Attrition: For Want Of A Geek


September 13, 2008:  The Australian navy has been suffering from a serious engineer (techie) shortage for several years now. There are shortages of both officers and sailors with technical skills. With a total strength of 13,000, being short a few dozen people in some job categories can have serious repercussions, and that's what happened to the submarine force (which can only muster enough technical people to put three of their six submarines to sea). For example, the navy is short about a third of the marine engineering officers it needs. There are less serious shortages in officers specializing in electrical systems and weapons systems. Australian warships have been active in the war on terror, resulting in many crews being away from home for up to six months at a time.

The reason for the shortage is Australia's booming economy. There is a huge demand for technically trained people, especially in the mining operations that are hustling to keep up with the growing demand from China for raw materials. The mining companies pay much more than the navy, and the admirals can't get enough money out of parliament to compete. The navy is responding with some cash bonuses (especially for submarine techs), better living and working conditions, and other fringe benefits. But it isn't enough, and the Australian navy is losing its ability to put to sea, for want of a few hundred key technical personnel.



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