Australian engineering job vacancies have hit a 10-year high, with pandemic border closures and a dearth of home-grown talent fuelling a skills shortage in the profession.
According to the latest Australian Engineering Employment Vacancies Report from Engineers Australia, the number of engineering jobs advertised increased 50 per cent in 2021. This was despite limited growth in the latter part of the year due to the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Queensland saw the biggest growth, with a 67 per cent increase in job listings, followed by New South Wales (54 per cent) and Victoria (44 per cent).
The report analysed vacancies data produced by the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business from July to December 2021. It found civil engineers were the most in demand during this period, corresponding with the Federal Government’s infrastructure push to stimulate the economy.
Industrial, mechanical and production engineers were also highly sought after, with ICT support and test engineers coming in third.
Demand for engineers has traditionally been cyclical because infrastructure investment increases lead to a shortage of civil engineers. But with Australia’s focus on initiatives such as the Modern Manufacturing Strategy, the need for engineers will only grow, said Engineers Australia’s Chief Engineer Jane MacMaster FIEAust CPEng.
“There’s also a focus on innovation and technology more broadly,” she said. “We’re living in an age where there isn’t a realm of life that doesn’t rely on technology, and ultimately that relies on engineers.
“If we don’t do something to address this significant skills challenge, I think the impacts will be felt really hard across many sectors.”
This could include schedule delays to infrastructure projects and implications for Australia’s strategic priorities, such as a lack of talent to help grow sovereign supply chain capabilities.
With demand for engineers outstripping supply, Engineers Australia Policy Advisor Michael Bell said steps must be taken to stop the current skills shortage from becoming a long-term problem.
“If we don’t do anything, we’ll continuously have a shortage of engineers and it will start to turn into a structural shortage,” Bell said.
“The National Skills Commission has said the rate of jobs that require STEM subjects, of which engineering is a big one … is only going to increase. So we need to see more engineers coming through the pipeline to fulfil the demand.”
Adequate employment for migrant engineers
Overseas-born engineers typically make up about 60 per cent of the Australian engineering workforce. When the nation closed its borders in March 2020, this valuable pipeline was cut off.
While the reopening of international borders could provide a boost to the current workforce, a better solution is needed, Bell said. This includes providing greater support to the migrant engineers who are already in the country, but who have difficulty securing employment appropriate to their experience.
From surveying more than 800 migrant engineers and conducting in-depth interviews with employers and recruiters, a report from Engineers Australia found the biggest barriers to employment for migrant engineers were associated with “local” factors. Whether it was experience, networks, standards, references or qualifications, the top five obstacles identified by migrant engineers were all to do with not being locally trained.
“We already have a great pool of migrant talent. They’re qualified engineers, they often have very good experience in their home country, but that experience isn’t always recognised here,” Bell said.
“It’s a mindset change for industry to value the skills migrant engineers bring, such as different ways of thinking. At the end of the day, they’re engineers who have been trained to an international standard … and they meet the standard of what an engineer is in Australia.”
A lack of local engineering talent
While Australia will always need migrant engineers, it must also address the domestic talent pipeline. Currently, just 8.9 per cent of all Australian university graduates are engineers. This makes the nation one of the lowest producers of engineers as a proportion of all graduates in the OECD.
Focusing on STEM education to encourage more students to study engineering, and better support for those who do graduate, is vital, MacMaster said.
“We’re doing a lot of work across the whole pipeline of engineering skills supply, and it starts in primary school,” she said.
“It’s also about making sure that teachers, careers advisors, parents and kids know what engineering is … and the breadth of opportunities you have with a career in engineering.”
Industry-led programs to develop early career engineers could also help incentivise graduates to join — and remain in — the profession. This includes better internship opportunities for engineering students and graduate programs, which compete with those offered by financial institutions and consultancy firms.
“Engineers are creative problem solvers. We think very logically and analytically, but also creatively, so our skillset is valued in many other sectors,” MacMaster said.
“While it’s wonderful that engineers can work across the whole economy, in an era where engineering skills are in demand, it is worth considering how we retain engineers in the engineering workforce before they go off and work in other sectors.”
Beautiful article. I am migrant civil engineer. My skill is successfully approved by Engineers Australia but not getting opportunities to work though I have 9 years overseas experience. It is sad to know the shortage of civil engineers but it is more sad the companies in Australia have a stigma that migrant engineers are worth nothing. I am desperately looking for a permanent job where by I can enable my talent here. Please help me get job.
It seems they don’t want engineers, they want Australian citizens and permanent residents to fill those fictitious positions. As a recent graduate in Chemical Engineering from Curtin Uni and a Temporary Visa holder I can say the opposite to this article.
It’s all fake Australia do not need migrant engineers, you just trying to creat narrative around the world by fake news that Australia short of Engineers but that’s not true this country wants only foreign money, so people around the world have understood this technique as more than 50 colleagues from my university went to another country after graduating rather than staying here and a lot people are losing their hope in Australian system of humiliation.
Most of the time, local experience is at the foundation of the problem. Engineers Australia should conduct/design a 3-to-6-month program based on local industry norms as an intern with local industry partners, which is my kind and firm recommendation. This will be well received. I recall that if a student does not perform well in English (achieved less than a 6 band), they are required to undergo an ELICOS, a short course to improve their English skills after arriving in Australia. Similarly, EA should collaborate with the industry to develop a course or internship that will benefit migrant engineers.
Otherwise, the majority of them end up in low-wage or low-skilled jobs. This is one of the reasons why many prefer the United States, the United Kingdom, or even the Middle East as a career destination over Australia.
***I’m hoping that Engineers Australia receives this message. ***
Finally, I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the author for addressing such an important topic.
It is quite staggering to see the number of foreign born Engineers in Australia. The percentage of home grown talent in Australia is of concern. The story is similar in medical field as well – the figure stands at about 68% for people in medical who were born overseas.
While Australia’s main focus is on creating jobs and jobs through quick short trainings, the emphasis on overall learning & comprehensive skill development is very diminished in the face of rise and acceptance of low skilled jobs across Australia. The non-STEM labor force is quite content with high paying jobs in the field of management, mining, oil & gas and trades. Unless there are better incentives and policies to reward and appreciate STEM jobs the country will face perennial shortage of home grown STEM talent.
In your article there is no discussion about attempting to re-introduce and promote the huge wealth of talent and resources across all disciplines of aged engineers. They want to work but there is a prejudice against them because of age. Give them a chance and they will fill the ranks of engineering talent you are looking for. This is a huge waste otherwise .
They’re running the invitation round quarterly every year and they’re taking 400 skilled workers (which includes: doctor’s nurses etc..) every 3 months is this called a recovery plan? The industry is craving for engineers and every job opportunity requires a PR or Australian citizenship which understandable and fair due to it’s complexity of obtaining a visa. I’ve invested my time, recourses, and energy for 8 years in Australia and I still can’t get a visa even though I have a job contract. It was a mistake coming to Australia from the beginning, I wish I was more mature enough when I took this decision when I was a teenager and invested my money elsewhere. I would advise all international students and engineers to find another country to study/work unless you want to get humiliated, used, and abused. They don’t deserve our time, money and effort.
Lol most of us feel the same. Regardless of the halved skill immigration cap, what they were inviting were mostly nurses, welfare workers etc., who will likely resign after obtaining bridging, and that causes an idiotic vicious circle, in which their demand rises infinitely during the pandemic. Nowadays Australia seems to consider engineers as burden and international students as cash cow. Only come there if someone is a masochism.
Agree and disagree with some of the comments above, let me explain:
1. I myself also a civil engineer migrant into this country back in Dec 2005.
2. Took me nearly 7 months to finally get someone to take me serious for a job offer but in a regional area in Darwin because no one wants to live there and because there is an incredible amount of engineering work there at the time.
3. Agree, I have seen it myself with employers most want white australian, born in Australia, educated in Australia engineers to hire as graduates, there is a stigma about engineering edication in Australia being top and above everyone else. During my interview back in 2006 for my first engineering job in Australia I was asked we are worried your degree from the University of Costa Rica might not me to the standard of an Australian one. My answer was its the other way around your degrees are not up to the standard of a Costa Rican degree to what I left them in total silence.
4. The shortage in civil engineers needs to be explained its not graduate engineers with no experience the shortage is with 6 to 20 years of experience engineers, not the graduates.
5. Unfortunately we all need to start somewhere we all had no experience at some time in our life and we need the chance to get that experience and become valuable and desirable in the engineering job market.
6. A lot of arrogance with some engineers who rather be unemployed than moving to a regional city to live work and get experience, including new migrants to this country who are only wiling to live in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth. Want to get experience and want to be considered and taken serious look at the regional areas the job is more challenging and you learn 100 times more on the job than in a stupid big city where you will learn nothing but the one area of specialised engineering field you are encased to. Get out of the big city confort zone and take the opportunity of the challenges of regional areas.
7. Dont have the experience in Australia, keep insisting dont give up insist, dont just apply online go to the office try to talk to someone attend engineers australia or industry events, most jobs are actually not advertised its who you know or talk to in the industry.
Finally dont give up I now have 17 years of Australian experience, won engineer of the year award in 2019 and became chartered and later became a fellow, why? because I did not give up I insisted no matter how much s–t I took as a migrant engineer at the beginning all of that made me stronger and put me in the place I am now. Insist insist insist that is how you achieve things in this world. Nothing is free or handed out easily you have to work hard to get there.