The Department of Defence is in the process of developing a long-term Defence Industry Skill and STEM Strategy to support its Integrated Investment Program.
Speaking at the 2017 Magna Carta Lecture, Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said he is expecting to release the STEM strategy by mid-2018.
"We are taking a proactive national approach by developing a long-term Defence Industry Skill and STEM Strategy so skills match future capability requirements and support the delivery of the Integrated Investment Program," the minister said.
Defence said the development of the strategy will be informed by consultations with the states and territories, Commonwealth agencies, industry and the research and education sectors.
The strategy will also be aligned with Naval Shipbuilding College and the Naval Shipbuilding Plan, released on 16 May 2017, which outlines the Australian government’s vision for the Australian naval shipbuilding enterprise and the significant investment required in coming decades. The government is also developing a Strategic Workforce Plan to support the Naval Shipbuilding Plan.
The Defence Industry Minister also talked up the efforts Defence is taking to draw more women and current students towards careers in science
"To encourage women to take up science careers, Defence Science and Technology Group introduced Women in Science Undergraduate Scholarships," he said.
"The Defence Science Cadetship Program identifies and supports high performing undergraduates and provides a pathway to future priority research careers. The Defence Graduate Program recently introduced a research and innovation stream. Its focus is on recruiting undergraduates from a number of STEM discipline areas.
"Women in STEM remain a priority, and Defence Science and Technology Group has joined in the Science in Australia Gender Equity Pilot."
The efforts come as Australia enters what some have dubbed a "STEM deficit".
"75 per cent of the world’s fastest growing professions require skills in STEM," Minister Pyne said.
"Yet here in Australia, we have a STEM deficit emerging. We are falling behind global peers in vital fields. We must act to reduce the impact on Australia’s competitiveness, export potential and livelihood.
Current government estimates have predicted over 25,000 personnel will be needed, directly or indirectly, to support the upcoming naval shipbuilding projects – the Offshore Patrol Vessels, Future Frigates and Future Submarines – with the naval shipbuilding workforce needing to grow to around 5,200 workers by as early as mid-2020.
The defence industry will face tough competition with competing industries looking to secure STEM graduates, a problem the government hopes to address with its recently launched campaign 'The Workforce behind the Defence Force'.
"For defence industry, attracting, recruiting, training and retaining a STEM workforce will be vital, and difficult," said Minister Pyne.
"Many other sectors are competing for the same critical skills. This will escalate over the next decade.
"Earlier this month, I launched a nation-wide information campaign called ‘The Workforce behind the Defence Force’. It highlights our great need for skills and workers in a renewed and reliable Australian defence industry, and how they fit into our defence capability."
Research commissioned by the Department of Defence found that the opportunities were not fully understood by the Australian public or industry, despite extensive coverage by the national media.