The peak industry body for engineers has warned skill shortages are now so severe employees are being promoted into more senior positions than they are ready for.
Jane MacMaster, the chief engineer at Engineers Australia, said a lack of professionals caused by closed borders has become such an issue that it is now mentioned to her at “almost every meeting”.
MacMaster made the comments in an interview for Australian Aviation’s special MRO digital magazine, published on Thursday. To find out more and subscribe, click here.
“Everyone I talk to in the industry raises pretty much exactly the same concern,” said MacMaster. “Whenever I meet a chief engineer and ask them what are the main challenges they’re facing, almost exclusively skills shortages crop up as the most important issue.
“I think delaying some projects is one implication that we’re seeing. In other areas, we’re seeing people being promoted into more senior positions, probably before they’re ready, and before they’ve had the ideal number of years of experience.”
Many industries nationwide are complaining of shortages that were exacerbated by Australia’s border closures. Prior to COVID, nearly 60 per cent of the engineering industry were migrants.
But MacMaster also identified a lack of local talent being attributed to girls not progressing with STEM subjects at school and young women not pursuing the profession in their later years.
The latest research shows less than 6 per cent of girls nationally studied physics in year 12, with advanced maths numbers just as poor at 6.2 per cent for girls and 11.5 per cent for boys.
“We’ve got a long way to go [to] address a lack of women in engineering,” added MacMaster.
“We’re actually kicking off a big research project at the moment to really delve into and understand the factors that cause women to choose to study engineering or not. And we’re looking at males as well to understand if there are any differences.
“But because of the looming skill shortage, we want to understand what those factors are for both genders so that we can use those as levers to encourage a stronger pipeline of people studying engineering in the future. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re definitely doing some work.
“I’m also chairing a task force that is looking solely at what levers we can use to increase female participation. I think part of the reason for a lack of women is that as a profession, we still don’t answer the question, ‘What do engineers do and what is engineering?’ very well. Part of the problem is that it’s a very broad profession.
“We touch on just about all sectors and disciplines, and the number of job types within the engineering profession is also extremely broad, ranging from planning, design, test, builds, commissioning, operations, maintenance and decommissioning. Those job types are quite different.”
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