Though overall demand is in decline as the resource sector pulls back, skills shortages are emerging in some areas of the engineering and design profession, according to a new survey.

Unveiling its 2014 Skills Survey results, Consult Australia says current conditions for engineering firms are challenging, with firms experiencing net employment reductions (33 per cent) outnumbering those experiencing increases (eight per cent) by a factor of more than four to one and the number of firms currently making targeted redundancies increasing from 22 per cent to 50 per cent.

However, skills shortages are starting to emerge in occupations which are heavily exposed to the gradually improving commercial building sector and the ramp-up in civil infrastructure, with approximately 30 per cent of firms experiencing difficulties in sourcing engineers in areas such as fire, electrical, structural, traffic and traffic and traffic transport.

Meanwhile, the number of firms large reporting significant volumes of work in metropolitan New South Wales and metropolitan Victoria – where most of the commercial and civil action is taking place – jumped from 78 per cent to 91 per cent.

While many commentators expect the slowdown in resource activity to free up labour resources for commercial and infrastructure projects, Consult Australia chief executive officer Megan Motto said the aforementioned occupations represented areas where “a robust and responsive skilled migration program will continue to be essential to support business competitiveness and future market demand,” and added that the reduction in industry capacity implied by the survey results posed challenges in itself for governments pursuing major transport projects.

“As new projects come to market, the impact of the significant contraction in industry capacity in recent years will be felt by governments as they seek to deliver projects against aggressive timelines,” Motto said.

“What is currently a very difficult operating environment will exacerbate future skills needs.”

Of the 38 firms surveyed:

  • 33 per cent were experiencing net employment reductions whereas only eight per cent were experiencing net increases
  • 50 per cent were making targeted redundancies, up from 22 per cent last year
  • Diversifying into other services (55 per cent), redundancies and mergers and acquisitions (46 per cent each) were the most common strategies intended for the next 12 months
  • Only 45 per cent of firms were experiencing difficulties finding staff, down from 54 per cent last year
  • Traffic and transport engineering, Structural engineering, Fire Engineering and Electrical engineering are the most difficult occupations in which to find staff
  • Traffic and Transport was the most common area in which large firms had undertaken work in the past 12 months, followed by project management
  • New South Wales metropolitan and Victorian metropolitan were the most common locations whereby firms had undertaken work in the past 12 months (91 per cent each)
  • An insufficient number of female graduates (28 per cent) is by far the most common difficulty in recruiting graduates
  • Internet job sites are by far the most common method of recruitment (62 per cent) followed by recruitment agencies (49 per cent) and staff introduction services (38 per cent) were the most common methods of recruiting new staff
  • Only three per cent of firms recruited 10 per cent or more of their new staff from overseas.