Fore or aft, a sea change into naval shipbuilding is a winning change of tack
At 47 years of age Mike Butcher could hang his hat on a successful, distinguished and progressive career within Australia’s car industry.
The mortgage was getting paid off, the kids were doing well in high school and he was working as senior production manager at Mitsubishi’s Tonsley plant in South Australia.
Then the Australian car manufacturing industry nosedived.
“It started with Mitsubishi closing, where I had worked for 30 years and was followed by Holden, Ford and Toyota,’’ he said.
“I bounced around automotive related jobs for a couple of years but they just kept drying up, one after another.
“It was a frustrating and worrying time to be honest.’’
Watching the television news one evening he heard about the job opportunities working on the Air Warfare Destroyers being built in Osborne, South Australia as part of the naval shipbuilding industry.
“It sounded like very exciting work,’’ Mr Butcher said.
“When it comes to work, the most important things for me are a long-term career path, job security, interesting and challenging work.
“With naval shipbuilding in Australia set to continue for as long as you can see, it appealed as a long term, reliable career.’’
The career structure in naval shipbuilding allows people to start at a tradesperson or engineer level before progressing to a number of different roles as experience is gained. Often onsite and continuing training is provided and study is also encouraged and supported so people can progress their careers.
“The basic process for automotive and shipbuilding assembly are very similar, engineering the design, production drawings, planning and tooling follow the same path in both industries,’’ he said.
“One of the earliest learnings I had to get my head around was the terminology for ships, the need to understand, port, starboard, aft, bow stern, bulkheads, hull, compartments and decks.
“Also, a car moves along a production line while a ship is stationary, that’s why it is critical people are able to work together as a team to install equipment in certain, set sequences.’’
Now at 58-years-old and Facilities Project Manager with BAE Systems Australia’s shipbuilding business ASC Shipbuilding, Mike has seen firsthand the enormous range of career opportunities in naval shipbuilding – even if people don’t believe they have the exact skills.
“I had been a production manager with Mitsubishi, but I felt if I was to get a job within naval shipbuilding I wanted to be able to understand the production process, from a hands-on point of view, so I started as a mechanical trade supervisor,’’ he said.
“People would be surprised at the range of jobs that exist and how similar the required skills are to what they already have.
“Sometimes when you are changing jobs or industries you might need to take a backward step to gain the knowledge you need and then advance when you have the new skills.
“When you see the ship being built all the way through from start to finish and then going out for sea trials there is definitely a bit of pride as it sails out through the heads.
“It’s a challenging job and not all easy going. You need a lot of teamwork to be successful.
“If you have a positive attitude, naval shipbuilding will give you the opportunity for success as long as you are willing to be trained or complete study to achieve your goals.’’
BAE Systems Australia, through its shipbuilding business ASC Shipbuilding, is preparing to build nine anti-submarine warfare, Hunter class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy at the Osborne Naval Shipyards in South Australia. The Hunter class frigate program will create and sustain more than 5,000 jobs across BAE Systems and the wider Australian defence supply chain over the life of the program.