SA Government and defence giant BAE Systems join forces to advance state’s workforce and skills
The future of South Australia’s booming defence industry just got a whole lot more exciting.
On June 28, the SA Government and global defence giant BAE Systems Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Basically, this means they’ve both committed to developing the state’s defence workforce and skills through exciting projects that address critical skill needs and increase the diversity of the STEM pipeline.
If you’re still not following, with some pretty huge defence projects on SA’s horizon (and many others already underway), people with certain skills are desperately needed. Because there aren’t enough workers with these specific skills to meet demand, a bunch of opportunities to learn – and work while you’re at it – are about to arise. It’s win-win: you get a job, and the state gets the help it needs to not only benefit SA, but Australia’s national security. Nifty, huh!?
In addition to South Australia’s five technical colleges, the SA Government has committed $450,000 over three years to fast-track a software engineering degree apprenticeship pilot that will enable students to earn money while they learn and prepare for defence careers. BAE Systems Australia will be the key employment partner of this program.
BAE Systems offers advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions. In Australia, it provides design, manufacture, upgrade and support services to the Australian Defence Force (ADF), with locations scattered throughout all major cities. In South Australia, the company contributes to the construction of the Hunter-Class frigate ships being built in Osborne.
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As our economy becomes more sophisticated, and with the growth in future Defence projects in South Australia, BAE Systems is pioneering graduate programs and partnerships to provide transferable skills and workplace experiences, which are now more valued than ever. This is helping the state develop today’s students and build tomorrow’s leaders.
This includes a partnership with the Government of South Australia and the University of South Australia to arm the industry with a skilled workforce.
“While there is enormous demand for many jobs, STEM occupations are currently growing at twice the rate of non-STEM ones,” says Georgette Elston, Head of Resourcing and Early Careers at BAE Systems Australia.
“STEM skills are also critical to industrial innovation; they are at the very heart of productivity and, by association, the nation’s economic prosperity. By any measure, it’s widely agreed that Australia is under-achieving when it comes to the number of STEM focused students in our education system.”
It’s all in the experience for SA graduates
For the young minds of South Australia, a hands-on approach to education for industries that aren’t trades is still an innovative idea, and an alternative to traditional school-to-career pathways.
According to research conducted by Ernst and Young, Gen Z are seeking more work-based experiences and professional mentorship. It’s a generation that values real-life work experience.
The BAE Systems graduate program runs on what it calls a 2+1 structure, which provides graduates with two years of structured development and the third year focuses on leadership, innovation and development activities. This is personalised to the student’s career direction.
There are two options for students to direct their learning, and this loops in with the business’s needs.
In ‘stream 1’, graduates focus on one project or work within one department for the entire three-year program. This provides an opportunity to specialise in one particular area. The alternative, called ‘stream 2’, allows the students to undertake three, one-year placements in different areas of the business to develop a broad experience and skill set.
Sean, a Graduate Mechatronics Engineer at BAE Systems Australia, says having the opportunity to try different roles on his graduate placement took out the guesswork from his career.
“I couldn’t see the benefit in studying further, for it to not apply to the workforce. It is difficult to get a job with an established engineering firm as an inexperienced engineer. Now [through BAE] I get to do what I used to daydream about in class,” he says.
Sean says that while he is learning skills to work in a specialised area, he doesn’t feel it narrows his career choice.
Michael, a Graduate Aerospace Engineer at BAE Systems Australia, says one of the benefits of a graduate program like this is the opportunity to not only learn on the tools, but also gain exposure to people’s expertise.
“I work directly with higher ranking individuals in and outside of the workplace. I’m given the opportunity to be accountable to important people and tasks and I can take pride in being responsible. Being exposed to these situations develops you faster than a first job in a traditional career,” he said.
What are the benefits?
BAE Systems Australia’s graduate program prepares students in the short term to perform as needed, and in the long term establishes them as leaders for the benefit of entire industries.
This direct investment in people is increasingly valuable for employers and it won’t be long before others follow BAE’s example.
Brenna Ryan, Graduate and Intern Partner at BAE Systems Australia, sees firsthand the success of BAE’s graduate programs. “It breaks the perception that higher education will lead to a better outcome,” she says.
“This model has been in our UK operations for 10 years where it’s now used in over 25 disciplines. It’s proven that degree apprenticeships are leading to increased diversity, improved retention and immediate productivity upon graduation.”
She says there is already strong industry interest in the software engineering pilot BAE Systems Australia is developing with UniSA, which will deliver sorely needed expert software engineers.
“These trailblazing students at UniSA will ‘earn while they learn’ and be sponsored through university to undertake a degree while learning their craft in the workplace,” says Brenna.
“It’s a model that complements rather than competes with traditional undergraduate degrees.”
The Federal Government-endorsed Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) surveys show that undergraduate employment figures are steadily improving. As of February 2023, 78.5 per cent of undergraduates have gained full-time employment, which is high, but still not 100 per cent. These initiatives can help find employment, providing security in increasingly precarious times.
You can make money, work on something you are passionate about, and have a pathway into future employment. The best part of these deals is that it’s good for the employer, it’s good for the employee, and in the long run, it’s good for the state.
Where young South Australians of the past may have felt the need to move away from home to seek meaningful employment in their career, they now have the opportunity to accomplish great things, right here, at home, for many years to come.