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Defence workforce must double ahead of submarine build

South Australia's defence workforce must more than double in the next two decades to build the AUKUS submarine fleet as the project reaches a major milestone.

Thousands more defence workers must be added to the South Australian industry as the federal government takes a major step towards the construction of the long-awaited AUKUS nuclear submarine fleet.

Amid the dry docks and slipways of the Osborne naval shipyard in Adelaide's north, Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles and South Australia's Premier Peter Malinauskas unveiled a plan to boost the STEM skills needed for the state's defence industry workforce.

SA will need to more than double its current skilled workforce from 3500 workers to more than 8500 by the 2040s if Adelaide is to become the nation's shipbuilding capital, a report released on Friday said.

"Building nuclear-powered submarines right here in South Australia represents one of the biggest industrial undertakings that our country has ever seen," Mr Marles told reporters on Friday.

"This is on the scale of the Snowy River scheme and it is going to be the great modern industrial project of our nation which will see right here in Adelaide one of the most high-tech manufacturing facilities in the world."

Richard Marles and Peter Malinauskas have unveiled a report on SA's defence industry workforce.

The skills report called for a "whole-of-nation effort" to deliver a regionally competitive maritime capability and secure Australia's national interests.

And South Australia will need to play a central role, the report states.

From 2023 through to 2027, the government will aim to engage 27,000 South Australian students in science, technology, engineering and maths education during primary and high school while increasing STEM university places and providing more opportunities for students to learn skills directly relevant to the future of the defence industry.

It will also prepare university students for the workforce through paid apprenticeships and an early careers program directly related to the nuclear-powered submarines.

Experienced workers will  be given the opportunity to upskill through mid-career transition programs. 

The workforce recruitment effort is part of the government's plan to build new nuclear-powered submarines and upgrade and maintain the current Collins Class fleet in SA.

However, building the necessary workforce will not be easy, with intense competition for labour and shortages already plaguing the industry.

"This is a big deal," Mr Malinauskas said.

"The challenge to grow and sustain a highly skilled defence industry workforce cannot be understated, but neither can the opportunity.

"It is my hope the integrated workforce and skills plan for South Australia can be used as a best practice model for workforce expansion across the defence industry nationally."

The federal and SA governments also announced a land swap deal they say is essential to the construction of the submarines.

SA will receive more than 15,000 ha of ex-defence land for housing, in exchange for shipyard areas.

More than 60 hectares of key land parcels at the Osborne shipyards in Adelaide's north will be transferred from SA to the Commonwealth with the project's chosen contractor, Australian Naval Infrastructure, to progressively take ownership from December.

In return, SA will receive more than 15,000 hectares of former defence land, including 13 hectares at Keswick in inner Adelaide and 38 hectares at Smithfield in the city's north, which will be redeveloped to help address the state's chronic undersupply of housing stock.

The vast majority of land received by SA is at Cultana, near Whyalla, which the state government has earmarked for its landmark green hydrogen project at the tip of the Spencer Gulf.


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