With many people still on summer holidays, businesses continue to face a reduction in their workforces and huge challenges in keeping projects on track. This is further exacerbating skills shortages in many sectors.
The skills gap and shake-ups to our immigration system remain big stories in the New Year and rightfully so.
Government reforms to Australia’s migration program are underway and desperately needed, particularly against a backdrop of fierce global career competition from countries such as Canada, England, and the US which are all vying for talent amidst a chronic skilled workforce shortage.
We continue to hear nationwide reports of sectors critical to Australia’s economic prosperity, (think infrastructure) experiencing a shortage of engineering skills.
Job vacancies in engineering alone have risen by 176 per cent as of the end of last financial year, yet Engineers Australia research shows almost half of migrants already in the country that are actively seeking work as an engineer are currently under or unemployed.
One of the main barriers they face is their lack of ‘local’ experience. It’s clear from these findings that more support is needed to assist migrants to find work once they are in the country and also that Australia’s migration program needs to change.
While skilled migration is essential to the nation’s engineering capability in the short and medium term, continuing large-scale intakes of qualified engineers through Australia’s skilled migration program will not achieve inroads unless urgent reforms are made to improve the system. If this doesn’t happen, it may start to harm Australia’s reputation as a country with good employment prospects and quality of life.
The skilled stream of Australia’s migration program is meant to attract migrants who can make a meaningful contribution to the economy and fill jobs where no local workers are available.
It begs the question then as to why a subclass visa exists which provides full work rights for successful applicants under 31 years of age who have completed an engineering degree in the past two years from an international tertiary institute.
Discounting the fact the Department of Home Affairs website currently estimates the processing time for this visa to be over three years (double the time the visa allows you to stay in Australia), successful applicants have very little experience, local or otherwise. This cohort can’t plug chronic shortages where well-developed, post-tertiary education engineering skills are required. Reducing subclass visas that do not contribute to the program’s objectives will free up resources that can be directed to more efficient classes.
Any redesign of the immigration system needs to focus on outcomes, prioritising those who have the in-demand skills and experience, improving their employment prospects, and building a more resilient economy.
Many of the same demand factors driving skills shortages here, such as major infrastructure investment and the transition to renewable energy, are also occurring in other countries. It is stating the obvious that nations offering the simplest, most streamlined migration programs with clear pathways to permanent residency and good employment outcomes will be the most attractive to those with the right skills.
A big shake-up is needed.
By Engineers Australia CEO Romily Madew
Romilly Madew AO FTSE HonFIEAust was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 2022.
Before joining Engineers Australia, Ms Madew was CEO of Infrastructure Australia overseeing the organisation’s critical role in helping governments prioritise projects and reforms that best serve our communities.
Ms Madew served as CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) for 13 years. In acknowledgment of her contribution to Australia’s sustainable building movement, Ms Madew was awarded an Order of Australia in 2019.
She is currently a Member of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) Infrastructure Forum, Member of Placemaking NSW Advisory Committee, Director of Sydney Olympic Park Authority, Independent Chair of the Currawong State Park Advisory Board (NSW), Federal Government appointee, G20 EMPOWER – Empowerment and Progression of Women’s Economic Representation and Director of Minerva Network (supporting Australia’s elite sportswomen).
Ms Madew is a Fellow of the ATSE, Honorary Fellow, Planning Institute of Australia and Life Fellow of the GBCA.
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