Skills shortages in the global engineering community remain a real problem, as is more than apparent in Australia.
Technical projects of all shapes and sizes are threatened by a lack of available resources. Questions, however, abound regarding whether the engineering community is doing enough to attract more people into the industry and how the industry can make a career in engineering as appealing as possible to the future generation.
The number of new graduates entering the field has grown much slower than necessary to meet the growing demand. Australia’s increased reliance on overseas workers has led to more than half of its engineering labour market being born overseas, compared to an average of a third in other industries.
Engineering is a global community and the transference of skills, knowledge and expertise is essential but, ultimately, Australia must grow and develop a home grown resource pool for everyone’s benefit. Evidence shows that its ability to do that has flatlined, underscoring the need for further efforts in that area.
Australian Engineering Week, which officially begins on August 6, is certainly a step in the right direction. The nationwide, week-long celebration is a public awareness and education campaign that aims to highlight the role and achievements of the engineering profession in Australia while promoting engineering as a career of choice.
This year, Australian Engineering Week is focusing on the grassroots level and working with schools to promote engineering.
The Discover Engineering Program is an industry and high school partnership program where engineers volunteer their time to promote engineering to students. Another program, LeaST – Linking Engineers and Scientists with Teachers – brings knowledge of engineering to those charged with teaching the youth of today. Established by the Engineering Link Group in 2005, the program was specifically developed for teachers involved in the teaching of contextual material in senior science, with applications for mathematics.
Over the next 10 years, a wealth of experience will be stripped from the engineering profession as older professional begin to retire. This will leave younger teachers without the benefit of knowledge from their more experienced counterparts. There is a need for teachers who have diverse experience and broad knowledge of their subject, who can integrate real life examples into their teaching and who can call upon a network of practicing engineers and scientists for involvement in teaching.
At the same time, many states, particularly Queensland, are moving towards context-based senior science syllabuses. Modelled after the highly successful Engineering Link Projects, LEaST aims to give teachers direct experience with science and engineering and educate them about the roles of engineers and scientists in society and how their problem solving approaches can be applied to teaching in context. This will, in turn, help them to better motivate their students to pursue a maths and science-based career.
A week-long campaign, however, is just one small step towards plugging the gaps in the engineering sector. In a world where children seem more interested in becoming Australia’s next Voice or next Masterchef, maybe the next step for the profession is its own reality television programme?