The Australia Workforce and Productivity Agency is warning that the country could face an acute shortage of engineers unless key challenges are met in advance.

The latest engineering workforce study released by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) has called for the Abbott government to create a working group comprised of key stakeholders in order to prevent the onset of a severe skills shortage in the engineering sector and safeguard Australia’s ability to compete on an international playing field.

“There is general consensus that while there are no current skills crises in engineering, there are continuing challenges in relation to a range of issues, including industry restricting, the engineering skills needs of the future, and the domestic pipeline into engineering,” said the agency in its study.

“It is generally agreed that it is imperative that these challenges are addressed before the cycle for engineering skills turns in order to prevent the acute skills shortages of the recent past and ensure the global competitiveness of Australia’s engineering-related industries.”

The study expressed concern that the want of popularity of STEM subjects in high schools would restrict the country’s ability to produce qualified engineers. It called for vocational providers to make concerted efforts to encourage students to enter engineering trades and technical occupations.

The study closely follows warnings from some of Australia’s leading engineering bodies, including the Australian Council of Engineering Deans and Engineers Australia, about the rise in tuition fees that the budget will produce and the resulting implications for the number of young Australians who opt to enter the engineering profession.

“We foresee a decline in the pipeline of students from school into engineering careers that Australia needs to ensure our long term economic prosperity and health,” said Daryoush Habibi, president of the Australian Council of Engineering Deans and head of engineering at Edith Cowan University.

The AWPA said migrants would continue to remain a vital source of professional engineering talent, enabling Australia to deal with sudden spikes in demand which domestic supply would be unable to meet.

“While it is important to boost the domestic supply of engineering skills, it is neither feasible nor practicable to plan for domestic supply to meet intermittent periods of peak demand,” the organisation said.

The AWPA called for the government to provide more language training to migrant engineers to ensure their English proficiency was up to scratch for roles in Australia’s professional sector.

The agency also voiced its support for the prioritisation of employer-sponsored migrants as opposed to independent skilled migrants under current immigration policy, pointing out that 30 per cent of engineers who arrive in Australia as independent migrants are still not using their skills in the workforce after a year of residence in the country.