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Defence company's growing battle: Work is there but workforce isn't

Business

NOVA Systems is planning to add about 100 workers to its Brisbane offices but a lack of available workers was dampening growth and meant it had to consider new ways of working.

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Chief executive Jim McDowell said the pandemic had reshaped business and proved that some of the baked-in rules around the workplace had to change.

That included a smarter use of remote working. Long supply chains had also been shown to not be viable in emergency situations which meant sovereignty in manufacturing was going to be an issue for business, he said.

McDowell said Nova, which works primarily in the defence sector, was expecting significant growth as Federal Government spending increased which meant its workforce in Brisbane of about 100 people would grow.

“So we would expect in the major army and air programs to grow our presence in Queensland and we would expect that to double over the next few years,’’ he told InQueensland.

“We will probably require 400 to 500 people over the next four or five years, probably more. That’s Australia-wide, but it’s really where the client wants them.’’

He said that sourcing the necessary workers, mainly engineers and project managers, was the biggest issue facing the defence sector.

“The only thing stopping us from getting any bigger is getting the right people in the right places,’’ he said.

“It’s not existential but it is dampening growth. We are in that strange situation where the work is there but the workforce isn’t and normally it is the other way around.

“I have 50 seats open at the moment. I could be getting paid for 50 people that I just can’t find at the moment.

“We have never had the workforce issues we have now.’’

He said business had to start using people better. 

“We (business) haven’t thought very hard about the efficient use of our people because it has been a resource that has always been available, but that resource is getting very stretched. So how do you use them more efficiently?’’

He said there were three major issues: How do you use your workforce, how quickly can you digitise information and how can you convince your customers that it doesn’t matter where your people are as long as the work gets done?

He said Queensland had some advantages for Nova, which targets ex-defence staff. 

“One of the advantages of Queensland is … a lot of them just want to stay in Queensland and a lot want to go to Queensland when they retire and we are talking about very young people who have retired, in their 40s and they are exactly the people we need to pick up. Not only for their skills they understand how the customer operates because the customer is predominantly the defence force.”

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