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How to retain engineers in the profession

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How to retain engineers in the profession

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Australia’s engineering skills shortage is not a new problem. In fact, the systemic shortage of engineers has been brewing for decades. The factors compounding this issue are multifaceted and exacerbated by current economic demands.

Rising inflation, disruptions to supply chains, international border closures, the rise in technology, and a robust infrastructure pipeline has strengthened the demand for engineers. In addition, Australia’s objective of net zero emissions and clean energy has placed added pressure on the mounting issue.

While efforts are being made to encourage the younger generation to pursue a career in engineering, how do we ensure our current engineers stay in the profession?

Key factors in addressing the shortage

Australia’s engineering workforce consists of two main supply channels - those who qualify as engineers through tertiary qualifications and skilled migrants. Both channels are experiencing supply issues at a time when demand is increasing.

The National Skills Commission predicts employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow by 12.9% by 2025. However, commencements and graduations in engineering have been declining since 2014. It’s unlikely we’ll see an increase in graduate levels in the next few years without intervention.

Addressing the five main factors below is crucial to rebuild a workforce to meet our current and future requirements.

Primary and high school education:

The influence on students begins with early childhood education. Raising awareness of engineering with the support of teachers, parents, and career advisers will encourage more young Australians to pursue our industry as their career.

Vocation and higher education:

We’re witnessing a decrease in graduation rates, with only 50-60% of commencing engineering students graduating with an engineering degree. Furthermore, only 25% of students complete their degree in the minimum 4 years. Researchers believe many students don’t have time to keep up with their studies as the degree is intensive. As a result, they tend to extend the time it takes to complete their degree.

Retention in the engineering workforce:

60% of qualified engineers work in an engineering role. As engineering graduates are highly regarded in the workforce, they’re getting targeted by non-engineering businesses for their versatile skill set. That’s why an effort must be made to retain engineers.

Skilled migrant work participation:

Given 60% of our engineering workforce are migrants, they play an important role in Australia’s economy. Although forced border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced the number of migrant engineers, studies have found only around 40% are employed in an engineering role. This highlights the need for skilled migrants to be better supported to find work that aligns with their qualifications and experience.

Demand forecasting:

Data on the current and future demand for engineering skills can help to ensure our workforce is better planned and matches long-term demand.

Initiatives to strengthen the engineering workforce in Australia

With engineering vacancies at an all-time high, how can we encourage engineers to stay in their profession?

Firstly, provide avenues for your employees for continuous learning. Engineering disciplines are very technical, so ensure your staff has access to diverse training and development programs. Visibility of career pathways and being aware of career opportunities are important drivers of retention. This will help with loyalty and performance for the business. 

Secondly, make mental health and well-being a priority. Romilly Madew AO, Engineers Australia CEO, says engineers need to maintain a work-life balance. As engineers are often expected to work extra hours for no additional pay, contracts should cover any extra work so the employees’ time is respected and protected.

Thirdly, offer your engineers interesting and meaningful work. Engineers appreciate projects that challenge, stimulate and make a difference in the community. If you provide challenging and innovative projects, this will keep them engaged and give them a sense of purpose.

Lastly, foster a welcoming and inclusive environment that celebrates diversity. Simple ways include paying close attention to pay equity and ensuring any gender gaps are being identified. You can also build a company culture calendar, celebrating and acknowledging different cultures and religious events.

In summary

Post-pandemic challenges, rising inflation, and ambitious net zero objectives have contributed to Australia’s current engineering skills shortage. With the demand for engineering skills expected to continue to increase, it’s crucial for employers to actively retain engineers in the workforce.

By offering your engineers meaningful and challenging work, opportunities for continuous learning, and a focus on diversity and well-being, you will encourage more engineers to remain loyal in the workplace.

About CGC Recruitment

CGC Recruitment is a specialist construction, infrastructure, engineering, and architecture recruitment consultancy. We view our clients as our partners and work closely with them to meet their business needs. We work with some of Australia’s largest construction brands through to specialist SMEs and boutique consultants. We have proven experience delivering permanent, contract and retained recruitment solutions, consistently providing the right candidates for the right roles at the right time.

If you have an active role you’d like to discuss or just want to talk to a specialist consultant, please contact us. Alternatively, you can complete our online client form and a member of our team will contact you.


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