How two work placement students helped design vehicles for the Defence Force

How two work placement students helped design vehicles for the Defence Force

Think undertaking a placement as part of your course means you’ll end up buried under a pile of meaningless work or fetching coffees? Think again.

As part of a work-integrated learning (WIL) placement, recent Bachelor of Electronic Engineering graduates Mitchell Ward and David Wills helped design the next generation of military vehicles for the Australian Defence Force.

On the front line of industry

Mitchell and David did their placements at Thales Group in Bendigo, a leading international electronics and systems company that manufactures and maintains a range of products for the Australian Defence Force.

Among other things, Thales Group developed the ‘Bushmaster’, an 11-tonne, 4×4 off-road vehicle that provides high levels of blast and ballistic protection for defence personnel.

During their placements, Mitchell and David helped develop cutting-edge electrical systems for a new wave of protected mobility vehicles (PMV).

‘My responsibilities were to check documentation regarding the electrical systems on the vehicle and ensure that they were correct and fit for the purpose,’ says David. ‘Then, towards the end of the placement, I was involved in installing the electrical wiring prototypes.’

‘I learned a lot, put in a lot of hard effort and really enjoyed the fact that the designs I was working on would be used out in the field by the Defence Force. The vehicles are pushed to their limits at all times.’

Mitchell, who was in charge of developing concepts for the vehicles’ electrical circuits, says he enjoyed watching his designs become a reality over the course of the placement.

‘I took a basis concept from previous vehicles and developed the necessary modifications and changes to create the electrical drawings for a new electronic warfare system,’ he says.

‘When I first got there, there were no formal electrical drawings (for the variant), and by the end of my time I’d competed 20-odd drawings. To hand those over and eventually have them approved was a really good feeling.’

A win-win situation

Placements provide an opportunity for students to gain industry experience and apply what they’re learning at university in the real world – but placements can also offer clear benefits to the companies involved.

‘Sometimes you can get stuck in the same old processes and ways of thinking, so bringing in people from different backgrounds introduces a broader, more diverse knowledge base and different perspectives. So, by participating in these placements, Thales Group is investing in knowledge, while also helping to guide and educate the next generation of engineers,’ says Mitchell.

Mitchell and David threw themselves into their placements and Thales Group was so happy with the work they were doing, it decided to keep them on.

‘I made some excellent contacts throughout the company and was able to obtain a position on the graduate rotation, which set me up for my future career,’ says David. ‘And because of my effort and commitment during the placement, I was offered an additional six months’ work before the rotation starts.’

Mitchell, who was also offered a six-month contract, says the placement helped confirm he was headed in the right direction.

‘I already had a fairly clear idea that I wanted to be involved in hands-on, practical work in a very interesting field of research and technology, and my placement definitely reinforced those ideas,’ he says.

Adjusting to a professional environment

Both Mitchell and David heard about the Thales Group placements through teaching staff in their course. They submitted cover letters and resumes, and then went to Bendigo to interview for the positions.

Although it wasn’t the first placement for either of them, they did have to adjust to new systems and internal processes.

‘Until you figure out company process, make sure you ask a lot of questions,’ says Mitchell. ‘Yes, it’s good to show initiative, but in the early days it’s better to get guidance than find out later what you’ve done is completely wrong.’

David, a former technician who returned to electrical engineering as a mature-age student, says Thales Group was always there to point them in the right direction.

‘We were learning in a really good environment, with lots of support from other staff members, and the entire program was really great.’

La Trobe Bachelor of Electronic Engineering graduates David Wills and Mitchell Ward. Credit: Shayne T Wright.

Seizing opportunities

Both Mitchell and David recommend WIL placements to current students.

‘It’s hard to know where you’ll end up from your time at the placements or what direction you’ll go,’ says Mitchell.

‘Six months ago, I had no idea I’d be working on combat vehicles in Bendigo, and before my placement with BMW, I never imagined I’d spend a year working in Germany. They just open up a world of opportunities and chances.’

David agrees, emphasising the potential rewards for students who can give it their all.

‘If you feel nervous about doing a placement because you don’t know how it will turn out, just go for it because you’re going to learn a lot and it’s a really valuable experience,’ he says. ‘And make sure you give it 100 per cent, because your commitment there will benefit you later on in your career – and the more effort you put in, the more you’re going to learn.’

Check out the WIL and placement opportunities on offer at La Trobe.