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What is the future of engineering in Australia?

By: Grant King, IndustrySearch Writer
17 March, 2016

Well, to be honest, the future of engineering in Australia is less about engineering itself and more about engineers.

At the moment, there simply aren’t enough of them. In this article we’ll take a look at this vexing issue and see what can and is being done about it.

Decades of dearth

And that word is ‘dearth’ not death; let’s not get too morbid in our estimations. But the fact remains that a lack of qualified engineers has dogged the industry for decades. Everything from mining and electrical to mechanical and civil engineering has suffered from a surfeit of skilled people capable of advancing their causes. The problem has been around for twenty years and industry insiders predict it may well get worse before it gets better.

The continuing saga

According to ANET figures released only a few years ago, Australia’s engineering industry needed to find another 70,000 qualified engineers by 2017. A big ask made even bigger by an alarmingly small figure: 6000. That’s the number of engineers Australia is producing annually. At best we’re probably still around 50,000 engineers short.

What’s the answer?

Well, there is no clear cut answer. A variety of major closures across the engineering sector in recent years has hardly been a good advertisement for engineering as a viable long term career. Consequently students are looking for other alternatives. They need to be induced back with more attractive apprenticeship opportunities and more comprehensive training. Links between the industry and universities to keep engineering top-of-mind and promoted more aggressively as a career can also help in the long term. More government involvement is also required to fund the many thousands of apprenticeships needed to reverse the shortage.

Filling the gap

While all that might sound well and good, it’s a long term fix that will do nothing to fill the massive skilled labour shortage engineering faces. Engineering industries therefore have no alternative but to seek qualified engineers offshore. It’s a Band Aid and it has to come off eventually. For now though the future of Australian engineering relies on imported talent. If it keeps a critical part of our economy alive and kicking while the next generation of engineers bury their heads in books, no one can really complain.

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Malcolm Jones | Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 12:23 AM
Your statement "At the moment, there simply aren’t enough of them" is, at best, misleading. There are many many engineers in Australia who have been unable to find work for some years (I am one). Any shortages that appear are either in very specific areas of expertise, or perhaps in junior (low paid) positions.
Reuben | Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 6:46 PM
I to am surprised there is such a shortage. From what I've seen back home in Aus there has been years of resizing and layoffs in at least the large engineering consultancy companies I've seen.
Gary W Smith, PE | Thursday, March 24, 2016, 3:29 AM
What shortage? I transferred to Oz for a period of 10 years, then lost my position when the economy tanked in 2014... there is no shortage of engineers in Australia based on my company's position as one of the largest international engineering companies......
Mohamed Shehab | Thursday, March 24, 2016, 9:31 AM
Shortage??!!! That`s totally wrong, I`m looking for a job since one year, my friend also more than 1 1/2 year, the engineering job market is going down.
Hedley James | Tuesday, March 29, 2016, 5:53 AM
In reading this article, at first I understood it to be covering a shortage of university-educated engineers. But then apprenticeships were introduced as a part of the solution. From this I take it that the shortage is across the board?? From my small part of this economy, as an employer, the shortage that I see is one of skilled and knowledgeable trades people. The reason why this is so, is mentioned by responses so far: engineering has declined over the last twenty plus years. Simple fix: just reverse the government policies that have driven the jobs off shore. Start with the Button Plan, but do not overlook the legislation covering our clean air and clean water, working hours and rates, annual leave and the loadings, work cover, compulsory superannuation, free market nonsense, the level playing field, destruction of TAFE, etc. Our overseas competitors see us as fools. A final word: don't forget that the largest employer group is "small business". In engineering that means family-owned businesses sitting on under-utilized assets because of past government policy failures. Good intentions; failed policies; no leadership to take on the challenge to reverse it. More comments please.
Jerry | Tuesday, November 22, 2016, 2:22 AM
Totally wrong and misleading!!!!!! I have more than 15 years experience as engineer and after the more than one year without success of getting a job as engineer, I decided to work in another area. Australia is flooded with engineers and not enough jobs for them. If my opinion was taken into consideration, I would suggest to stop the 457 visas and then give the opportunity to the Australia citizens!