A shortage of engineers is hampering Australia’s ability to deliver on infrastructure and nation building needs, leading to millions of dollars in cost overruns and lost opportunities for engineering projects which have not gone ahead, an industry group says.
Speaking at a public hearing in Perth as part of a Senate Inquiry into the Shortage of Engineering and Related Employment Skills, Engineers Australia’s international and national director of policy Brent Jackson said Australia needs to address the engineering skills shortage as a matter of urgency.
“Australia produces less than half of its current annual engineering workforce needs,” Jackson says. “Even with Australian universities and TAFEs producing around 9,000 graduates annually, Australia is still unable to provide a reliable domestic solution to these key shortages.”
Jackson says engineering shortages have led to huge losses due to cost overruns and many more lost opportunities for infrastructure and sustainable development. He adds that over the past six years alone, more than 20 projects had to be abandoned because of problems finding suitably qualified staff.
Despite his concerns, Jackson applauds efforts on the part of the Department of Infrastructure and Transport with regard to the creation of the National Infrastructure Construction Schedule (NICS), a national database of planned infrastructure investments. Jackson says this will bring greater transparency to infrastructure scheduling and delivery and make it easier for the profession to plan projects and identify areas where more engineers are needed.
He says, however, that further reform to strengthen the profession is necessary, with careful workforce planning and career initiatives needed to attract highly skilled individuals – especially women – to the profession.
“As well, it’s important that reforms through the COAG of the seamless national economy progress by supporting a nationally consistent system of registration for engineers,” Jackson says. “This will help us deploy engineers of consistently high standard to wherever they are needed most.”
The need to encourage more women the enter the engineering field in particular has long been recognised by policy makers and is seen as a necessary step if Australia is to develop the skills it needs to meet the infrastructure requirements of the coming decade. Earlier this year, 23-year-old engineering student Marita Cheng was awarded the Young Australian of the Year for her efforts in promoting the profession as a career path to young girls in secondary schools across the country.