Release type: Op-Ed


Power to Propel Workforce


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

Like a submarine propelling itself through deep water, the historic AUKUS submarine program will drive Australia’s workforce, skill development, industrial capacity, economic and defence power forward on a scale not seen before in Australia’s history.
The impact will reverberate and create benefits across Australian industry, with a unique opportunity for Australian companies to contribute to the construction and sustainment of Australia’s new fleet, along with contributing to the supply chains of partner nations. 

Critically, the program will create around 20,000 direct jobs over the next 30 years across industry, the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Public Service including trades workers, operators, technicians, engineers, scientists, submariners and project managers. 

At its peak, building and sustaining nuclear powered submarines in Australia will create up to 8,500 direct jobs in the industrial workforce. 

The opportunity is expansive. A highly skilled and productive workforce is critical to the successful delivery and sustainment of new nuclear submarine capabilities. 

Australia’s vocational education and training sector already contributes significantly to our naval shipbuilding and sustainment sector, providing diverse skills requirements ranging from complex engineering and design roles, project management and logistics roles, through to highly advanced technician and trade roles. 

However, in the midst of a skills crisis, we are aware of the obstacles in our path. Industry must have the people capability and capacity to build, maintain and sustain the new submarines, which is why we have commenced developing the Submarine Workforce and Industry Strategy to ensure we have the people with the skills we need to deliver and operate our Defence assets.

The keystone of this strategy is a dedicated Skills and Training Academy, which will be a dedicated hub to attract, grow, develop, qualify and retain the shipbuilding workforce to meet current and future demand and provide opportunities for continuous development of the existing workforce. 

Working in lockstep with state and territory governments, industry, unions, universities, education and training providers and the scientific and technical sectors, this academy will be vital to attracting, and maintaining the workforce to support and build the capabilities of Australia’s world-leading defence industry. 

This work has already begun with the landmark National Skills Agreement endorsed last year, and discussions on the five year Agreement are well underway. 

Planning and forecasting workforce demand and supply, identifying priority skills areas, education and training requirements and finalising a workforce strategy, will help develop opportunities to equip Australians with the skills needed for these long term secure and well paid jobs. 

We want to see career training programs bring new people into the workforce, such as apprentices. We want to lift the skills of the existing naval shipbuilding workforce. We want to see transition programs to bring in people from adjacent industries in the defence, manufacturing and technology sectors. 

The Academy will support the entire shipbuilding workforce, providing hands-on trades training and classroom based professional development, backed by cutting edge technology and modern facilities. 

While the sleeping quarters of submarines are notoriously confined, the expansive impact of this announcement cannot be understated as we strategically invest in an industrial scale skills uplift of national significance rarely if ever seen before. 

This opinion piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 22 March 2023.