As Australia’s mining boom wanes, a new industry is rising to fill the gap: infrastructure. But growing demand for engineers is highlighting some pressing skills shortages.
Throughout much of 2017, the infrastructure industry saw gains in terms of private and public investment, number of projects and job growth.
“Engineering construction was again the strongest performing area with its rate of expansion at a 10-year high on the back of the rising levels of non-mining infrastructure work,” according to the Australian Industry (Ai) Group’s Performance of Construction Index (PCI), which measures changes in activity levels across Australia’s construction sector from month to month.
“Across the construction industry, growth in new orders and activity accelerated in July to rates that were among the strongest in the survey’s 12-year history.”
Civil infrastructure such as new road and rail projects were a big reason for this boost, and made up for the downturn in housing construction and the decline of the mining industry. The highest numbers of job vacancies were to be found in NSW, though Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia boasted rapid growth as well.
Government investment and public infrastructure projects led to increased demand for civil engineers throughout the year. Currently there are about $41 billion worth of major projects in the works. These include Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Western Sydney Airport, the Inland Rail, NSW’s intercity train fleet and high-capacity metro trains throughout Victoria.
Added to this is an additional $100 billion or so worth of port, road, housing, school, water and hospital projects.
Engineers Australia Executive General Manager Brent Jackson said the continued growth shows a “clear upward trajectory” in the engineering and construction jobs market.
“Previously we had a very strong boom-bust cycle; this is considered more predictable and comfortable growth,” he said.
In its latest Engineering Vacancies report, Engineers Australia found the number of available positions across the profession has increased steadily since 2015; demand for engineers grew by 33.3 per cent from September 2016 to September 2017.
The majority of vacancies are in civil engineering occupations, along with industrial and mechanical engineers and electrical engineers. Demand for engineering manager positions, ICT support and test engineers, and chemical and materials engineers remained consistent.
However, the spike in job vacancies highlighted skills shortages that engineering firms are struggling to fill.
“This is consistent with the investment upturn in transport infrastructure and other public works, which has led to strong demand for construction workers and increasing difficulties in filling various skilled vacancies,” said the Ai Group report.
Although growth in employment was the highest in almost three years, Chris Stoltz from Engineers Australia (Victoria Division) agreed that demand for engineers is outpacing supply.
“The demand is great, but we don’t have enough skilled designers, engineers and project managers,” he said.
Stoltz added that this is a great opportunity to invest in training the next generation of young engineers, and prepare for the next round of projects.
“We have been encouraging governments to look at this as an opportunity to build our skill set; so when the next major project comes up, then we’ve got the capability sitting here already” he said.