Education today for the defence jobs of tomorrow

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From the Australian Embassy in Washington to commanding brigades in the Middle East, Margot Forster’s career has taken her across the world – but Adelaide has always been home. Now, she is helping shape the state’s future.

South Australia – the ‘defence state’ – is the centre of some of the largest defence projects in the nation.

Shipbuilding projects worth $90 billion have the potential to create 25,000 jobs in SA and increase the population by up to 50,000, with an impact that will be felt for generations to come.

The sheer scale means a boost in jobs in the defence sector and related industries – creating a need for a skilled workforce in the decades ahead.

As CEO of the Defence Teaming Centre (DTC), Margot is helping students and the current workforce get ready for the jobs of the industry today – and tomorrow.

In a pioneering first, DTC has brought together South Australia’s three public universities, the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and Flinders University, and TAFE SA with interstate universities, local and international defence companies to deliver a defence-ready, and especially maritime-ready, workforce.

Margot says the consortium forms a critical interface between industry and academia.

“The role of the DIESC (Defence Industry Education & Skills Consortium) is to talk to industry and our members and get an analysis of what we need, and then take that back to the universities and TAFE so they can shape their offering,” says Margot.

Margot Forster, CEO, Defence Teaming Centre

Margot – who was “desperate to join” the armed forces when she turned 16- is ideally positioned to the role.

In a distinguished career spanning 30 years in the Australian Defence Force, Margot has served as Commanding Officer Combat Support Unit in Afghanistan, where she was awarded the Chief Joint Operations Gold Commendation.

In 2012, Margot was appointed to drive the ‘Pathway to Change’ recommendations to the Australian Air Force, addressing the treatment of women in the armed forces, for which she received the Conspicuous Service Medal.

She was also recently named as one of Adelaide’s 100 most influential people.

At DTC Margot leads a team of 10, bringing her extensive experience and knowledge of the culture and needs of defence.

“Defence is undergoing a massive cultural change,” says Margot.

“We’ve moved from a time when our role was around advocacy and lobbying for opportunities to come to Australia, to the state; now we have significant opportunities, it’s about mobilising the industry base, ensuring that our businesses are ready and competitive but also that we have the workforce that we need.”

With contracts like Future Submarines spanning more than 50 years, developing a pathway for future industry at a school level will be key.

“The people who will build the last submarine haven’t even been born yet,” Margot says.

“We need to start building that future workforce, kids in primary school now. How do we appeal to today’s younger students to make sure they’re choosing the courses that set them on the path to come into this industry?”

It’s not just about the more apparent areas like engineering and computer science.

“You think defence you think engineering but it’s a full spectrum. It’s about STEM, it’s about research and development, communications, marketing, health, technology…the innovations that go into this sector are far reaching.”

DIESC is also working to equip today’s workforce by applying knowhow from other sectors, like the automotive industry, with partners offering short courses tailored to meet immediate employment needs.

The pioneering idea for DIESC came as a “lightning bolt” moment, says Margot.

During a DTC board meeting, a prime defence contractor casually mentioned they were having problems hiring an engineer, much to the surprise of the academics on the board, who saw 500+ engineers graduate each year…but not with the specialisation that industry were looking for.

“The education sector were producing what they thought was needed, but not necessarily meeting the needs of industry,” Margot says.

“We realised that there was something important for us to do here. Let’s start talking.”

I Choose SA for Shipbuilding and Defence Industries stories are made possible by City of Salisbury:

Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.

Top image: LSIS Tom Gibson, © Commonwealth of Australia

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