The demand for engineers has reached a 10-year high, according to new statistics from national professional body Engineers Australia. It's a chronic and critical problem: for years now, the number of local engineers has been in decline as fewer and fewer students go into the profession. Businesses across Australia have made up the shortfall by hiring from abroad, with some estimates suggesting that around 60% of the profession is made up of imported talent, and out of the 44 occupations on PMSOL, 8 (nearly 20%) are in various engineering disciplines.
But with border restrictions putting a stop to that badly needed inflow, the vacancy rate is skyrocketing. Engineers Australia stated in the data released today that the number of vacancies for engineers shot up 50% nationwide year on year in 2021, with almost every engineering discipline - especially the niche and specialised ones - in high demand. The biggest increases were seen in Queensland and New South Wales, where government stimulus has driven infrastructure and capital maintenance projects.
What's creating the problem?
It's less the difficulty in importing talent, and more a mental block in employers' heads, according to Engineers Australia CEO Bronwyn Evans. Because, it turns out, there are actually a lot of migrant engineers still in Australia right now. Employers just aren't willing to hire them.
"The number one culprit here is unconscious employer bias," she says. "While some sectors are experiencing a shortage of experienced engineers, it is in the face of an economy-wide oversupply of qualified—but underutilised—migrant engineers."
One study the professional body carried out last year found that migrant engineers are disproportionately likely to be unemployed or underemployed, partly because their professional credentials and international experience are not locally recognised and partly because they do not have local references - and also because there is an undercurrent of race-based and nationality-based bias in many employers' hiring decisions.
In addition to this immediate roadblock, there is the long-term systemic issue that gave rise to the shortage in the first place - insufficient young people, especially women, going into STEM fields, and insufficient effort made to develop and retain local talent in the profession.
"The long-term solution involves investment in young people and schools, industry-led development of early career graduates, and industry and government -wide understanding of the critical value of the migrant workforce," said Evans.