Australia must ramp up skills training and reshape higher education to deliver the jobs required to build, maintain and operate nuclear submarines.
The submarines deal with the US and Britain is expected to create about 20,000 jobs for Australian workers over the next three decades.
National security expert John Blaxland said the tertiary education sector would be crucial to delivery.
“That’s a tall order,” he said of the employment requirements.
“Our university sector has been for the last 18 months doing some deep thinking about how we generate from scratch nuclear physicists, nuclear scientists, nuclear engineers.
“This is enormous. It’s going to involve co-operation and collaboration across the states and territories as well.”
At its height, up to 8500 Australian jobs will be supported to build and maintain the boats and will include scientists, engineers, project managers and other trades workers.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said it was a massive endeavour and an investment Australian couldn’t afford to miss.
“It will provide for a much more self reliant Australia for both our kids and our grandkids. This is what is going to keep Australia’s safe over the long term,” he said.
“The cost will be significant, but this is an investment in our security.”
Chennupati Jagadish from the Australian Academy of Science warned the country was overly dependent on overseas workers.
“Nuclear science in Australia faces a skills crisis. We are significantly behind our peer nations in national nuclear and radiation science capability,” he said.
Mr Marles believes the universities sector can meet the challenge.
“We feel confident we can attract the people both to serve on the submarines and to build them,” the defence minister said.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson has been in talks with the government about how the sector can best support industry needs.
“One way we can do this is by boosting internships and work-integrated learning opportunities for students studying in areas of defence need, here and abroad,” she told AAP.
Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said the project presented an opportunity for generations of Australians.
“It’s going to require leadership from defence itself, from the private sector, from the education sector, from industry, we all have to work together to make this happen,” he said.
“It can’t fail.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will unveil the “optimal pathway” for the submarines under the AUKUS partnership in San Diego, California on Tuesday.
Australia is expected to buy up to five US Virginia class submarines before acquiring a new vessel based on UK design and US technology.
The submarines could come with a $200 billion price tag.
Source: South Coast Register