By 2040, Australia will have a shortage of 200,000 engineers, potentially undermining vital infrastructure and construction projects, as well as sapping economic growth.
That’s the warning from Nicolette Barnard, owner of IgniteXellence Business Consulting, who blames the situation on the increasing pace of digitalisation and the needs of a growing population.
“In the future, we’ll need so many more engineers,” she said. “But there are too many barriers to entry for those who are coming here from overseas. Some firms ask for ‘relevant experience’, which usually means experience in Australia.
“It’s a crisis, so we need to break down these barriers. We’ve done it in the past for nurses, teachers and others; well, now we need to go the extra mile for engineers.”
To help address the issue, La Trobe University in Victoria is launching the Industry-Integrated Master of Engineering, an innovative 12-month course for engineers who qualified overseas and want to build careers in Australia. It combines education, training and 800 hours of industry-based placements to provide the upskilling and reskilling necessary for finding work.
A 2022 Engineers Australia report, Strengthening the engineering workforce in Australia, highlighted skilled migrants as a key means of addressing Australia’s skills shortage.
“Only around 40 per cent of skilled migrant engineers in Australia are employed in an engineering role indicating that skilled migrants need to be better supported to find work here that aligns with their qualifications and experience,” the report said.
“Nearly two thirds of engineers in Australia were born overseas,” said Professor Hossam Aboel-Naga, Head of Engineering Department at La Trobe University. “What’s very concerning is that only half of the skilled engineers who move here actually work in an engineering role.”
Gaining that firsthand experience in this country can be critical in winning over employers.
“You may have spent 20 years working in highly technical roles abroad, but an HR manager might not consider that relevant,” he said. “This helps bridge that gap and gives students a springboard to launch their careers over.”
La Trobe has cultivated a raft of industry partners throughout the state who are keen to benefit from student placements.
The university sees it as an effective way to not only access the talent pool, but sustain and futureproof the engineering pipeline. It also diversifies the workforce and brings in high-quality individuals with a broad range of life experiences.
For every placement, La Trobe instigates a collaborative matchmaking process to align the interests and skills of candidates to companies operating in that space. It can be difficult to find talent or, for small and medium enterprises, to even find the time to look for talent the suits their needs.
La Trobe plays an active role in partnering with companies to mould the program to fulfil their precise needs.
The Industry-Integrated Master of Engineering’s first cohort of students will begin their courses in February next year. The course’s primary aims include:
La Trobe University is ranked in the top one per cent of universities globally and is particular renowned for the expertise of its engineering department, which is rated “above world standard” by the Australian Research Council. This year, more than 95 percent of graduates found full-time employment within four months of completing their course.
The new Master’s course will support Australia’s economic growth and address the significant challenges facing the engineering industry, helping it remain competitive and innovative.
“There’s a huge demand for engineers, so it’s absolutely crucial that those who have emigrated here are given every opportunity to shine,” Aboel-Naga said.
“Having 800 hours of hands-on industry experience is priceless, and puts them firmly in the driver’s seat to build extraordinary careers on these shores.”
Find out more about how La Trobe University’s Migrant Bridging Program matches skilled overseas engineers with Australian businesses.
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