Sunnier climes for engineers

Economic stability and bright job prospects are good reasons for a career move to Australia.

With its warm climate and common language, Australia has long been a favourite destination for those emigrating from Britain. According to a recent report by the Australian government, the UK remains the largest provider of skilled migrants to the country, providing more than 23,000 workers in 2008 to 2009.

With its wealth of natural resources, plus factors such as military involvement abroad in war zones, including Afghanistan, the country is currently looking for engineering staff across several disciplines. On 1 January 2009, the minister for immigration and citizenship announced a range of changes to help target the country’s immigration policy to the needs of industry. This included the introduction of a critical skills list (CSL) of occupations.

The CSL contains details of named jobs that have been identified as being in critical demand in Australia. These include chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, mining and aircraft maintenance engineers. Because the CSL occupations are in such urgent demand, applicants with skills and qualifications in these specialisations will now have their immigration applications processed as a priority, making it easier for them to gain long-term access to living and working in the country.

‘Engineers who work in a broad range of fields are in strong demand due to a heavy and increasing emphasis within the Australian economy on resource and infrastructure development,’ said David Wilden, regional director for immigration, Europe, at the Australian High Commission in London. ‘British skilled migrants have a long history of successfully integrating into Australian society. Part of this successful history could be explained by shared values, language and a common history between Australia and the UK.’

He added that the country also has the attraction of a strong economy, meaning prospects for job availability and security are currently promising. ‘Australia is faring considerably better than other western economies in terms of economic performance through 2009. The Treasury forecasts growth of around 1.5 per cent for 2009-10,’ he said. ‘Australia is open to skilled migrants but is now operating a more tightly targeted programme. Skill shortages continue to exist within segments of the Australian labour market.’

In such a vast territory, the availability of particular engineering positions differs between states. The territory of South Australia is currently mounting a recruitment programme for engineers, with those sought including chemical, civil electrical, electronics, mechanical, mining, production or plant, aircraft maintenance (avionics and mechanical), petroleum, aeronautical, biomedical and industrial professionals. There are also vacancies for engineering managers, as well as a need for construction project managers and production managers for the manufacturing and mining sectors. Most work is available in the defence, aerospace or aviation, mining, energy and resources and construction industries, as the state is home to a number of major defence companies, including ASC, BAE Systems, Navantia, General Dynamics Land Systems – Australia, Surveillance Australia, Raytheon Australia, Lockheed Martin, Ultra Electronics and Saab Systems.

‘Australia is facing a diminishing workforce as the baby boomers begin to reach retirement age. In South Australia, demand for labour is expected to outstrip supply in 2012, not only because of retiring employees but also due to expanding defence and mining sectors,’ said Alice Whittington, business development manager for the government of South Australia, based in London. ‘Job prospects are currently good for most engineers, and employment growth is forecasted across the majority of occupations. The mining sector in particular is booming in South Australia, and employment growth for mining engineers for 2012-2013 is expected to be strong, as well as moderate growth for electrical or electronics engineering jobs.’

Good job: Prospects are currently bright for engineers

The UK has historically been one of the largest sources of migrants for South Australia, meaning that there are plenty of former British citizens living there who can help new migrants settle. According to Australian national statistics, in the last six years the British have comprised more than a quarter of all migrants to South Australia, the vast majority of whom have entered via the skilled migration scheme.

Although many potential emigres may be more familiar with Sydney, Melbourne and the surrounding areas, South Australia has many attractions. As the only state to be founded by free settlers, it has a reputation for having a very welcoming and multi-cultural attitude, while capital Adelaide’s cost of living is the lowest in mainland Australia – 24 per cent lower than Sydney, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Housing costs for both bought and rental properties are also lower than elsewhere in the country, and educational standards are good.

One problem often faced by those leaving their home country is the question of whether their previous qualifications and experience will be recognised in the same way when they settle. However, for engineers, translating British qualifications to Australia is not a problem. ‘Australia and the UK are both signatory countries on the Sydney Accord, represented by Engineers Australian and Engineering Council UK respectively,’ said Whittington. ‘This means that qualifications accredited or recognised by the UK are recognised by Australia, and vice versa, as being substantially equivalent to accredited or recognised qualifications. This makes for more efficient recognition and processing of UK qualifications for the purposes of a migration skills assessment.’

Whittington has the following tips for those thinking of migration. ‘Moving to another country can sometimes be mistaken as moving to a utopia – stay open-minded, and remember that although there may be improvements in your life as a result of moving there, you will likely notice some things are done differently in Australia. Keep your expectations measured. As each Australian state is different, we strongly recommend that you research very carefully to see which state is for you, and that you prepare and plan your migration in good time before you leave. Preparation should help mitigate unwanted surprises.’

Meanwhile, like the rest of the country, South Australia is faring relatively well despite the downturn. ‘South Australia did not go into recession during the recent financial crisis and maintained its AAA credit rating. Its unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent in November 2009 is below the national average of 5.7 per cent,’ Whittington added.

Another route to test out whether a move to Australia would be suitable is to undertake study abroad – something that is becoming increasingly popular. Stefan Watts is director at Study Options, a free, expert, independent service for anyone looking to study in Australia and New Zealand. ‘We are the official UK and Ireland representative of Australian and New Zealand universities, and are here to ensure the process of applying to those universities is as straightforward and stress-free as possible,’ he said. ‘We can guide you through the whole process and, as the official representative, your application will be fast-tracked so you will get an answer quicker.’

He added that the number of people wanting to boost their qualifications while coupling this with a complete change of scenery and lifestyle has gone up. ‘We have certainly seen an increase in applications generally to study in Australia or New Zealand as a result of the global financial crisis, with people wanting time out from the UK or looking for a complete change with the hope of staying on after their course.’

With many opportunities for study, as well as the chance to be fast-tracked into permanent residency, for those seeking a change of scene, Australia’s many attractions are well worth consideration.