Collaboration is key. This sentiment was the consensus at the second Strategy, Defence & Industry Dialogue held on 9 May 2018. Organised by WA DEFENCE REVIEW in partnership with the University of Western Australia (UWA), the Dialogue brought together prominent industry leaders, defence officials, education and training professionals and government representatives from across three states. The Dialogue was appropriately held at IQX, UWA’s new innovation and co-working space, dedicated to collaboration and innovation.
The main issues addressed by the Dialogue centred on how collaboration and innovation are essential to defence industry, and how both WA and the country as a whole can work for a mutual benefit. As part of a series of events dedicated to the relationship between the ADF, the Commonwealth Government, Defence Primes and SMEs, the Dialogue also addressed issues encountered by SMEs in entering the defence supply chain.
Many participants spoke of the need for partnering up and working together, both within Defence and in industry as a whole. The need for a holistic approach was mentioned, with SMEs encouraged to see themselves as part of a national endeavour.
Participants stressed the importance of SMEs knowing both what the government and ADF required, and their own strengths and weaknesses, in order to find appropriate partners to advance their interests. Some of the difficulties of collaboration were discussed, including the issue of long-term projects and the need for an exit strategy. Participants also discussed the need for SMEs to diversify.
The requirements of the government, according to one participant, include enhanced defence capability, the ability to grow and develop Australian industry capability, and a certain degree of economic spill over, providing both jobs and growth.
Innovation was discussed in relation to education, developing skilling and training requirements for future projects. Representatives of educational institutions, including TAFEs and apprenticeship providers, spoke of the challenges involved in providing skilled personnel in response to an ever-changing technological environment. Again, collaboration was mentioned, as WA universities described their Team WA approach to communication with the government and the defence sector regarding educational and R&D requirements.
It was very important, said one distinguished participant, to recognise the value of research and development. There is a constant return on investment for those who are prepared to look to the future and develop capabilities to match the upcoming requirements of the ADF and associated industries.
It was noted that the partnership between defence industry and business research and development is required to extract the most benefit for all parties. Partnerships should also be extended to include universities and other educational institutions, to ensure that the potential within WA is fully realised.
There was much discussion about the positioning of Australia as a whole, and specifically WA, in the defence industry supply chain. There was general agreement that WA has many advantages in this positioning, but more can be done to advance the West’s capabilities. In particular, the flexibility of the WA workforce, with its high incidence of FIFO work, provides the potential to move skilled workers around the nation.
Another participant noted that there was a learned mindset of self-promotion present in the US defence industry, which is not present in Australia. Developing this mindset at both the government and small business level will help with connection to the global supply chain.
Overall, the Dialogue provided a high-profile forum for lively interaction between the states, and between different levels of capability providers. Looking forward, it is hoped that these talks will continue to pave the way for an integrated approach to defence industry, business and education, improving the future prospects of all.