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Overseas engineers and Australia’s skills shortage

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By David Jenkins

Australia has a chronic shortage of engineers and yet part of the solution to this problem may be right here, and right now.

According to research by Engineers Australia, there are 147,000 trained engineers currently in Australia and yet 53% of them are not working in engineering.

The shortage, meanwhile, is acute and long standing.

Australia is more than a year into a $218 billion five year infrastructure program but without adequate engineering expertise, no new infrastructure project can succeed.

If we lack engineers with asset management training our existing infrastructure will deteriorate rapidly, creating an even bigger infrastructure deficit and more work.

The Australian Local Government Association’s local government workforce survey showed that nine out of ten of Australia’s more than 500 councils are facing skills shortages, with the biggest shortages for engineers and planners.

Engineers Australia says that despite the shortage many of these overseas trained engineers are experiencing “knock back after knock back.”

Potential employers want people with local experience, and yet without that first job how can they get that local experience?

Another challenge is cultural, and the Engineers Australia research found that people with non-Anglo names are 60% less likely to be called back for an interview.

The organisation’s chief executive Romilly Madew recently described the situation as an “emerging national disaster” with an army of over 100,000 qualified and skilled engineers “driving Ubers” or doing unrelated work.

Many of these shortages are in regional Australia where the issue mirrors the situation in the health sector, with regional areas desperate for General Practitioners and nurses.

As regional Australia calls out for skilled engineers, the reality is that many of the people who have the qualifications to fill those jobs are in our cities, driving Ubers and taxis or working in retail.

It is a significant waste of trained human resources, and local governments and their communities are paying the price.

IPWEA can be a part of the solution to this issue with our series of ‘micro credentials’ in the IPWEA Asset Management Pathway.

These asset management courses draw on IPWEA’s leading manuals such as the International Infrastructure Management Manual (IIMM) and are taught by carefully selected practitioners. They are delivered online, improving access and reducing cost.

Importantly, there are no barriers to entry. That means that engineering professionals from all backgrounds can upskill with local knowledge and get themselves ready for working in Australia, while demonstrating their commitment to local employers.

The credentials can be a way of connecting the overseas engineers with Australian employers, and can help address a productivity crisis which is holding Australian communities back, particularly those in regional areas.

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