The defence industry should be engaging with children from the earliest years of primary school in order to ensure the state and region have the skills to supply Australian defence needs in coming decades, the Hunter Defence Conference heard today.

NSW Minister for Jobs Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, said STEM awareness should start early to ensure children are aware of the career paths available and learning the skills that will be needed for the jobs of the future.

“We have to completely turn around the way we think about skills, the way we think about workforce planning, and have that conversation with students right from the start … right through primary school, into high school and into vocational training,” Mr Ayres said.

“The students studying at school today will develop new skills we haven’t yet comprehended and to stay at the leading edge of warfighting capability we want to make sure that the students coming out of our education system are thinking about how they can apply those new skills into future platforms.”

Building the skills base and workforce capability of regional SMEs was the focus of day one of the two-day conference, which began at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley today, bringing together 160 delegates and 30 presenters from across Australia.

RDA Hunter, which runs an internationally recognised STEM program through Hunter schools, revealed survey data showing the eight skills most in demand by the defence industry in the Hunter.

Rick Evans, Manager, RDA Hunter

Top of the skills shortage list is systems engineering, followed by design engineering, then project management, cyber security, software design, electrical engineering, planning and production and integrated logistics.

Hunter defence expertise was on display in the form of a Next Generation Deployable Facility (NGDF), a mobile aircraft support unit designed and built locally by Varley Group for Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA), with the assistance of regional suppliers including R&R Murphy and ISG.

The facility was inspected by Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, who will give a keynote speech to the conference at a gala dinner tonight and open the second day of the conference, focusing on supply chain opportunities, tomorrow.

Conference delegates also heard from Air Commodore Barbara Courtney, Commander of the Williamtown-based Surveillance and Response Group, who said cyber security was the skill most keenly sought within her field.

Other speakers included representatives of the key Primes involved in the F35-A program, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin, training providers, graduates of the region’s STEM program now employed in defence industry and Hunter-based SMEs working in the sector.

To see what's coming up tomorrow, visit the Conference page.