Even pre-pandemic employers struggled finding skilled candidates from a tiny talent pool. When you look at the lack of graduates emerging from national universities, it’s clear that it’s getting worse. Enrolments have been steadily declining over the last decade, going from 21,456 to 18,855 in only 4 years – a fall of 12.9%. Couple this with low completion rates and it’s clear that the future of engineering is at risk. So, how is Australia dealing with these challenges and how can they overcome them?
As a nation, Aussies are a heavily resource rich economy. With the digital transformation underway worldwide, alarmingly it’s unsupported at an educational level. According to Engineers Australia, the dip of secondary students enrolling in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) is alarming. As we move towards a smart jobs economy, it’s creating a dilemma… or as some fear a potential crisis.
Despite skyrocketing employment rates for engineering graduates, the volume of students emerging with degrees is declining. Choosing to study a profession where the demand outweighs candidate availability is good news for students, but leaves a painful gap for companies. Over the past 12 years there were 18,000 engineering positions vacant and only 7600 graduates. Competition to attract fresh talent is at an all-time high.
Gender imbalance is extreme within engineering. Australia has dramatically low numbers of women studying engineering. In 2018, female students accounted for only 12.4% of the total population despite years of concerted efforts encouraging more female participation. Compare this to a healthier 35% in Europe and an even more impressive 50% ratio in Iran. Power of Engineering’s Felicity Furey believes women are the solution to the skill shortage in Australia. “If we increase the number of female engineers, we will play a large role in filling the pipeline of engineers to fill the $200 billion infrastructure boom in Australia and provide a huge boost to the existing infrastructure and a maintenance backlog.”
With international borders closed for a while, relying on an influx of foreign talent to supplement our low numbers isn’t viable. Domestic border closures are only making it worse. Specialized skills are hard to find and every region has its own engineering specialities. People tend to prefer living in the more popular regions, leaving some regions with big shortages. Attracting professionals to remote regions for example can be more challenging than a major metropolitan location.
The engineering market has been hit hard with a combination of factors. So, what does the future hold? Firstly, companies with engineering talent need to proactively ensure retention. Ahead of weathering the storm, focusing on engagement and safety is where it starts. Transformation could be a key acceleration –companies that can fast track their digital adoption providing current and new workers with more capabilities and opportunities for work outside traditional structures.
Engineers have been involved in pioneering projects such as collaborations to design a ventilation hood to protect healthcare workers. They have also participated in sequencing the genetic structure of Covid-19, maintaining the integrity of the supply chain and applying AI to process information. Innovation is positive sign for a healthy future. More great projects will hopefully inspire greater interest from future engineers.
It will take consistent effort. Awareness efforts need to ramp up in schools and especially with females. Businesses will need government support to land the right talent and will be on the hook to keep them. In a job-seeker’s market, talent will look for firms that are making a positive impact, placing extra pressure on companies to create a vision that’s bigger than themselves. Collaboration, engagement, and commitment is how the future of engineering will be bright for Australia.
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