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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.