Saab boss says shipbuilding jobs are here for the long run


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By Melissa Keogh

Defence and shipbuilding in South Australia will not be a “boom and bust” industry, but will support secure long-term jobs and opportunities.

That’s according to Andy Keough, former Defence SA chief and current managing director of defence and security company Saab Australia.

Andy, a former submariner, played a key part in lobbying for Australia’s $50 billion Future Submarines to be built here in SA.

He says despite big sectors, such as the mining industry, usually experiencing a “boom and bust” pattern, there is a long-term commitment to continue shipbuilding in SA.

“We saw it with the upswing of the mining industry which took off with unimaginable riches that have come and gone,” Andy says.

“But here there is now a Federal Government commitment to continuous shipbuilding … and that’s a massive magnet that will continue to draw high quality workers from across Australia and the world.

“There aren’t many sectors in Australia that have the assurance that their industry will continue for many decades to come.”

Saab Australia managing director Andy Keough.

The Future Submarines Program includes the construction of a fleet of 12 new subs, constructed from 2022/23 at Adelaide’s Osborne shipyards, creating 2800 jobs.

The subs are one part of the nation’s $89 billion naval shipbuilding plan, which also features the construction of the Future Frigates and Offshore Patrol Vehicles.

While Saab has been selected to upgrade the control systems for navy’s current fleet of Collins Class submarines, it is also supporting Lockheed Martin to deliver the cutting edge combat system capability for the Future Submarines.

After two years in the top job at government agency, Defence SA, Andy joined the Mawson Lakes-based Saab as its managing director.

He brought with him 22 years of experience in the Australian Navy, including commanding two Collins Class submarines.

Andy retired from the navy in 2007, a year after receiving the Conspicuous Service Cross for his leadership while in command of HMAS Sheean.

Originally from Sydney, he came to SA nine years ago to work for ASC, starting in business improvement before graduating to being responsible for the in-service maintenance of the Collins Class fleet.

He says that typical views of the shipbuilding workforce were changing as people realised both skilled tradespeople and high-tech engineers are essential to operations.

“When I was with ASC there was a large trade workforce, but for every tradesman there were four or five highly skilled professionals including engineers, project managers, and supply chain and quality,” he says.

The skill level of the defence industry is evident in Saab’s own workforce, which includes a range of “hardware and software engineers undertaking advanced naval combat system work”.

Ships from Task Group 659.1 (including HMA Ships Canberra, Warramunga and Ballarat and HMNZS Te Kaha) joined by French Floreal class frigate FNS Prairial transit to Pearl Harbour, Hawaii to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016. The ships have Saab’s combat management system on board.

Andy says “business is expanding” at Saab Australia, with the company expecting to grow its workforce by at least 150 “in the next couple of years”.

Saab is also strengthening its ties to academia through a partnership with the University of South Australia (UniSA).

Saab will partner with UniSA students to collaborate on the design of a future combat system, following the formation of the Defence Technologies Institute in 2017.

The initial collaboration involved Saab hosting projects for students in STEM-related fields, helping to equip them for their careers in defence and shipbuilding industries.

“Saab is working closely with UniSA so that for generations to come, graduates from this partnership will build a skilled, technologically savvy workforce for defence capabilities,” Andy says.

“It’s essential for a company like Saab to have a close relationship with UniSA because they (students) are our talent pipeline.

“They will assist us to get the best individuals on board.”


This I Choose SA for Shipbuilding and Defence Industries story is made possible by City of Salisbury and the University of South Australia:

Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.


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