Western Australia in desperate need of engineers

In spite constant speculation about whether the resources boom is over…or not, the demand for skilled workers continues to grow.

According to estimates by the Western Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy, aproximately 111,000 people are directly employed within the WA resources sector at present, and they anticipate that a further 10,000 people will be required over the next 18 months.

A shortage of skilled workers across the board continues to be the sector’s biggest challenge.

In September, Premier Colin Barnett told a skills conference in Perth, WA’s mining industry will need another 100,000 trained workers in the next decade.

The Chamber’s Bruce Campbell-Fraser says engineers, in particular, are in demand.

“It’s across a raft of disciplines, but mining engineers, process engineers and chemical engineers are in pretty high demand, as are geologists and metallurgists,” he said.

The Government’s skills shortage list also names civil, petroleum and electrical engineers, fitters, surveyors and mine deputies as professions in demand.

“They’re either university qualifications or they’re key trades people,” Mr Campbell-Fraser said.

“As we’re in a major expansion phase at the moment, and there are a number of construction projects on in the resource sector, some of those key construction skills are in demand.”

Mr Campbell-Fraser says a number of universities have responded to the shortage by increasing the engineering courses they offer.

But although he acknowledges there is a role for fresh graduates on major projects, he says companies would prefer an experienced person for major projects.


“An experienced person can always assist them to deliver that project in a shorter time frame and closer to budget then say a fresh graduate can.

“So while an increase in graduate numbers plays its role, it’s a real shortage of skilled engineers and qualified engineers with relevant experience on major projects.”
Brain drain

The number of engineering graduates from WA tertiary institutions has reached record highs in recent times.

However, Engineering Australia’s WA Executive Director Leanne Hardwicke says that has not necessarily translated into jobs.

“Because the universities have a lot of international engineering students, the actual graduation numbers have gone through the roof,” she said.

She says the problem is a large proportion of those students return to their countries of origin after they graduate.

“We need to do something to entice them to stay and work here since they’ve studied here; that’s another challenge that we’ve got.”

Engineering Australia says overseas students in university engineering and related technologies courses increased by more than five hundred percent between 2001 and 2009.

Professional services firm Deloitte published a report late last year addressing the shortage, called ‘Where is Your Next Worker?’.

Deloitte’s WA Managing Partner Keith Jones says companies should increase their diversification policies by encouraging women or indigenous people to enter the workplace.

“What we were encouraging was an up skilling of capability, a greater use of out-sourcing and a greater increase in participation rates right across the community, so we maximise the value we get out of the people we have working in the Australian market place,” he said.

The Department of Commerce found there were 37,030 engineering and science professionals working in WA as at May last year with that figure increasing by 9.1 per cent every year over the last decade.

Women make up just over 21 per cent of that figure.

Ms Hardwicke agrees women could play a vital role in the sector.

“We could probably solve the skills shortages tomorrow if we had the same number of women doing engineering as we have the same number of men, but we don’t.”

Mr Jones says another key recommendation in the report was engaging skilled migration.

“That may seem like it takes away work from Australians but in truth, if we can’t design projects then we can’t build projects,”

“So if we have to get the design done off shore then get it designed off shore.

“If that’s where the bottleneck is then that’s one of the ways we can get it done and enable the work to actually flow within the Australian business community or in the mining and resource community.”

Mr Campbell-Fraser says skilled migration is usually the last resort for companies.

“It’s expensive to undertake an overseas recruitment process and it’s expensive to relocate someone and get them to work here,” he said.

Ms Hardwicke confirms a lot of engineers are being brought in from overseas.

Census data from 2006 estimates at the time, nearly half of WA’s engineering labour force was born overseas.

“But migration levels haven’t been keeping up with demand either,” said Ms Hardwicke.

“Because we’ve been enticing overseas engineers to come, we’ve been competing with a bunch of other countries as well, particularly developing companies who have a very high demand for engineering skills.
Start early

Ms Hardwicke says the key to solving the engineering skills shortage starts at a grass roots level.

“It starts way back in primary school,” she said.

“If you don’t have good teachers who encourage kids to get an interest in maths and science, they tend to lose interest those subjects.

“In high school, they then need to know that engineering is a career option for them.

“Once they graduate, getting them to go into engineering is difficult as you’re competing with all the other subjects like science and biology.”

Mr Campbell-Fraser agrees the key to easing the shortage is an ongoing investment in education and training.

According to the Department of Training and Workforce Development, the number of apprentices and trainees in the mining industry has increased by nearly 22 per cent in the last two years from 3,351 in July 2010 to 4,326 at July 2012.

Recent figures from Victoria’s Monash University predict approximately one third of all jobs growth in WA over the next four years will be in the mining and construction sectors.

“It’s a pretty diverse range of jobs out there and it can be a pretty good lifestyle and pretty good career choice,” he said.

Like many analysts, Ms Hardwicke is unsure how long the skills shortage will last.

“How long is a piece of string?”

“It really depends on the cycle – there’s been a decrease in demand at the moment because things have gone a bit flat in some sectors, but there is demand out there for engineering skills,” she said.

“So if you’re an engineer and have great project management skills you can expect to get picked up really quickly.”

Category: Migration News
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One Response
  1. sadikshya timalsina says:

    hi, i have completed bachelor in civil engineering in the year 2013.. i do not have any experience in such related fields.. can i apply for pr in Australia from Nepal? I also want to study ME in Australia..what should i have to do? please suggest me.. i will be helpful if u help me..

    Thank you…..

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