Australia is in the grip of an engineer shortage, yet first-of-its-kind research commissioned by Engineers Australia shows a ready-made workforce is being overlooked.
Findings from the Barriers to employment for skilled migrant engineers (PDF) study reveals that despite migrants accounting for almost two thirds of qualified engineers in Australia, many struggle to find work in the sector and others are underemployed in junior roles despite being highly skilled.
Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans AM says it’s an alarming imbalance and the effective use of all available engineers should be considered a national strategic imperative.
“Australia has an engineering skills shortage exacerbated by COVID-19, an engineering job vacancy rate that has gone up 97 per cent in just 12 months, and an economic recovery hinging on major infrastructure projects.
“This research shows that 47 per cent of our qualified migrant engineers are unemployed and they can’t crack the Australian jobs market at a time when employers are reporting skills shortages.
“These are skilled engineers driving taxis and delivering takeaway. “This report clearly shows industry bias, a lack of a local networks and pathways to securing work as the biggest barriers to migrant engineers finding employment.”
Engineers Australia commissioned an independent research group to survey more than 800 migrant engineers and conduct in-depth interviews with employers and recruiters as part of the report and as a way to address the imbalance.
Amongst the findings – one of the biggest barriers to employment for migrant engineers was employer bias associated with not being “local” – whether it’s experience, networks, standards, references, or qualifications.
“Migrant engineers report their international experience is simply not valued in Australia. Many lose faith in the job-seeking process and fall away from the profession as a result,” Dr Evans said. Engineers Australia recognises the importance of improving pathways into the profession for migrant engineers and is consulting with industry on a pilot program that will enable them to draw on the existing talent pool.
‘We absolutely value the importance of getting this right from a personal, professional and national perspective. Productive employment of migrant engineers is vital to our national engineering capability and unless changes are made our future economic growth is at risk.”
“We want to work with employers to co-design solutions, because they will only be successful if employers embrace them.”
- 47% Of migrants actively seeking a job as an engineer are currently unemployed.
- With migrant engineers trying to find an engineering role struggling to get a job at all, those employed in a non-engineering role turning to industries like construction (14%) and professional services (12%).
- Humanitarian visa holders are even less likely to be employed as engineers in Australia, with only 29% currently employed compared to 57% of skilled visa holders.
- One in three migrant engineers feel that, based on their experience, they should be in a more senior role.
- 35% Those who believe they’re employed at the right level, and 62% of those who believe they are underemployed, say their international experience isn’t valued.
- One in three migrant engineers say they bring specific skills and knowledge to employers, while a similar number say their unique perspective is a benefit.
- Recruiters interviewed say, many Australian companies have not only unconscious, but also active conscious biases towards hiring migrant engineers.
- Employers aren’t invested in fixing the profession’s skills supply issue. They don’t take a long-term, whole-of-profession, strategic perspective.
- Employers don’t know enough about the pool of migrant engineers to consider them a solution. It is not seen as a collective talent pool that they can access easily.
- There are seven specific barriers to hiring migrant:
- A lack of local knowledge and experience
- Perceived cultural differences in soft skills
- Visa or sponsorship working rights issues
- A lack of people who can ‘vouch’ for them locally
- Certification queries
- ‘Flight risk’ concerns
- Tendency to hire ‘networks’ at senior-level roles
- Migrant engineers can be utlised as a skills shortage solution by addressing the following:
- Position migrant engineers as a collective talent pool and talk to the size of the opportunity for employers
- Provide credible, trusted information on employment pathways for migrant engineers
- Increase local networks by developing networking and sponsorship programs/opportunities for migrant engineers
- 5.Coordinate initiatives to build local knowledge and experience of migrant engineers
- Assist humanitarian visa holders with credentials assessment
- ‘Make it easy’ for employers to access the talent pool.
Lisa McKoy, National Media Manager