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Scoping our future: Addressing Australia’s engineering skills shortage

Scoping our future - ANET Research Report

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From the report…

Introduction

This report provides some background to the work of the Australian National Engineering Taskforce (ANET).

ANET is a coalition formed to investigate the shortfall in engineering capacity, which continues to have far-reaching effects on industry and infrastructure development in Australia. Membership includes the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA), Engineers Australia, Consult Australia, The Australian Council of Engineering Deans (ACED) and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE). Together these organisations represent the major professional, industrial and academic interests in the engineering sector.

ANET was established in recognition that engineering skills shortages continue to constrain Australian innovation and growth. This is a national problem, with
a recognised skills shortage in generic and specialist scientific and engineering disciplines, with effects in national, sectoral and regional labour markets. In March 2010, ANET released two surveys of its member bodies’ constituents:
a qualitative survey of consulting employers through Consult Australia, and a qualitative and quantitative survey of engineers through APESMA and Engineers Australia. Both employers and engineers shared the effects of the skills crisis on their work, with employers highlighting the difficulty in finding qualified staff and engineers commenting on the quality and safety aspects of a loss of capacity at their workplaces.

In 2010, skills shortages in engineering have been highlighted as a key constraint on a resources-led economic recovery, with the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce hearing industry’s concerns of a major labour market shortfall. Skills Australia has also designated engineering as a skillset requiring structured workforce development interventions to ensure that community need is met, particularly around climate change infrastructure adaptation. Engineers are globally in short supply, with Australian higher education providers producing only around half of the graduates needed to fill domestic demand, and in this environment systemic cultural issues, low numbers of women in education and in the workforce and an aging workforce have produced widespread issues with retention and sustainability. This paper surveys the available information about the scope of this skills crisis and highlights areas where action and research are needed.

If these issues are to be addressed, it is clear that all parties must work together collaboratively to create innovative systemic solutions. To this end, ANET is working in partnership with Government and industry, asset owners and consultants, to develop complementary workforce development strategies for the engineering workforce.
In announcing funding for ANET’s first two projects, then-Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard recognised “the vital role of engineering in innovation, productivity and the capacity of industry.” With strong Government leadership on this issue, ANET will build on recent increases in engineering university applications and initiatives in vocational education and training, to help protect industry from future skills shortages.

ANET represents a new form of collaboration between professional, education and industry bodies to provide innovative, research-based solutions to longstanding problems of supply and demand in the engineering sector. ANET is a pilot vehicle for workforce development, modelling consultative solutions based in rigorous evidence- based research and bringing key stakeholders together to ensure that current labour supply issues are able to be addressed with input from employers and engineers on the ground.

ANET’s work will enhance employment and learning outcomes for students and industry, increasing the supply of qualified engineering personnel to meet national skills needs into the future and increasing the number of women engineers, supporting business innovation and growth. ANET aims to ensure that Australia is able to design, build and maintain high quality and infrastructure, underpinning a strong economy and a healthy, functioning community.

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