Migrant engineers – research and resources

When describing the relationship between engineer numbers, migration, jobs and the economy, it’s fair to say “it’s complicated”. Finding work can be a huge challenge, particularly for migrant engineers. A new study sheds some light on their experiences and ways to help.
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We know that more than half (59%) of Australia’s total engineering workforce was born overseas, and that our community benefits heavily from their collective expertise and contributions. 

Census data analysis by Engineers Australia also shows that a lower proportion of overseas-born engineers (particularly women) work in the profession than those born in Australia. 

Migrants also typically account for approximately two thirds of the growth in the engineering workforce each year, with the remainder university graduates. 

Now new research looks at what happens to migrants who come to Australia on skilled visas, and the implications if the skills of migrant engineers were to be fully utilised. 

The research was conducted by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), with support from: strategic research and consulting firm, Selper Pty Ltd and its Director, Engineers Australia Board member Hurol Inan; Engineers Australia; and Young Engineers Australia. 

 

What the research found 

By combining Census data with figures from the Department of Home Affairs, it was found that unemployment of immigrant engineers over a four-year period from 2013-2017 resulted in a cumulative loss of $1.8 billion for the Australian economy. 

With help from Engineers Australia in identifying survey participants, the team at UTS conducted 188 surveys and 14 interviews with migrant engineers. 

Unemployment in Australia – current or past – was commonly reported, and many migrants who were employed reported being over-qualified (an academic degree more than was needed at their job) or being employed in non-engineering occupations even though that was not their choice. 

The top three reasons reported for unemployment were lack of local experience (57% of unemployed engineers), lack of local references (32%) and not being permanent visa holders or citizens (34%). 

Survey participants considered internships (69%)  and mentoring (58%) as the two most major solutions. 

As noted by Hurol Inan in this commentary on the research, mentoring programs could not only provide help for migrants but provide senior engineers with a meaningful way to give back to the profession. In addition, employers could potentially better factor into their consideration process the rigour and value of skilled migration assessment during the visa application process. 

Interviews revealed the disappointment, frustration and other social costs of being unemployed or underemployed, as shown by the following quotes on the difficulty: 

  • "You get your first job after two years of graduation. Imagine how much you can do within two years?" 
  • "I lowered my level of expectations of finding a decent job. Now, after 10 months, I am trying to apply for some casual jobs (Bunnings, Woolworths, and McDonalds). All of them rejected me so far." 
  • "Six years of experience in my home country is nothing. Companies see me as if I am nothing." 

 

Engineers Australia as a resource 

Engineers Australia’s three-year 20|20+3 Vision includes six major shifts, one of which is action to make the profession and our organisation “Future ready”, including through supporting migrant pathways into the Australian engineering profession. 

Already, membership of Engineers Australia can lead to valuable opportunities for networking, professional development and informal assistance at all career stages, and to migrants and non-migrants alike. Membership fee concessions are available to those in financial hardship. 

There are over 600 hours of professional development content on our video streaming platform EA OnDemand, including the Victorian Division’s Overseas Qualified Engineers Group sessions: 

  • How to improve your chances of landing that job as an Overseas Qualified Engineer 
  • What Australian employers expect 

Our member platform EA Xchange provides an avenue to ask for advice and connections, or to share your experiences, and there’s also our LinkedIn Group

It could also pay to keep an eye on our event alerts for upcoming face-to-face or “hybrid” professional development sessions where you can meet others working in your area of interest, or to explore volunteering opportunities by contacting the General Manager of your local Engineers Australia Division. 

In Western Australia, Engineers Australia participates in the multi-award-winning Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program in which many of the mentees and mentors are engineers. The program boasts impressive results. Typically, three months after completion, approximately 40% of participants have employment in their field, rising to 70% after six months and 90% after a year. 

The South Australian Division's Diversity and Inclusion Committee is also planning to pilot a program next year in which established overseas qualified engineers give presentations to migrant communities, targeted at engineers not currently working in the profession. 


Graduate engineers 

Early career engineers can use tailored Young Engineers Australia resources including the online mentoring program Mentor Match for graduates, and our jobs board and career hub, which caters to students and graduates. 

Both the jobs board and our Elevation employer events enable students to filter their searches by those employers willing to take on international students.