How to woo an engineer

By Kim Powell

Unless councils become more creative with the salary packages they offer, they will continue to have trouble attracting and retaining engineering staff, says Dominic Angerame, surveys and website manager for the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA).

He says there are shortages across the board when it comes to engineers, but those with infrastructure or roads experience, or involved in the resource sector are in pretty high demand.

“Obviously salary is an important aspect of it and councils still have to remain competitive, but the issue of work life balance is a big one for all professionals,” Mr Angerame says.

“If councils can offer flexibility in contracts and working hours, and flexible leave provisions – particularly with female engineers who still have predominant responsibility for child rearing – it will go a long way.”

Mick Savage, manager of the Roads and Transport Directorate at the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) says there is no question that Australia is experiencing a shortage of engineers and there are a number of things councils can do to make themselves more attractive employers.

“Some of the regional councils would find it difficult to be competitive with the sort of salaries that are being offered in the cities and so they are offering incentives such as subsidised housing and selling their town and/or region, to try and attract people to the lifestyle,” he says.

“Even then I don’t think they’re being successful, they’re still not attracting sufficient numbers of engineers.”

The problem starts much earlier, says Mr Savage, when teenagers are making choices about their futures.

“The engineering courses at universities are not being filled and part of the problem is that engineering is not very attractive to people at the end of their schooling [and] making a career decision,” he says.

“That’s partly our fault because we don’t sell ourselves as a terribly attractive profession. The other part of the problem is that less and less students are doing – for want of a better description – the hard subjects at school, things like maths and physics and the science subjects, so that a lot of students don’t meet the requirements for getting into engineering.”

Mr Angerame says the wage pressures caused by the engineers shortage and exacerbated by the resource boom will raise graduate starting salaries, with engineers currently “generally come in about fifth or sixth” in terms of graduate salaries.

“If you look at all civil engineers who might be starting this year, I would expect that their base salary package would be around $50,000, and that’s here now,” Mr Angerame says.

“If you talk about the mining industry, anecdotally you hear stories of mining engineers starting on $80-90,000 a year, [but] that’s because of the wage pressures and to get them in to the remote locations companies have to obviously offer more to get them there.

“A lot of people now you’ll find are doing double degrees, in engineering and something else, or science and something else, because they haven’t made their mind up which way they’ll go and they’ll take a look at the market when they finish their degrees and see firstly what they’re more interested in and secondly what’s paying more.”

Another problem facing companies in Australia is the tendency for young people – particularly graduates – to travel overseas early in their careers.

“The numbers that are coming out of universities may not be sufficient because despite churning out all these graduates, a lot of them are choosing to travel and many of them work overseas where they’ve got opportunities… and don’t ever come back,” Mr Angerame says.

“It’s a long way removed from local government. Employers here [are] competing not only with the mining industry and the resources industry, you’ve also literally got them competing on a global scale with employers overseas.”
The bigger issue for state and local governments, Mr Angerame says, is the fact that the infrastructure in Australia is quite run down.

“There needs to be a lot of renewal of infrastructure and that will create a lot of demand for engineering,” he says.
“There’s no way they’re going to be able to avoid that. Public offices, schools, universities, hospitals, will all start falling apart and they need to be dealt with. It’s good if you’re an engineer looking to make a lot of money.”

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