Engineering graduates are joining the workforce at an extremely difficult period for members of the profession, as firms cut staff or reduce work hours as part of efforts to better deal with the mining sector's downturn.
This is in stark contrast to just several years previously, when the peak in the mining boom made engineers highly coveted employees with no shortage of job opportunities.
“It’s not as easy for graduates as it was a few years ago when four, five, six, even eight companies were all vying for one graduate,” said Megan Motto of engineering industry body Consult Australia.
According to Professor Tony Lucey, a lecturer at Curtin University’s School of Engineering in Perth, has been a rude shock for young engineers to discover that their job prospects have suddenly become dimmer, given the high expectations generated by Australia’s long-standing prosperity as well as the turn-of-the-century mining boom.
Professor Lucey said the halcyon era of the China-backed mining boom created highly unusual conditions for engineers and an ensuing set of unreasonable expectations.
“In Western Australia, the demand for engineers from the resources sector has dominated the employment of graduate engineers and that’s an unusual situation,” Professor Lucey said.
“I come from the UK [and] it was always my expectation when I taught in the UK that students would have to spend a six month period writing a lot of applications to gain employment.”
Other academics say they are now witnessing first hand the difficulties their own students are facing in securing employment.
“There is a slowing down or a flattening I guess for the numbers of students who are able to get jobs, certainly in vacation experience at this stage, said Doug Hargreaves, a Queensland university lecturer.
“I predict very much so that by the end of this year there will be quite a lot of students who have graduated in engineering degrees who will have difficulty getting jobs.”
Hargreaves nonetheless remains optimistic that the end of the mining boom need not mean that the engineering profession will now be consigned to the doldrums, as new infrastructure projects launched by the new Abbot government could result in a return in demand.
“With more people, we need more infrastructure, we need more transport systems, we need more telecommunications, we need water, we need power, we need all of those things and engineers are involved in delivering all of those services,” Hargreaves said.