5 engineering trends in WA: What they could mean for your business

Unless you’ve been away for the last 12 months, you’ll be aware of the tightening availability of skilled engineers and designers in Western Australia. There are a number of factors driving this.

This blog looks at 5 trends engineering companies should consider in 2019.

1. Engineering growth is expected to accelerate throughout 2019

Because larger infrastructure projects across Australia are on the rise, there’s added pressure on Western Australian companies to attract and hire engineers and designers. The hardest skills to attract appear to be civil, structural and electrical (E/I/C) engineers and designers.

Mechanical and process disciplines will likely follow.

The increase in telecoms, transport and water management (and drought prevention) projects across Australia is adding to this pressure.

Additionally, Western Australia has experienced economic uncertainty over the last 3-4 years. Engineers and designers have been forced to consider alternative work away from the State. Many have chosen to work overseas and interstate to keep developing their skills and experience.

Some have been fortunate to find smaller projects. Those who’ve been unable to move and haven’t found work have dropped out of the engineering industry altogether.

The challenge now is winning people’s confidence back. The lasting effects of the State’s downturn means many have felt burnt by the actions of some companies when the boom subsided.

Many engineers won’t return to the state as there’s uncertainty with strong boom / bust cycles. Some don’t believe WA has an appetite to pursue stability by focusing on widening the value chain across our industries – think downstream processing, for example.

You only have to look at Australia’s Federal Government to feel uncertainty and instability. That said, Engineers Australia and the CCIWA are working hard to change this perception with their lobbying of the government to think differently.

Ideas to consider: One idea might include strengthening your EVP (employee value proposition) to attract engineers and designers to your company. There’s an increasing tendency for people to want work that’s meaningful with an employer and a boss they can believe in – and someone to believe in them. Your EVP and your jobs ads should start with this.

2. Competition from the East Coast will remain strong throughout 2019

New South Wales has over $50bn of civil infrastructure projects underway. Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) has a pipeline of projects planned until 2040. Melbourne isn’t too far behind with close to $30bn worth of projects.

Project managers, project support staff and engineers / designers appear to be the most in-demand skills. Many companies are looking internationally to secure talent.

As Australia is more drought affected than it has been before, there’s a rise in water management and drought prevention projects across some States. Recent droughts across NSW and Queensland have occurred because of changes in rainfall patterns over the last century.

Back then, dams were built where higher rainfall was expected. New dams will have to be built to prevent future droughts. This will have an affect on the availability of civil, geotechnical, water, structural, hydro and environmental engineers.

Will a similar level of commitment be seen for infrastructure projects in WA next year? The distance between the Labour Government’s budget and the pace of Government tenders being released says we probably won’t.

Ideas to consider: You may want to consider marketing your brand in a way that attracts more engineers / designers to your company. For example, have you thought about building an online community where you can share project updates and helpful insights with engineers and designers?

What message are your strategic partners sending to market about your company? Make sure they’re aligned and your partners fully understand what you’re trying to accomplish over the next 12 months.

3. Quality has been an issue when work is “offshored”

The cost of doing business in WA is expensive compared with most parts of the world. Labour costs play a major part in this. If companies can make a saving on labour costs, there’s a thought that offshoring it will bring costs down.

An estimated two thirds* of companies have had to return work to Australia for engineers / designers to rectify. The cost of fixing this work ends up being more expensive than what it would have cost to do it in WA.

There are elements of economic and business confidence pressures that have driven some companies to offshore parts of their engineering work. Mainly, the tightening of skills coupled with the higher cost of labour versus quality of work.

It’s a vicious loop. If you don’t keep a good percentage of engineering work in WA, the good engineers will move to where the good work is.

Victoria’s government has put a plan together that will focus on keeping engineering work in the State. They’ve recently brought in a bill that will ensure engineering qualifications are centrally stored. This means qualifications can be verified rapidly, and technical errors will be reduced, possibly eliminated, to improve quality.

WA was once revered as a global engineering hub. Can we return to this view again? Yes, so long as we actually keep engineering and design jobs in WA, rather than talking about keeping them here.

Some ideas to consider: Some engineering firms have realised their best approach to winning more work is to retain their engineering experience and skills, rather than scale it up and down to meet work demands. You can find a helpful article on retaining your best employees here.

* Based on in-depth discussions with a handful of WA-based engineering firms.

4. There’s a lack of engineers in leadership roles

With the loss of engineering expertise in WA and a continued appetite to offshore engineering work, the lack of engineers coming through into leadership roles is evident.

Engineering companies need good engineers to put together tenders, assess bids and manage projects. Good engineers also know how to avoid poor quality work and cost blow-outs.

Some engineers have felt stifled over the last 3-4 years and haven’t put themselves forward to senior roles. One of the reasons behind this is, engineers tend to avoid getting involved with the higher-level decision making, often accepting decisions made by leadership teams, even when there’s a chance it’s the wrong decision.

Now is the time for these engineers to step forward and offer straight and fearless insights around quality, respectfully challenging leadership decisions they don’t feel are right.

Perhaps this avoidance to speak up stems from the top? Again, all eyes are on the Federal Government and some State Governments.. Across Australia, some Governments do not reflect the diversity in our society. When there’s a lack of diversity across gender or professions, decisions become restricted by sameness.

We need to support our engineers and help them find their voices. It’s important they get involved in the important decision-making that’s taking place across WA.

Take a look at the what’s being said about the potential for downstream processing facilities with WA’s Lithium windfall. Lot’s of talk, no real action. We won’t show real leadership until we start learning from our actions.

Some ideas to consider: Employers should recognise high-performing engineers who want to progress into leadership positions. If engineering houses live by their purpose (their why) and their values, they’ll spot future leaders and bring them through.

5. Diversity in engineering needs to be more than a spoken word

Diversity is more than developing a finely balanced male to female ratio in your business. To foster a culture of innovation, improved performance and greater results, diversity should be about hiring people from diverse backgrounds, who can offer different perspectives, skills and experience.

Over the last 6 months, Inverse has seen an increase in demand for engineers with 3 to 5 years’ industry experience. The problem here is, there’s a gap. Why? During the downturn business confidence fell, budgets were cut and the desire to bring through graduates and apprentices declined.

If WA’s engineering sector wants to become the recognised hub it desires, it will have to change its thinking and its approach to diversity.

For example, 18% of engineering graduates coming through into the Australian workforce are female. Some engineering houses are assigning female mentors to them. This will certainly retain a higher number of female engineers, however, if we want to attract more, we need to step back further. Right back to primary schools. And this starts by encouraging more engineers to visit schools and speak about STEM subjects/careers.

Almost 60% of Australia’s engineers are from outside of Australia. The biggest challenge for most is, they struggle to find work once they emigrate as they’re told they have no Australian project experience. There’s an opportunity here to bring exceptional talent into your business that won’t take too long to get up to speed with your systems and processes.

Unfortunately, some employers don’t want to do the hard yards. The preference is to hire people they don’t need to train – or manage.

Your customers expect you to be diverse. When they cite you need to have engineers with recent Australian project experience or expect 50% of your engineers to be female, some bold conversations will have to happen to respectfully challenge their thinking.

Some ideas to consider: Your industry veterans want to give something back. There’s an opportunity for them to train and coach the next generation of engineers and designers. There’s also an opportunity for them to speak with students about where their STEM studies can realistically take them.

Whether our future engineers re graduates, female or they’ve recently emigrated to Australia, we won’t truly appreciate the benefits a diverse workforce will bring until we’ve changed our perspective.

Recruitment blog – 5 trends for engineering in Western AustraliaRecruitment blog – 5 trends for engineering in Western Australia

For more information or future insights, please contact Mark Pearce on 0452255018.