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Op-Ed: The links between national security and a world-leading education capability

As Australia struggles to comprehend its latest abysmal results and slip in the global rankings of education performance, Industry 4.0 and the growing period of concerted national defence industry investment provides an opportunity to overhaul the nation’s education system to meet Australia’s national security needs.

As Australia struggles to comprehend its latest abysmal results and slip in the global rankings of education performance, Industry 4.0 and the growing period of concerted national defence industry investment provides an opportunity to overhaul the nation’s education system to meet Australia’s national security needs.

Now more than ever, Australia’s defence industry needs the best and brightest minds in the country.

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Never before has the demand for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) students been so great. And, yet, fewer students are aspiring to STEM studies.

Our education system should be at the very heart of the industrial revolution that is ahead of us. But it’s currently a long way short of meeting industry’s needs.

BAE Systems is looking for 200 engineers right now. And we need to recruit 1,500 engineers in the next three years.

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These jobs would be based in large, strategic defence and engineering hubs around the country – here at Osborne and Edinburgh, Melbourne, Sydney, and Henderson in WA.

The work we do is complex and challenging - some of the most advanced and exciting engineering projects in the world.

Some of the roles will be directly linked to the engineering design and building of nine world class, state of the art Hunter Class frigates in Adelaide.

Also in Adelaide, we’re upgrading the Jindalee Operational Radar Network and installing autonomous technologies in vehicles for the Australian Army.

In the next three years, Australian universities will graduate about 34,000 engineers. That’s a lot of talent that the nation needs but many – up to a quarter are not eligible to work in the defence industry.

We need a lot of graduates because many other companies are also competing for the same pool of people to work on the Attack Class submarines, F-35, space programs or a range of other exciting defence programs.

There are simple but fundamental changes that could significantly increase the number of job ready graduates into the market.

First, we need to get more students excited by maths and science in a way that relates to solving real-world problems. And it starts with the teachers as the primary champions of maths and science.

We must find ways to better help teachers build their knowledge of how STEM is used in industry and the careers it offers. This could be done by improving the conditions for teachers to attract people from industry into teaching, or industry could provide an advisory and support service for teachers, or both.

Second, universities have established barriers to passionate and enthusiastic kids who don’t achieve the high entry scores required for engineering.

The scores are high because engineering courses are seen as good training for all sorts of vocations, which fuels demand. Through simple demand and supply the score goes up.

Then as score rises the course becomes more prestigious and the score continues to spiral. You don’t need a high ATAR to do engineering or to be a good engineer. You do need passion.

There are a lot of students who are passionate problem solvers who relish complex challenges but they just can’t quite meet the score required.

Based on today’s entry levels, many people including me would not be accepted into a university engineering course.

And finally, industry and academia need to work closer together as genuine partners with a shared goal.

For students to have the best opportunities on their exit from university, industry must be a partner in the development of the curriculum rather than a simply receiving interns, graduates and apprentices at or near the end of their studies.

A partnership between industry, education, academia and government that considers the entire learning cycle will best deliver the best opportunities not just for industry, but the entire nation.

Brad Yelland is the chief technology officer at BAE Systems Australia.  

Op-Ed: The links between national security and a world-leading education capability
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