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Civil engineering job prospects on the rise

By: Stephanie McDonald
14 February, 2011

If you’re currently a civil engineer wondering about your job prospects, you’re in luck – the industry is on the rise.

In 2010/11, engineering construction is expected to receive a revenue lift of 7.3% and 9.7% in 2011/12, according to the Australian Industry Group/Australian Constructors Association Construction Outlook survey.

This increase will be driven by mining and infrastructure projects, with expected expansion in both road (7.7%) and rail (7.6%) during 2010/11.

This boost is good news on the jobs front, with employment forecast to rise 6.2% across construction this financial year, according to the Australian Constructors Association.

But strong employment growth will not be without its issues, with the sourcing of skilled workers expected to impact on the delivery of future projects.
"The skills shortage is felt the most when there are a lot of major infrastructure projects starting at the same time," Shane Little, director of Hays Engineering, said.

"As a result, the industry is very open to sponsoring relevant overseas candidates to fill the gaps. [But] there is always a lack of estimators."

Historically, Australia has not dealt well with skills shortages, with Little saying the government needs to turnaround 457 sponsorships for engineers quicker.

"Another solution is tax breaks/incentives for contractors that take on junior staff or cadets in order to encourage more development," Little said.

"We’d also like to see a greater push to educate high school students about engineering careers."

Businesses have dealt with the problem slightly better by pitching their company as more lucrative over competitors. For example, Little says many businesses have been more flexible with the work/life balance to stop engineers "burning out".

If you’re currently a civil engineer, the future is positive for job prospects. 

Civil engineering encompasses project engineers, project managers, contract administrators, estimators, civil supervisors, quality assurance engineers and OH&S managers.

A vast majority of the demand for civil engineers is currently based around the mining sector, which is primarily located in Western Australia. Jobs in the state typically attract higher remuneration packages due to the strong demand. The rebuilding process in Queensland will also see the region on the lookout for civil engineers.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for civil engineers. Like other sectors in the building and construction industry, civil engineering jobs were badly hit across the board by the global financial crisis and large-scale redundancies occurred.

"Larger contractors moved down into the smaller end of the market to keep their workforce working and in some cases, this pushed smaller companies out of business," Little said.

Looking ahead, the government is currently focusing on road and rail infrastructure across the country. This means people with bridge skills will be extremely employable, according to Little.

Unfortunately, salaries have remained fairly static for civil engineers, though change may come in the next 12 months as several large-scale RTA projects in NSW begin, and the national broadband network creates a strain on resources.

If you’re a civil engineering graduate, Little says you need to be clear about what you are after in your first role.

"You will no doubt move at some point but you need to remain in your first role for a while, so make the right choice," Little said.

"Also, work in a relevant industry while studying – it’s a very competitive market for graduates and those candidates with strong work experience stand head and shoulders above the rest."

Meanwhile, for those already in the industry looking to make a move, Little warns to do your research.

"There is nothing worse than making a bad career decision and a lot of movement on a CV is not viewed highly by potential employers," he said.

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