Staff Spotlight: Transitioning into defence

Ben Wittwer joined Naval Group Australia in April 2018, successfully transitioning his 10 years of Engineering experience in the steel and transportation industries to the Future Submarine Program.

Can you please explain your role and responsibilities at Naval Group Australia?

As an Electrical Technologist at Naval Group Australia I am responsible for identifying and qualifying Australian electrical equipment suppliers for the Future Submarine Program, an important part of the preliminary design phase ensuring we maximise Australian industry involvement. This requires developing a deep understanding of the submarine’s electrical design specifications before meeting with suppliers to assess their products, manufacturing capabilities and how they can work towards qualification. We employ a rigorous process where the technical aspects of their products are deeply investigated to find the best match for our application.

What do you enjoy most about your role at Naval Group Australia?

I love a good brain-bending technical problem so I find it very rewarding to understand a complex technology and then engage with my suppliers to find a solution. I also value the supportive culture of the engineering team and I find this extends throughout the company.

The variety of work I am involved in is also something I really enjoy, no one day is the same. For instance, I attended the Port Adelaide Football Club’s (PAFC) Aboriginal Power Cup on Wednesday, 6 August promoting career pathways on the Future Submarine Program (FSP). It was a lot of fun being able to work with students for the day, encouraging the continuation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects for high school and beyond to support their future career paths.

How did you get to where you are today?

I always had an interest in computing and technology growing up. I remember when my father brought home our first Apple II computer and I was instantly hooked. I enjoyed IT, maths and science at school, so it made sense that when I graduated from high school I pursued a career path that utilised my passion for STEM.

After High School I secured employment at the local Steelworks in my hometown of Whyalla where I worked full-time while studying Engineering part-time. Beginning as a cadet I rotated through the departments gaining trade and engineering experience, before progressing to a technician, engineer and then electrical leader.

I decided to make the move to Adelaide in 2015 to seek further career opportunities and development. My first role in Adelaide was as an Engineer with a Simulation company where I designed, procured, built and commissioned simulators for transportation customers all over the world.  The Naval Group Australia advertisement arose and I jumped at the prospect of being part of such an exciting program.

What initially attracted you to come and work for Naval Group Australia on the Future Submarine Program?

The challenges and opportunities ahead are what I found attractive. With the Program spanning across 50 years it provides me with a unique opportunity to be part of the company’s growth and prosperity from the beginning. I am passionate about building Australia’s sovereign capability and delivering on what we set out to achieve.

How have you found transitioning into the defence industry so far?

Transitioning into the defence industry has been a rewarding experience. The rigor applied to each decision and progression gives me confidence that we will deliver a product that exceeds expectations. I find excitement and challenge in working on one of the most complex systems on earth as we work towards delivering 12 regionally superior submarines.

How would you describe the culture of Naval Group Australia?

I find the culture at Naval Group Australia rewarding as everyone is highly approachable and a pleasure to work with. We have a wide range of people from various backgrounds and industries, as well as highly specialised marine engineers working on the Program. The diversity and breadth of knowledge within the team is a huge advantage as we each bring a different perspective to every situation. The fusion of French culture also adds an interesting touch.

What development opportunities has Naval Group Australia provided you with?

I have been provided with the opportunity to further develop my Engineering skills by in the Graduate Certificate in Marine Engineering at the University of Adelaide, which I look forward to beginning in September.

How have you found living and working in Adelaide?

Living and working in Adelaide is a great balance between city vibrancy and comfortable living. I have enjoyed regular access to world class sport, food and music events. Adelaide’s amazing beaches are always within reach and are relaxingly spacious, and getaways to the Adelaide Hills and national parks have provided recharge whenever required. Recently my partner and I purchased our first home, which was thanks to the affordability without compromise that Adelaide provides first home owners.

What advice would you give to current students who aspire to become an Engineer on the Future Submarine Program?

Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) subjects are your pathway to success. Study hard, be passionate about your aspirations, seek feedback and help whenever you require it. The Australian Future Submarine Program will require a wide range of engineering and trade skills and is a unique opportunity for you to play an important role in the Australian defence landscape. To set you apart, real working experience and networking within the engineering and defence domain will be highly advantageous. The length of the project could provide you with a job for life should you present the necessary passion and skills.