Dr Cathy Foley, CSIRO’s science director and deputy director of manufacturing, told Defence Connect that while some traditional types of manufacturing in Australia had largely closed down, such as the automotive industry, there was a significant opportunity around re-skilling workers to take on new roles.
"We're also seeing people who are technically trained [but] displaced because they don't need as many fitter and turners, or people who’ve learnt on the job with their skill sets," Dr Foley said, urging both academia and Defence to join forces to develop ways of retraining them in a less formal setting, aimed at reinforcing the creative potential of technical workers like fitters and turners.
"The number of times you hear, 'I've got this great idea for this thing'. They're actually potential entrepreneurs of the future and I'd really love to see how we can capture those people and retrain them or give them open-access workshops so that they can make prototypes and then access ... these 'ON' programs that CSIRO's running, which are now open to the world," she said.
Dr Foley noted some key opportunities around devising programs that enable retrained workers to contribute ideas for new products – offering ways to help commercialise them.
She also said Defence was increasingly getting on board with this notion of re-skilling staff to capitalise on core technical capabilities within manufacturing.
"The submarine contractors, they see that as very important and they've got a whole component about education," Dr Foley added. "I know I sit on the Questacon advisory board. When DCNS were announced as being the submarine contractor, I got them talking to Questacon to say: 'You guys have to talk so that you're able to have something in Questacon so that all school kids in Australia can go through Questacon and they get to see how defence sustainment and industries and stuff are part of a potential career path for people.'"