Less than half of Australia’s recent engineering graduates are working in their field of study, but most of them are likely to work in highly skilled and highly paid jobs, new Deakin University research has found.

The research from Deakin’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment complements data from Graduate Careers Australia which shows that an engineering graduate is more likely to find paid employment than the average Australian graduate.

The data showed that 46 per cent of graduates aged 20 to 24 who had gained an engineering undergraduate degree were working in a professional engineering role, while that number fell to 32 per cent when including Australia’s engineering bachelor graduates across all age ranges.

Lead researcher, associate professor Stuart Palmer, said the research team analysed data from the most recent Australian Census, which occurred in 2011, in which more than 200,000 respondents reported a bachelor-level professional engineering qualification.

He said the study, The relationship between engineering bachelor qualifications and occupational status in Australia, published recently in the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, was an important tool to help guide universities and governments make policy decisions.

Palmer said the data showed that many engineering graduates worked in highly-skilled and well-paid industries.

“This demonstrates that investment in engineering education was a sensible and efficient investment of resources,” he said. “The last Census occurred when the Australian economy had only begun to recover from the global financial crisis, so the good 2011 employment outcomes for engineering graduates shows that universities are educating highly employable graduates.

“Our study shows that an engineering degree is a valuable qualification to have in a wide range of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries, as well as many non-STEM industries.”

The research matches up with Graduate Careers Australia’s analysis of 2011 graduate outcomes, which showed that 80 per cent of graduates with bachelor degrees in engineering were employed, compared to 70 per cent for graduates across all disciplines.

“We already know that an engineering degree is a valuable qualification to have for a whole range of jobs, particularly in high-tech fields and it wasn’t a surprise that our study found more than 14 per cent of all engineering bachelor graduates were working in the IT and other technology-related industries outside of engineering,” Palmer said.

He added that traditionally, many engineers took on management roles within engineering, and Deakin’s research found that more than 12 per cent of engineering bachelor graduates also found a general management role outside of engineering.

“We also found 10 per cent of engineering graduates were working in general, non-professional roles, while other fields in which graduates ended up working in included marketing, construction, finance, science, education and health,” he said. “Engineers have high level maths skills, and it is those skills, combined with technology, analysis and design expertise, which can make them prized recruits in the commerce and finance fields.”

He said the findings were similar to those from research in the UK and US.

“In the UK, the idea that engineering and other STEM graduates can work outside of their primary field is actually promoted, but that’s not something that is commonly done in Australia, which is a shame,” he said.

“In our paper, we recommend that engineering students would be better informed about, and equipped for, the world of post-graduation work if they were exposed to the likely options for their career trajectory.”

He noted that secondary school students would do well to learn about the range of career options that could arise from an engineering education.

“Likewise, the findings also suggest that modern undergraduate engineering curricula should take the portability of an engineering qualification into consideration,” Palmer said.