Major defence projects create thousands of new jobs in SA

Recruiting workers from other industries will be key to meeting future defence workforce requirements, Saab Australia says.

Major naval shipbuilding projects will create up to 5000 jobs in South Australia by 2030, along with thousands of additional jobs across other projects in cyber and systems solutions and intelligence.

Saab maritime general manager Dave Symonds says project delivery will rely on recruiting existing workers from other sectors, in addition to strong graduate intakes.

“We are starting to become quite active in transitioning people from other allied industries,” he says.

“When the automotive industry ramped down a bit, we took on a few of those workers. They didn’t necessarily have a strong defence background but they had really great production management skills and that’s very important to us.

“(Working elsewhere) isn’t a barrier to entry. Those workers bring a diversity (to the defence workforce) that we think is really important. Some of the people we have in key leadership positions have come with no defence background whatsoever but have fantastic leadership and strategic skills, and they have become a key part of our business.”

Local defence companies have experienced “significant” growth in the past five years and finding enough highly skilled workers is becoming increasingly challenging, Symonds says.

While no specific industry is currently being targeted, a broad range of workers with experience in software engineering, project management, data management and the highly specialised field of combat systems engineering are in particular demand.

However, many workers dismiss opportunities in defence due to a limited knowledge of the roles available and an unfounded anxiety over the security checks required to work on classified projects, Symonds says.

Saab recently announced plans to build a $77 million sovereign combat system collaboration centre at its Mawson Lakes headquarters, offering specialised courses to address industry skills shortages in areas such as naval operations and software engineering.

The centre, the first of its kind in Australia, has received more than $22 million in federal government funding and will also assist small and medium businesses break into long-term supply chains.

In another bid to expand its workforce, Saab has increased its intake of new graduates, who spend two years teamed with experienced engineers to work on defence and security projects such as the 9LV Combat Management System, the Navy’s surface fleet and the OneView integrated security system.

Paid internships are also offered to students in their penultimate year of university, along with scholarships that aim to encourage women and First Nations people to pursue tertiary studies in STEM.

Symonds says both university and vocational graduates are sought for defence roles.

In some circumstances, those who have hands-on skills but no formal certification can be supervised by qualified workers while they undergo the formal training required to carry out the work on their own, he says.

“We see a great number of opportunities available in defence going forward, in particular around naval shipbuilding but in other areas as well,” Symonds says. “The general public think about shipbuilding in terms of welding together lots of steel but there’s an awful lot of complex equipment that goes into building naval warships.

“For us, our focus is really around software engineering. Saab has a very large software engineering workforce here and we are continuing to grow that.”

Mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate Max Wayne joined Saab as an intern before progressing to the graduate program.

He now works as a systems engineer and maritime early careers lead, and says there are “too many” career opportunities within defence for new graduates to fully grasp.

“It’s a massive industry