With just under 99 per cent of the global economy and the majority of the world’s building and infrastructure market lying beyond our shores, qualified engineers within Australia who wish to pursue opportunities in overseas markets have a range of options from which to choose.
In a recent report, the London-based Construction Intelligence Centre said it expected the overall dollar value of the building market around the world to grow from an estimated $US 8.5 trillion in 2015 to $US 10.3 trillion by 2020, with much of the growth taking place within emerging economies.
That leads to questions about whether or not engineers in Australia should consider overseas opportunities and also about where the best prospects exist.
Professor Charles Fairfield, power and water chair in sustainable engineering at Charles Darwin University, stressed that many opportunities remain within the domestic marketplace and that the nation needs to retain as much of its skill base as possible for work on local projects.
For those looking to go abroad, however, he suggested heading to mature markets where many large companies are headquartered, building codes and other regulations are similar to Australia's, language barriers are minimal or non-existent and one can ease into work in a relatively seamless manner.
He said resources, hydrocarbons, power and water stand out as areas in which Australian engineers are well regarded and possess significant levels of expertise.
“There is a lot to be said for telling Australian graduate engineers and young professionals working their way up the ladder to stay here in Australia,” Fairfield said. “We can’t afford a talent drain especially of engineers. There are plenty of challenging infrastructure projects, software engineering, automation and environmental engineering that we are crying out for right here in Australia.
“However, the other side of the coin is that it is quite natural for engineers to want to move. Despite the importance of us not having a talent drain away from Australia, there are plenty of opportunities in the big established markets in the US/Canada to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Scandinavia, At the moment, I wouldn’t look much further than that.”
Likewise, Richard Fechner, head of the Technical Services team in Australia, Asia Pacific, the United Kingdom and the Middle East at Sydney-based engineering and civil construction outfit GHD said "you don’t have to leave your home base" in order to become involved in opportunities to help clients improve the efficiency of buildings and infrastructure.
From a domestic viewpoint, Fechner said growth sectors include road, rail and (in the case of Sydney) airports, largely within eastern markets as well as WA.
“Internationally, there are some real emerging markets. Energy from generation to distribution is a growth area in the Asia Pacific region, and there is a particularly keen interest in renewables across wind, solar and geothermal as the main technologies. Asia and Africa are urbanising at an unprecedented rate, and there’s an urgency in responding to infrastructure demands, covering water, housing, telecommunications et cetera,” he said.
“Many countries are also realising the value of social and environmental planning and protection, regulation and audit, providing many opportunities for wonderful experience to be gained by engineers, scientists and allied professionals.”
Fechner said Australian engineers are well-regarded and often have multi-sector experience which serves them well in roles such as design management and project integration. He says it is important to adopt a positive and outcome-orientated approach, maintain integrity at all times and be culturally sensitive and make an effort to learn as much as possible with regard to the local language.
Asked about tips for young engineers heading overseas, Fechner suggests first gaining local experience, working toward Chartered status and getting as much exposure as possible to all project phases as well as contract management.
“[Also,] don’t be afraid to stretch yourself – the best experiences and personal growth has always come for me when I have been challenged,” he said.
Fairfield, meanwhile, said technical skills relating to programming and use of software such as CAD, design automation and Building Information Modeling (BIM) are highly sought after as are managerial skills in areas such as project coordination, procurement, logistics and contracts.
Notwithstanding our need to maintain our local knowledge base, he encourages those with ambitions beyond our shores not to hold back. In terms of tips, Fairfield urges those going to first set up a stable base in Australia (such as through ownership of residential property). Once abroad, he suggests looking for opportunities through local universities and professional bodies to become involved in activities such as guest lecturing, tutoring or running CPD courses in areas such as the provision of advice to expatriates in that country who are looking to go to Australia – activities he says not only represent legitimate income-earning opportunities in themselves but also stand out in terms of resumes.
“Go for it,” Fairfield said when asked what advice he would give to those thinking about going abroad. “Get a house here in Australia, rent it out and then go.”