Warning over shortage of defense shipbuilding skills amid uncertainty over local submarine construction
The defense shipbuilding industry is warning of a skills crunch as it awaits details on how much nuclear submarine construction will take place in Australia.
- There is a high demand for workers in the defense shipbuilding industry
- Employers struggle to access training programs
- There is no guarantee as to the amount of work for the AUKUS Accord submarines that will be built in Australia
Audra McCarthy, chief executive of the industry association Defense Teaming Centre, said it was an issue affecting most local businesses.
“We’re actually competing with other sectors in Australia for the same skills so that’s starting to be a real issue and we actually want to see more investment and energy put into how we close that gap. skills,” she said.
Ms McCarthy said there are already some very good training programs in place to try to increase the number of skilled workers, but the way they are deployed needs to be improved.
“What we want to do is start looking at the bureaucracy and some of the processes involved in accessing these programs,” she said.
Simon Kennedy owns a shipbuilding business in Port Adelaide and said the amount of work he could undertake was limited by the number of workers he could get.
“Like most businesses, we can’t find enough workers,” Kennedy said.
“It’s probably the worst I’ve seen in 30 years – with 4% unemployment, 200 jobs on Seek in South Australia this week, just to find boilermaker welders, most in multiple shifts.”
Mr Kennedy said he was also tackling retention issues, with companies competing for a small pool of workers.
“Every week someone advertises for more money,” he said.
“It’s a great job to be a welder and boilermaker right now; the money is getting harder and harder.”
Boon for young workers
While competition for workers makes it difficult for businesses, it is an opportunity for young people entering the industry.
Rebecca Hlinak is a 17-year-old first-year manufacturing apprentice at BAE Systems who is training through TAFE.
“I’ve always been a hands-on learner and loved building things, so I found this opportunity and decided I really wanted to go for it,” she said.
“I’ve never welded before and it’s pretty awesome to build things with metal and steel.
“It’s pretty cool and I like all the work processes.”
Rebecca will likely work on the Hunter-class frigates at Osborne Shipyards in northwest Adelaide.
They were supposed to start construction this year, but it was delayed by at least 18 months.
But even more questions remain about the future of building a local submarine.
Uncertainty over the construction of local submarines
Although there were specific local construction commitments made under the deal with French shipbuilder Naval Group, the decision to drop that deal in favor of nuclear submarines under the deal AUKUS has changed the game.
Although both major parties have said they will build as locally as possible, they have both suggested that at least some construction will take place overseas.
Ms McCarthy said anyone winning the federal election had to have an industrial plan focused on where Australia should specialise.
“We can’t do everything in Australia, so let’s look at what can we specialize in and work in partnership with our trading partners, the UK [and] in the United States and work together specializing in each of our niches so that we can collectively realize the capabilities that we all really need,” she said.
“We will always want to maximize the opportunities available to the industry in areas where Australia is best.”
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