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The case of Australia’s ballooning engineering job vacancies

The number of job openings in Australia has already reached an all-time high. The latest Australian Engineering Employment Vacancies Report from engineers Australia shows that the demand for engineers has reached a ten-year high, worsening the ongoing skills crisis.

Despite limited growth in the latter half of the year, the number of jobs advertised increased by 50 per cent nationally in 2021. Queensland experienced the most significant change, rising by a whopping 67 per cent, followed by New South Wales and Victoria.

While all major states reported increased vacancies for the year, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania experienced negative growth in the second half of the year, corresponding with restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 Delta and Omicron variant outbreaks.

According to Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans, while some sectors are experiencing a shortage of experienced engineers, the country as a whole is experiencing an oversupply of qualified—but underutilised—migrant engineers. He says that this imbalance must be addressed by policymakers and employers.

“With an emerging engineering skills shortage exacerbated by COVID-19, an engineering job vacancy rate that continues to skyrocket, and an economic recovery hinging on major infrastructure projects, the effective use of all available engineers should be considered a national strategic imperative,” he asserts.

So how did this happen?

Because of high vaccination rates, lockdowns were eased in three September quarters, accelerating economic recovery. While GDP was expected to grow by about 3.0 per cent in 2021 and about 5.5 per cent in 2022, the Omicron outbreak has clouded the macroeconomic outlook.

Despite a 4 per cent increase in the second half of the year, engineering vacancies increased nationally in 2021. Major states reported year-over-year increases in vacancies, despite limited or negative growth in the September and December quarters.

Despite the pandemic, the engineering profession has remained resilient. Its outlook remains positive as a result of significant fiscal stimulus and reopening. The second half of 2021 saw limited growth in engineering vacancies across Australia, with a national increase of only 4 per cent.

Following the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, vacancy growth slowed in the December quarter. Nonetheless, vacancy rates remained high compared to the pre-pandemic period, increasing by 50 per cent year on year.

Vacancies by engineering occupation

Total engineering vacancies rose through most of 2021. However, the emergence of the Omicron variant in November and December corresponded with a modest reversal.

Civil engineers were most in-demand at the occupation level during the second half of 2021.

Demand for civil engineers was highest in the second half of the year, correlating with the delivery of government stimulus in response to COVID-19.17 Nonetheless, demand remained strong throughout the year and saw civil engineering as one of 44 occupations on the Australian Government’s Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List.

In NSW, the COVID-19 Delta outbreak and the 107-day lockdown that accompanied it significantly impacted the NSW economy in the second half of 2021.

Approximately 235,000 jobs were lost during this time period. While relaxed restrictions and a high vaccination rate were expected to drive recovery, the emergence of the Omicron variant in December has made a quick recovery unlikely.

More challenges for migrant engineers

Engineers Australia research shows a significant cohort of migrant engineers already in Australia has long-term difficulties securing employment appropriate to their experience. The number one culprit here is unconscious employer bias. Tapping into this underutilised talent supply offers one means of easing skills shortages.

The issue is further exacerbated by the chronic challenges in the source of domestic supply and employers not investing enough in graduates.

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.

The second half of 2021 saw limited growth in engineering vacancies across Australia, with a national increase of only 4 per cent. Following the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, vacancy growth slowed in the December quarter.

Nonetheless, vacancy rates remained high compared to the pre-pandemic period, increasing by 50 per cent year on year. Engineers’ job prospects remain bright, with demand outstripping supply in some industries. This pattern is broadly consistent with that seen in other professions and the labour market as a whole.

Click here for the full report.

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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