There isn’t much Ian Irving hasn’t seen or experienced when it comes to developing Australia’s defence industry.
As a fresh-faced electrical engineering student he was plucked from Sydney University by Rockwell Australia before he even graduated. His first job was working on the combat system being developed and integrated on Australia’s Collins class submarines.
Fast forward 30 years and Mr Irving is now planning the workforce which will replace the Collins submarines with 12 state-of-the-art Attack class submarines – to be the largest, conventionally powered submarines in the world.
In between he has quietly gone about compiling an unparalleled resume within Australia’s defence industry.
Prior to his incumbent role, Mr Irving was Chief Executive of Northrop Grumman Australia for six years following successful, long term senior executive roles with Altilus, Thales and Boeing.
As Chief Executive of the Naval Shipbuilding Institute (NSI), an incorporated venture company of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) and Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), Mr Irving will have oversight of the Naval Shipbuilding College (the College) and any other NSI contracts.
The College was established in 2018 to identify and support the development of the highly skilled national workforce which will be required to deliver the Australian Government’s $90 billion Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise.
“The College is the critical, centre piece in establishing Australia’s sovereign naval shipbuilding industry,’’ Mr Irving said.
“It will ensure the right people are in place at the right time, in the right numbers, and possessing the right skills to successfully build, commission and sustain the sophisticated ships and submarines that will be the backbone of Australia’s maritime national security.
“The complexity and scale of Australia’s shipbuilding endeavour can appear quite daunting, it’s the biggest single program that Australia has ever taken on, but we’re up to that challenge as a nation.’’
Based in Sydney with his wife and two adult children, Mr Irving commutes weekly to and from Adelaide.
With more than three decades of experience working with the Australian defence industry, including managing two international starts ups, his passion hasn’t waned.
“When I was approached by HII and KBR and offered the position with NSI I was very excited by the role and the opportunity of making an active contribution to this vital national enterprise,’’ he said.
“My immediate goals are to establish a strong strategic engagement with our key partners across industry, academia and government. To be successful we will need a high level of cooperation and engagement working as an integrated national team.”
“We can clearly see how tackling the workforce opportunities at the national level will not only benefit the whole industry sector by bringing significant benefits to the individual companies but will indeed be an essential element of the success of these naval programs.’’
He said there would be challenges ahead that will need to be met and overcome.
“It’s always hard when you are doing something new. This is a new endeavour which has not been attempted before on this scale,’’ Mr Irving said.
“The industry will require a significant ramp-up of skills and overall numbers which will stretch industry to find these new workers. We’re getting out ahead of that need, reaching into our schools and communities to identify and skill up the future workforce, and this is going on in a growing economy and a highly competitive labour market for these skilled workers.’’
However, with challenges come opportunities.
“I would like to see the image that people have of naval shipbuilding better reflect the reality of today’s ultra-modern digital shipyards. This enterprise will be using the world’s most advanced technologies in a range of areas from sophisticated digital fabrication to artificial intelligence combat systems on our future boats and ships,” he said.
“The Naval Shipbuilding Plan offers unprecedented opportunities for great new careers in a developing industry with a long-term future, ultimately we are building something enduring both for Australia’s future and the individuals who will be involved.
“The opportunity is there – from shop floor to senior executive office – to build great jobs into exciting careers.’’
Something a former electrical engineer can appreciate.