Bad Planning Means Boom/Bust Cycle for Engineering Jobs

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Thursday, February 6th, 2014
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The nation’s peak body for the engineering profession has pilloried poor planning of infrastructure spending in Australia, claiming that it leads to wild fluctuations in levels of employment demand as well as a scarcity of engineers.

Engineers Australia said its most recent analysis of the country’s employment market indicates that job prospects have worsened for engineering professionals over the past two years, with 23 successive months of declining job vacancies.

The professional body imputes this decline to what it refers to as the “parlous state” of infrastructure planning and investment in Australia, a situation which it says has persisted over the long term.

“Australia has been trapped in a boom/bust infrastructure delivery cycle for decades,” said Engineers Australia chief executive officer Stephen Durkin. “With over 60,000 engineers employed on infrastructure project delivery and planning across the country, this has affected our ability to effectively build and deploy a professional workforce.”

According to Durkin, an intermittent focus on “big ticket” infrastructure projects produced by the short-term nature of the political cycle is the chief cause of these boom/bust fluctuations in levels of demand for engineers.

Given that the cultivation of a professional body of engineers is a long-term undertaking requiring as much time as a decade, wild fluctuations in demand can lead to a significant shortfall in domestic engineering expertise. Members of the profession will shift to other sectors of the economy when employment slumps hit, leaving a scarcity of engineers in the country once demand picks up again.

Durkin said this problem has become particularly acute following the end of the mining boom which dominated much of the prior decade.

“With resource spending no longer masking the low level of public infrastructure investment, the workforce consequences are now on full display,” he said. “The politically driven infrastructure delivery cycle is damaging Australia’s ability to build a sustainable domestic professional workforce.”

Engineers Australia’s harsh criticism of the country’s infrastructure planning follows calls by economist Henry Ergas for Infrastructure Australia to be abolished on the grounds that its preoccupation with the “big-ticket” projects to which Durkin refers leads to inequitable resource allocation and deprives smaller projects of funds.

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