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Saab Global

Championing subs in schools STEM program

9 min read

Saab Australia graduate engineer Will Daniels is the company's new SUBS in Schools technology challenge representative. This national high school program is designed to promote defence engineering to youth and encourage studies that will lead them on the career path.

Will Daniels is a second-year graduate engineer with Saab Australia. Last year he and four other graduates from Adelaide headquarters, acted as engineering mentors to groups of high school students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Recently, Will stepped up to be the coordinator and champion of the program which the company has heavily invested in since its inception in 2014. On behelf of SUBS in Schools organiser, Re Engineering Australia, Craig Hingston spoke with Will, asking him about Saab Australia and his own involvement in the program. Craig's story, published in Re Engineering Australia Foundation's recent newsletter follows.

In order for Re Engineering Australia Foundation’s STEM programs to have a long term effect it is vital that industry engages with us.

Students need to see the application of the latest technologies, problem solving and real world career opportunities. Industry benefits from identifying the right people to add to their ranks.

One company has stood tall since the launch of our unique Subs in Schools Technology Challenge. Saab Australia. Since 2014, senior management have been involved in contributing to the rules and regulations of the program as well as judging and mentoring students. Then they announced the appointment of graduate engineers dedicated to working with us and our students.

The newest Saab ambassador is Will Daniels. We applaud this level of commitment and wanted you to hear his story.

“I became involved in Subs in Schools through the Saab Australia graduate program this year. For me it means giving kids the opportunity to build something cool, interesting and challenging. An opportunity that I sorely missed out on in my schooling.”

“My role is to coordinate our involvement with the schools we mentor by checking in with our second year grads who work with the students and their supervisors. I’ll ensure the grads are organised and primed with technical and background knowledge of the program. This enables them to provide impactful leadership and technical guidance for the student teams on their regular visits. On top of this I am the point of contact for the schools and the grads if the schools need extra assistance; like some grads at short notice just before sea trials or some extra 3D printing for example.”


Will Daniels Saab Australia surrounded by students from The Heights School in Adelaide


“Primarily our goal is to foster STEM learning in school students and provide visions of a potential career path into the defence industry. To achieve all our second year graduate engineers are involved with mentoring and supporting several teams at The Heights and St. Peters Girls Schools. This is a great fit for us and the schools. Our grads get first hand technical leadership experience and get the opportunity to explore areas outside their university studies. The students get young enthusiastic mentors to help them understand some very advanced concepts and execute an effective design.”


“My position was held by a senior engineer who has since moved on. It’s a fantastic opportunity for someone just coming out of the graduate program to get involved. Senior management are very keen to have previous grads mentor and lead the new grads into the company. I am proud that I’ll be able to help out in quite a significant way.”


Will said Saab is very committed to supporting Subs in Schools, “Building strong ties with the community and being a good corporate citizen are very important to us. At Saab we have an open, inclusive and respectful culture that we value very highly. Importantly, we have a wealth of technical knowledge. Subs in Schools is a great mechanism for us to utilise and spread this knowledge and use it to further STEM learning in the classroom.”


“Subs in Schools is a fantastic opportunity for us to give our graduate engineers technical leadership and project management experience in a low risk environment. I can say personally that helping The Heights School ROV teams in the late stages of their project when all the pieces were coming together was greatly rewarding. It’s a challenging task for all involved, whether it be building a ROV or a submarine. The opportunity to be challenged for the grads and the students, and their growth, is the primary benefit for Saab.”


“In addition to the technical leadership and project management benefits, grads and other staff members have been heavily involved as judges in a variety of REA programs. I myself judged the state and national finals for F1 in Schools. Judging provides the important competitive element these programs hinge on as well as advice and constructive feedback for students. When I judged Engineering CAD/CAM I found giving of constructive feedback was actually incredibly beneficial for me to solidify engineering concepts I had learnt at University.”


Will has appreciated having that direct contact with student teams, “It’s amazing to see the change in students’ understanding between the start and end of the project. The teams learn skills in isolation like Computer Aided Design and 3D printing. Bringing these skills together to produce a competitive vehicle solidifies core STEM skills and gives the students great experience and confidence for future endeavours. I’ve seen students at The Heights School who aced their CAD, science and 3D printing units, yet they struggled when asked to think outside the box and put it all together. Students who had done soldering and circuit board projects struggled to get their heads around the more open ended problem set of making their ROV controllable. Coordinating tasks in a team, coming up with and executing a good concept design under budget and time constraints really makes the theoretical lessons have practical impact.”


He says the submarine design program has attracted a very high percentage of female students, “There is a great amount of interest from St. Peters Girls School which were our first national champions. I saw a classroom full of eager teams this year. From my experience I have seen more girls involved than boys! This is in part due to the range of projects available such as the submarine interior design challenge. The female students I’ve spoken to were very enthusiastic which is very encouraging. They can see a practical purpose for pursuing STEM which is critical if we want to engage and get more women into engineering.”

Will believes that Subs in Schools is much more than ‘an interesting project’ for students. It makes them more employable and they ‘stand out from the crowd’.

“The standard of engineering required is fairly close to the Warman project that every second year Adelaide University engineering student goes through. Having Subs in Schools under your belt is a great primer for the many university projects a tertiary STEM student will be required to do. The familiarity for the project environment and overcoming open ended design challenges is exactly what is needed in industry.

“Extra curricula activities, especially STEM challenges like Subs in Schools, are a great way to differentiate yourself as a potential intern or employee. Being involved in Subs in Schools is a great way to demonstrate where your interests lie and certainly wouldn’t hurt your internship chances at Saab in my opinion.”

Will has worked at Saab for two years. During this time he has been a part of three very different teams which have broadened his knowledge and experience. The first was writing a mixed reality App for the Microsoft HoloLens in the Training and Simulation department which included a three month stint in Seattle with Microsoft. He then joined the Naval Hardware team designing mechanical parts to go on the ANZAC ships, and is currently in the Modelling and Analysis team in the Naval department.

Saab’s premier product in Australia is their combat management system, the computer system that controls all crucial ship functions. It has been mandated as the future standard for the Royal Australian Navy.

“One of our installations is on the Collins class submarines. As part of this we do ongoing upgrade, support and maintenance work. The work is diverse and challenging from ongoing software support to console hardware maintenance and upgrades. We have plenty of opportunities for software engineers, Technical Officers and more. We also employ many systems engineers and each year we hire a group of grads with diverse skills backgrounds from software, electronic, systems and mechanical.

“We are doing an excellent job, especially in South Australia, of being self-sufficient when it comes to building ships and submarines. We have a highly skilled workforce and established supply chain which supports programs like Collins and the Air-Warfare Destroyers. We will soon see this continue with the future frigates and future submarine program. Although we have a strong sovereign defence manufacturing and maintenance capability, most of the core design work is done overseas. Programs like Subs in Schools combined with access to first class primary, secondary and tertiary education in South Australia builds an excellent foundation for innovation. Long term, Australia is building a skilled workforce from the bottom up which will be a key factor in making us a more technically capable to forge our own design paths.”


SUBS in Schools
The SUBS in Schools Technology Challenge was created specifically to develop employability skills in students and to interest them in careers in Defence Industries. SUBS in Schools is a complex challenge involving the use of industry-standard technologies, a focus on team building, project management, marketing, multi-media technology, and most importantly collaboration with industry.