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Engineer skills shortage reaches crisis point - again

12 September, 2011

It’s becoming a familiar refrain, but according to a new report on Australia’s skills shortage, engineers need better training to fill the rapid demand for engineering professionals.

According to Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA) Chris Walton, the Skills Shortages Australia report released recently found 59 per cent of engineering vacancies were unfilled - the highest of any profession.

The report shows it is hardest to fill engineering positions that required a high level of experience or specialist skills, demonstrating the need to give more engineers more training and experience.

"Australia is not giving engineers the skills they need to get to the next level," Walton said.

"The Federal Government has the opportunity to fix this. They should ensure that training plans are in place before they hand out billions of dollars of infrastructure money to the states.

"This would ensure that the engineering graduates have a chance to develop the skills they need to become the kind of engineers that are in desperately short supply."

Walton said while the Federal Government's recent $558 million skills boost would go a small way to fixing the problem in engineering state governments could go much further in helping to skill up young engineering graduates.

The report states: “Graduate positions were relatively easy to fill but there was difficulty filling positions that required applicants to have significant years of experience.”

"It is not good enough to just create more university places or to throw our hands up and recruit more engineers from overseas," Walton said.

"If we could ensure the states have plans in place to train graduates and have them working on the large infrastructure projects we would be saving billions of dollars of taxpayers money.

"But at the moment state governments are contracting the work out to employers who have little long term commitment to training engineers."

The report also found that overall employers continue to experience difficulty recruiting in most professional engineering specialisations, with the proportion of engineering vacancies filled in 2010-11 the lowest of any occupation assessed by the government.

The tightest labour markets were for civil engineers, structural engineers, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers with less than 40 per cent of surveyed vacancies being filled for these occupations.

Employers in WA and the NT faced the greatest difficulty recruiting engineers, filling less than 30 per cent of surveyed vacancies; and the majority of employers surveyed were seeking to recruit staff who had at least five to ten years' experience.

Walton said APESMA had worked hard to raise the issue of the dramatic skills shortage in engineering over the past few years, including helping to create ANET which brings industry, professional associations and union leaders together to discuss the problem with the Government.

He said if Australia didn't have enough engineers the nation would fail to capitalise on the mining boom, face increasing problems such as traffic snarls, and research has shown that without sufficient engineers it would lead to a 20 per cent blowout in major infrastructure projects.

"If we are looking at 20 per cent infrastructure blowouts now, imagine the financial damage if this skills crisis gets any worse," Walton said.

"Unless we fix the skills crisis soon taxpayers will have to fork out for projects going over budget."

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