Bridge the gap

With its burgeoning engineering sector, Australia offers real opportunities for professional development

From sun-kissed beaches to exotic wildlife, from coral reefs to deadly sporting rivalry, Australia conjures up powerful images in the UK. The country has long been keen to add ’land of opportunity’ to the list, and once again Australia’s government is on the hunt for skilled migrants from UK shores.

Engineering skills are among the most in demand down under. Earlier this month the organisation Engineers Australia reported shortages in all key areas of mechanical, electrical, civil and structural engineering.

Part of the reason for this is a burgeoning engineering and construction sector that has quadrupled its share of the total Australian economy during the last decade. Huge infrastructure development projects are underway across the nation and construction activity is reaching historic highs.

As a result, many specific engineering disciplines are now included in a list of occupations deemed in short supply in the Australian labour market and considered for migration to the country.

In an attempt to help fill the gaps in its workforce, the Australian government will next month stage an employment event in London where potential migrant engineers can find out more about working and living in the country.

The Skills Australia Needs Expo on 11-12 September brings together Australian employers, government officials – including representatives from individual states and territories – and specialists in migration and relocation.

Visitors can hear about specific opportunities in Australia and discuss requirements for Australian visas and the migration process.

The event is the latest of eight to be staged in the UK by the Australian government since 2005. The last, in 2009, attracted 38 exhibitors and 1,800 visitors. Attendance is free but by invitation only – interested parties should register at www.immi.gov.au/skillexpos/overseas.htm.
As those who attend the expo will discover, there are a number of routes available to engineers looking at skilled migration to Australia. They can be sponsored into a job by an Australian employer, or by an individual state or territory government. Alternatively they can apply as an independent skilled migrant.

The length of the process varies, but on average takes between six and nine months through employer or state/territory nomination, or from a year to 18 months for those taking the independent route.

The good news for UK engineers looking to take their skills to Australia is that their hard-earned qualifications can carry on helping them down under. The UK and Australia are signatories to the Washington and Sydney Accords, which allow recognition of accredited qualifications at professional engineer and engineering technologist levels. As long as a qualification has been appropriately accredited by the Engineering Council in the UK, assessment in support of migration can be carried out through a straightforward Accord application.

Australia’s government believes the opportunity for career development, combined with the chance to live in a country with a good climate, spectacular landscapes and a relaxed multi-cultural environment, make the entire country an attractive option.

However, Australia’s states and territories are all keen to stress their individual credentials as an ideal place for UK engineers to live and work.
Victoria, for example, is on the lookout for people with a wide range of engineering and technical skills, and particularly engineers with more than five years’ experience and a track record in areas such as contract management.

Pilbara Iron
Iron ire mining in the Pilbara region of Central Australia

The lengthy list of specific professionals sought by Victoria includes civil, electrical and mechanical engineers, production and plant engineers, aircraft maintenance engineers and engineering managers.

In Melbourne, its state capital, Victoria boasts one of Australia’s most famous cities, one that is regularly named as among the world’s top places to live in terms of overall quality of life.

Among the many major sporting and cultural events the cosmopolitan city hosts is Australia’s Formula One Grand Prix, an annual focus for the technically minded the world over. However, according to Sally Capp, agent-general for Victoria, there are many more reasons than motor racing for engineers to take an interest in the state.

In Victoria we have a great track record of delivering on big infrastructure projects, even through the economic crisis.

Sally Capp, agent-general for Victoria

Capp said Victoria’s economy is currently the best performing in Australia and its population the fastest growing, providing an engine for major engineering-led infrastructure projects that have cracked on despite the global economic slowdown.

These include a giant new desalination plant in the Wonthaggi region, capable of supplying 150 billion litres of water a year to the state, the A$4.3bn (£2.5bn) Regional Rail Link and the 27km Peninsula Link road.

Capp said: ’In Victoria we have a great track record of delivering on big infrastructure projects, even through the economic crisis. These help us to provide an environment in which people can add to their skills and develop their careers.’

Alongside these major projects, Victoria boasts a well-established high-technology economy that provides numerous opportunities for skilled engineers.

In addition, Victoria has a major defence and aerospace sector that includes many companies familiar to UK engineers, such as BAE Systems. And, as the centre of Australia’s high-value automotive sector, Capp explained that Victoria benefits from continued investments by major global players such as Ford and Toyota.

The state is also actively pursuing development of key clean energy technologies, including a major solar energy project and investment in carbon capture and storage.

With affordable housing and a highly rated education system that includes two of the world’s top 50 universities, Capp claimed Victoria offers ’huge opportunities in a place that is great to live and work in’.

Neighbouring South Australia is another state with plenty to offer UK engineers looking for opportunities down under. The state has a long tradition of migration from Britain, a trend that its government is keen to continue.

South Australia is a hive of activity for the mining industry and home to the giant Olympic Dam centre, a globally important source of copper, uranium and gold.

Expansion of mining is preceded by construction, and that involves bringing in engineers with experience in many different fields

Alice Whittington, government of South Australia

The mining sector is currently undergoing huge expansion in the state, with the number of mines set to grow from four to 13 over the next few years, said Alice Whittington, business development manager for the government of South Australia.

’Expansion of mining on this scale is preceded by construction, and that involves bringing in engineers with experience in many different fields,’ said Whittington.

There is much more to South Australia than mining, however. The state and its coastal capital Adelaide also boast a significant defence industry that is involved in flagship projects such as development of the Royal Australian Navy’s new Air Warfare Destroyers.

The presence of global names, including BAE, Ultra Electronics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon helps to ensure demand for engineers with skills in disciplines including electronics, systems integration and marine engineering.

South Australia claims the mantle of Australia’s renewables capital and has a fast-growing clean energy sector. The state produces more than half the nation’s wind power and 40 per cent of its solar output, and is also a significant source of geothermal energy, said Whittington.

Major construction programmes in Adelaide and elsewhere ensure demand for civil and structural engineers, added Whittington. With a low cost of living and high-quality schools and universities, she claimed South Australia offers ’a great combination of affordability, opportunities and lifestyle’.