Our story starts in beautiful rural Innisfail, in Far North Queensland.
Audra, at 9 years-old, is sweeping the factory floor in the school holidays. This is not unusual. Her big sister gets to do the clean office work while she could be polishing the moulds one minute or scrubbing the bathroom sinks the next.
Her dad owns a Polyethylene Rotational Moulding factory and she cuts her teeth, as she gets older, on running the business accounts.
Cut to today, Audra McCarthy is the impressive chief executive officer at Defence Teaming Centre (DTC).
Formally trained as a Certified Practicing Accountant she now spends her time heading up a team focussed on supporting and developing Australian industry to be more competitive to meet the needs of defence supply chains.
We chat to her as she talks about her vision for DTC, what it takes to make it in the sector and why small businesses are clamouring for contracts in defence.
So, how do you win a contract with defence?
Being ‘defence-ready’ as Audra describes it is not an easy process. With notoriously long procurement decision making processes and tough supply chain requirements DTC recommends thoroughly doing research before entering the sector.
In fact, they suggest that three to five years of investment into business development is normal prior to winning your first contract with a defence prime, tier-1 or tier-2 supplier.
Defence primes are the large multinational defence companies who are the key contract holders with the Department of Defence.
Defence is the largest procurement agency in the Commonwealth and is responsible for some of Australia’s most complex procurement activities.
The Primes, for example BAE Systems, Boeing, Raytheon Australia and Lockheed Martin, will look for subject matter experts from small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to build out their capabilities.
Small-to-medium enterprises are now estimated to do about half the defence manufacturing in Australia, which employs about 30,000 people. Prime contractors do the other half.
Dos and don’ts
Getting your business strategy right is key from the get-go. Doing customer and market research is business critical, alongside being crystal clear on your business has to offer and who to.
DTC helps in this regard. They train their members on how to compile Quad Charts to support business development activities in the defence sector.
A Quad Chart is a one to two-page key defence industry marketing document that is designed to succinctly detail business capabilities and support the marketing of your business to defence and prime contractors.
Audra also offers the caveat that sometimes defence isn’t for everyone. Organisations shouldn’t be afraid to make the decision to not enter the market if it’s not the right fit for their business.
And don’ts? Letting security or professionalism of your business slip can be a deal-breaker in this high-performing sector. The industry has exceptional standards for on-time delivery performance and both physical and cyber security.
What are the benefits of working in defence?
Defence is a massive growth area in South Australia, with advanced manufacturing and cyber security being just some of the key areas which are exponentially growing.
In South Australia, we have an impressive list of defence contracts being executed including the Offshore Patrol Vessels, Future Frigates, armoured fighting vehicles and aerospace projects. These are all underpinned by the state’s expertise in systems engineering, systems integration, defence electronics, cyber security and a highly skilled manufacturing workforce.
Audra says the skill base for those wanting to work in defence is shifting rapidly and right before our eyes.
She notes, in high-end manufacturing companies where high-end welders were typically employed in high proportions, firms are increasingly using robots and technology to fills the skills gap. The skills profile of the sector is changing rapidly, with digital skills including electronic design and technology maintenance now in high demand.
Soon, organisations will be ramping up their need for these skills, plus enabling support services such as project management, quality management and cyber security.
We need to upskill South Australia’s skill base to meet demand.
DTC + Lot Fourteen
Being at the heart of Lot Fourteen’s innovation precinct is an important part of the organisation’s offering. DTC is located down the corridor from the Defence and Space Landing Pad and amongst leading-edge companies in space, defence, high tech and creative industries.
Audra’s life has gone full circle, from working in her father’s small business to advocating for, and making a difference to, them every day.
Her passion for small business shines through as she talks. She knows first-hand, the blood, sweat and tears involved in being part of the machine that drives the Australian economy every day.
To gain invaluable advice, coaching and support become a member of DTC.