Elston said.

Also involved in standing up the colleges is South Australia’s government-funded vocational education and training provider, TAFE SA. A major provider of defence industry training, TAFE SA has reported an increase in enrolments in fee-free courses this year, for qualifications that meet defence industry demands.

”There’s a job for everyone in defence,” according to TAFE SA’s Director of Strategic Industry Partnerships, Julie Pisano.

A student using Lumination’s Beacon program

Primary school program elevating interest in STEM careers

BAE Systems Australia is leading another highly-transformational program, inspiring primary school-aged students to aspire to a STEM career, Beacon.

The term-long program, in partnership with tech start-up Lumination, teaches students about working with immersive technology – virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D modelling – to solve problems.

Targeted at students in years 4-6, Beacon was first launched in South Australia in 2022 and by the end of this year, more than 1000 students across South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales will have been involved.

“The idea behind this, is keeping as many young people as possible interested in continuing with STEM studies and ultimately STEM careers,” Georgette Elston said.

“Almost 60 per cent of BAE Systems’ 5,500 strong workforce in Australia have STEM-based roles so we need to continually inspire young people to pursue STEM careers and that needs to start at a young age,” she said.

BAE intends to expand the program and says it has a waiting list of schools eager to deliver it.

Brandon participated in the Defence Industry
Scholarship Program at APC Technology in 2020

Scholarship, university degrees and partnerships expanding opportunities

At the tertiary level, the South Australian Government’s highly regarded Defence Industry Scholarship Program continues to provide university students access to in-demand skills, knowledge and experience through work-based learning opportunities.

In partnership with Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), the scholarship provides eligible university students with grants to undertake work placements at a local defence company.  Since the program began, 64 students have completed placements across 17 companies, with the program boasting close to an 80 per cent success rate in students going on to be offered work with their host employer.

A new collaboration between the University of South Australia (UniSA), defence industry and the AiGroup will also fast-track the introduction of a university degree apprenticeship pilot program. State Government funding of $450,000 over three years has been committed to support the establishment of the software engineering degree apprenticeship, expected to commence in 2024.

Flinders University is also building on its research and education activities, partnering with the University of Manchester and The University of Rhode Island to establish international nuclear expertise.

REDARC employees developing
electronic solutions for
the defence industry

South Australian defence industry SME, REDARC, is one of many companies seeking to secure skilled workers graduating from the state’s universities.

Having been awarded a $23 million contract for the supply of lighting and related parts for the Royal Australian Navy’s Hunter class frigates program, it engages with South Australia’s main education institutions and offers work placements and intern work for students and graduates.

Scott Begbie, General Manager Defence said the company employs more than 35 apprentices or graduates across its business and typically recruits graduates with engineering skills in electronic, electrical, mechanical or mechatronics.

“We use these work placements to assess for skills and cultural fit and offer employment opportunities as they present themselves,” Mr Begbie said.

Taskforce focused on planning for the future

The South Australian Government is working with the Australian Government, developing a Workforce Plan considering all avenues to build the workforce pipeline needed to meet future Defence needs.

The Defence Industry Workforce and Skills Taskforce also includes representation from defence primes, SMEs and the education sector.

The taskforce is a key pillar in identifying measures to coordinate investment in education and training that will support more people to pursue a defence industry career for life in South Australia.