Engineers throughout Australia are raking in cash as the boom in infrastructure investment drives massive levels of project activity.

By any measure, the market for engineers is booming. Compared with the same period in 2017, the number of positions advertised for engineers on job search web site Seek was up 19 per cent in the June quarter, according to data provided by the site.

Some specialisations are faring even better. Advertisements for chemical engineers were up 72 per cent. Those for materials handling engineers, electrical engineers, environmental engineers, mechanical engineers and industrial engineers are up 63 per cent, 58 per cent, 58 per cent, 50 per cent and 46 per cent respectively. Not far behind are systems engineers (39 per cent), water and waste engineers (36 per cent), supervisors (32 per cent), process engineers (27 per cent) and maintenance engineers (23 per cent).

Vacancies are surging. Data from the Department of Small Business and Jobs indicates that the number of jobs vacancies for civil engineers jumped from 1,762 in June 2016 (three month moving average) to 2,292 this June. During that time, vacancies for mining engineers have almost tripled (243 to 642), those for industrial and process engineers are up from 419 to 763 and those for electrical engineers have more than doubled (185 to 381). Not since the mining boom have vacancies been at these levels.

In some areas, this is flowing through into remuneration, albeit with overall rises in salaries remaining at muted levels of two per cent. Over the 12 months to May, advertised salaries (Seek) for chemical engineers have risen by 19 per cent year-on-year whilst those for supervisors are up 12 per cent. Process engineers, maintenance engineers and engineering draftspeople and project engineers have all pocketed good rises.

Behind this is a massive program of road and rail investment. At $4.538 billion, the seasonally adjusted dollar value of work done on road building activity in the March quarter was far beyond anything which has been seen before. Each of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have mega-rail projects either planned or underway. Significant rail or light rail projects are also underway in places such as Adelaide, Newcastle and Canberra. That’s in addition to the work that will need to be done as part of the second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek.

As well, engineers are benefiting from strong (although waning) conditions in multi-residential building and an upturn in commercial building.

Apart from Western Australia, where activity has dropped following the winding down of the resource investment boom, buoyant conditions are spread across most states.

Joel Donnelly, regional manager at Michael Page, says a shortage of candidates is being driven by massive levels of infrastructure work coming through.

As well, he said the availability of foreign workers has been restrained amid tighter visa conditions and greater competition for these workers on overseas projects.

This, he said, is driving a shortage of engineers across many disciplines. That includes structural, mechanical, electrical, civil, geotechnical and even mining as a new round of resource projects comes through.

“There are definitely more roles than candidates at the moment,” he said.

Given the state of the market, Donnelly says many employers are being forced in order to secure desired candidates.

At the start of the current decade, he said conditions were more favourable to employers and many firms were conducting extensive processes to secure the best candidates.

Now, candidates are looking at multiple opportunities simultaneously and employers need to move quickly to secure their desired people. Employers are also finding that they need to secure the best people who are actually available as opposed to waiting for candidates who meet all of their desired criteria.

Whilst many larger firms have adapted to this, Donnelly says a number of smaller ones are still waiting longer to find the right person.

“There are definitely firms who have waited too long and missed out because their employment processes have taken too long,” Donnelly said.

“They were thinking it was still 2010 and going through multiple rounds of interviews, getting into the end of the process and finding that the guy that they met first is the one that they want but that guy has got another job or is in eight other (recruitment) processes.”

Hotspots of Demand:

According its July to December jobs report, recruitment outfit Hays said it expected vacancy hotspots across many areas throughout the second half of the year.

These include:

  • Civil engineers and civil drafters for a multitude of infrastructure projects which are underway. Employers prefer candidates with experience in well-recognised consultancies. Also, there is demand for candidates with main roads and highway project experience.
  • Senior civil engineers to oversee project sign off
  • Civil design engineers for residential subdivision and civil infrastructure. This includes those at intermediate levels and those with urban development or subdivision experience.
  • Civil project managers to cater for an increase in civil infrastructure across irrigation, waters, wastewater and road and bridges
  • Modelling engineers to help cater for an increase in infrastructure
  • Water engineers for both public and private projects
  • Structural engineers, particularly those at the mid to senior level who can hit the ground running and potentially lead a team
  • Structural designers for candidates with experiences working on local projects
  • Client side project managers for employers who are building their own in-house team rather than outsourcing to a consultancy
  • Traffic modellers, for a large number of government related works which are soon to commence. Employers used many different software packages, including VISSIM< VISUM< SIDRA and EMME. With employers typically looking for previous experience in these packages, skills are not always transferable.
  • Road and traffic engineers to work on significant transport and infrastructure upgrade. Given the high volume of projects, the supply of quality candidates is insufficient to meet demand. Candidates must be well versed in Australian traffic standards and have experience with safety audits, traffic management and public transport planning.
  • ESD engineers are in extreme candidate shortage
  • Electrical engineers to meet demand emanating in from recovering levels of mining activity in areas such as mining, manufacturing and OEM,
  • Strategic planners to update policies and make amendments following local council amalgamations
  • Fire design engineers who specialise in installation
  • Hydraulic drafters
  • Professionals with knowledge of 12D software. For anyone who wants to focus on civil engineering, water engineers or land development, Hays recommends gaining proficiency in this package.
  • Revit drafters for temporary assignments.