The value of boosting specialist staff skills for SMEs

Leading Aircraftman Luke O'Brien welding in the Mechanical Equipment Operations Maintenance section at Australia's main logistics base in the Middle East Region. Image via Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence.

Direct Edge chief executive Diane Edgerton has flagged the importance of underpinning employees’ specialist manufacturing and engineering skills.

In a face-to-face interview with Defence Connect’s Phillip Tarrant, Edgerton also took issue with Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne’s seemingly dismissive appraisal of fundamental key sector skills, such as welding.

"Honestly, I can't complain about our state government because they've been working very hard with me now, especially in a skills area," Edgerton said. "I'm actually pushing training providers through to making sure we actually get the training that we actually need so they are there supporting us within that."

"One of the things I probably don't like is when a skillset is … put down, so to speak," she emphasised. "I can just mention the comment made by Christopher Pyne in relation to backing up [Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull's submarine release. His comments were that welding is not an exceptionally skilled occupation."

The Direct Edge CEO said such comments troubled her, "because I think every welder has just been kicked in the guts".

"I'm sorry, but I can't get into defence without having specialist welding schools," she added. "[But] my concern is that I don't think there is enough quality certified welders within Australia to be able to do this work.

"You've got the submarines …  the LAND 400s, plus there are also other projects going on that these primes are working on. My concern is where is all of this skill and capability going to come from? Is it going to be imported in through the 457 [visa program]? Hang on, we just stopped those, didn't we?"

Edgerton wondered whether this specific skills challenge could be why, as a nation, Australia couldn’t put the percentage in required for the country’s labour content.

"Do we have to import [this expertise] because we haven't up-skilled and we don't have the time to be able to get these capabilities in place before we're ready for it?" she asked.

The value of boosting specialist staff skills for SMEs
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