Along with corporate services managers, engineering professionals are in more demand than any other trade or profession throughout Australia, the latest report says.
However, job cuts in manufacturing, aviation and the automobile industry, along with weak building activity, mean that tradespeople at the technical level are in substantial oversupply, a situation likely to be exacerbated by recent collapses of firms such as St. Hilliers Construction and engineering firm Hastie Group.
In the latest Clarius Skills Index report, the number of engineering professionals required by Australian employers stood at 131,800 as of December 31 last year.
By contrast, the supply of qualified engineers stood at 128,100, meaning the nation has a shortfall of 3,700 engineering professionals across the country.
Because of this, the profession came in with a score of 102.9 on the index, equalling corporate services managers as the occupational sector with the highest shortage of qualified professionals across the country. At this level, the shortage of engineers is considered to be ‘extreme.’
Not surprisingly, the shortage stems directly from the resources boom, with Clarius citing strong demand for senior engineers in mining states from companies such as Woodside, Chevron, Shell, BP, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.
In addition, the human resources firm says, tenders are being put out for second-tier projects by NSW companies to supply whole project packages which create job opportunities in that state, although this is only now beginning to trickle down into the NSW market.
Also not surprisingly, Clarius says strong demand in larger mining states is creating headaches for companies in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, who are having to ‘strengthen employment propositions’ to attract and retain local engineers even as they confront weak demand in construction and manufacturing.
All in all, those in the highest demand are project managers, project engineers, process engineers, QA engineers, piping design engineers, contract administrators, estimators and senior design engineers.
In infrastructure, too, and despite softening economic conditions, demand for senior civil engineers has remained constant in both the public and private sectors for major infrastructure projects across Australia.
One effect of the resources boom, the Clarius report says, has been a trend toward demand for cross-skilled candidates with multiple abilities across industry sectors.
The report says one area of demand is the emerging skills shortages in the area of 3D CAD design of mining equipment, specifically those candidates with a combination of Inventor CAD and Solidworks CAD skills with mining industry knowledge.
The report also says that skills shortages in the resource sector have forced a number of larger companies to seek offshore talent via 457 visas.
Technicians in Oversupply
Going forward, Clarius says resource sector demand may soften as global economic uncertainly causes companies to delay projects and put off hiring decisions. Talk that BHP may push back approval of its Olympic Dam expansion in South Australia is a prime example of this.
Moreover, in contrast to the situation at the professional level, builders and engineers at the technical and trades level are in substantial oversupply to the tune of 1,100, Clarius says – a situation that has no doubt worsened in recent months following job cuts at Qantas and in the automobile and manufacturing industries.
The collapse of St. Hilliers and Hastie will further exacerbate this. Up to 2,700 jobs in plumbing, electrical and refrigeration businesses are under threat at Hastie with operations in those businesses remaining suspended until their financial position becomes clear. At St. Hilliers, the immediate future of thousands of workers hinges on the ability of its construction arm to trade its way out of administration.