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Migrating engineers could solve skills shortage

A study by Engineers Australia, titled Barriers to Employment for Skilled Migrant Engineers, has found migrants may be the key to filling the skills shortage in the industry.

The study reveals that while migrants account for almost two thirds of qualified engineers in Australia, 47 per cent of are unemployed and struggling to find a job. Others are underemployed in junior roles despite being highly skilled.

“As a mechanical engineer in building services, with a specialised degree in HVAC, I brought skills that, in my
knowledge, were not taught in such a specialised matter in Australia (no specialised HVAC, only general mechanical),” said one participant quoted in the report.

“The industry appears to have shortage of engineers as well. From a sustainability perspective, I could also bring with me some knowledge on how to build energy efficient buildings, a subject matter on which France and other European
countries have been at the forefront of Process Safety Experience that is very hard to find in Australia.”

Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans says the engineering skills shortage has been exacerbated by COVID-19, and notes that the engineering job vacancy rate has gone up 97 per cent in just 12 months.

Dr Evans believes the effective use of all available engineers should be considered a national strategic imperative.

“This report clearly shows industry bias, a lack of a local networks and pathways to securing work as the biggest barriers to migrant engineers finding employment,” says Evans.

One of the key findings in the study is employer bias towards hiring people who aren’t “local” – which is associated with experience, networks, standards, references and qualifications.

The study highlights seven main barriers to hiring migrant engineers:

  1. A lack of local knowledge and experience
  2. Perceived cultural differences in soft skills
  3. Visa or sponsorship working rights issues
  4. A lack of people who can “vouch” for them locally
  5. Certification queries
  6. Flight risk concerns
  7. Tendency to hire “networks” at senior-level roles.

The report found that one in three migrant engineers feel they should be in a more senior role, based on their experience. They also feel that their international experience is undervalued.

Dr Evans explain that this causes many to lose faith in the job-seeking process and fall away from the profession as a result.

Engineers Australia is consulting with industry on a pilot program that will enable them to draw on the existing talent pool.

“We absolutely value the importance of getting this right from a personal, professional and national perspective,” says Dr Evans.

“Productive employment of migrant engineers is vital to our national engineering capability and unless changes are made our future economic growth is at risk.”

The full report is available to download here.

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