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New infrastructure has helped Australia ride out the economic storms.

Recruitment: Go walkabout

As global markets slowly begin to steady after a long recession, Australia has been able to offer its residents a more stable banking system than most.

Land of plenty

Combined with its rich natural resources and proximity to China as a major consumer of its products, Australia has been able to keep spending when it comes to its engineering projects.

The abundance of minerals – iron ore in particular – and the mining market that has sprung up around it, means that many Australians have flocked to this area of engineering. While this has helped keep the Australian economy more buoyant than the rest of its Western counterparts, it has meant that other areas of the engineering industry have been left short on staff.

Infrastructure, in particular, is experiencing a severe skills shortage. A combination of stagnating numbers of native civil engineering graduates in the past decade, and a series of ambitious – and necessary – government infrastructure projects mean that demand is far outstripping supply.

Industry body Consult Australia’s 2010 Engineering Skills Survey found that the engineering discipline most affected by shortages is civil engineering, with more than two-thirds of firms reporting a shortage.

“This is particularly alarming in light of the infrastructure-centric spending agenda from both federal and state governments,” says Consult Australia chief executive Megan Motto.

“The Australian transport network and general infrastructure is underdeveloped compared to the UK’s”

Diane Townson, Hays

The agenda to which Motto refers is the predicted £295bn earmarked for Australian infrastructure in the 10 years leading up to 2018. The main hotspots are New South Wales and Victoria. New South Wales is going through the biggest infrastructure building programme in its history, investing £35bn in local infrastructure over the next four years.

The 2010 Victoria State Budget announced a record £3.6bn investment in better roads and transport, with the Peninsula Link and Regional Rail Link both underway to relieve increasing numbers of freight, leisure and commuter travel.

Recruiter Hays manager Diane Townson says: “The Australian transport network and general infrastructure is underdeveloped compared to the UK’s. In particular, the rail network needs improving to service the population in major cities, which is why local governments are investing heavily in this area.”

This month’s announcement of the £1.5bn Sydney Parramatta-Epping rail link means that rail engineers will be increasingly in demand. Townson agrees: “Professionals with experience of rail design, for example signalling design engineers and permanent way design engineers, are highly sought after.”

Time to innovate

New recruits may find themselves working on a wider, more innovative spread of projects than they would have done pre-recession. Development in a global economic downturn, and the need to cut carbon, means that existing major infrastructure hubs have been thinking laterally when it comes to expansion. Sydney airport will have no new runways before 2029.

Brisbane Airport, another major air hub, has delayed building its planned parallel runway. Instead, capacity is to be improved through a constant stream of improvements to airport facilities. This calls for a wide range of skills sets, and opportunities in unexpected areas.
The good news is that, despite the weak pound and the strong Australian dollar, salaries are growing.

“Since the start of the year, civil engineering salaries have increased slightly, further emphasising the high demand in this area,” says Townson.

“Civil engineering salaries have increased, further emphasising the high demand in this area”

Diane Townson, Hays

“For British engineers thinking of making the move down under, they will need to have a degree and at least two years’ sector experience in order to be eligible for a visa.” David Wilden at the Australian High Commission adds: “There are many options available to engineers if they are interested in skilled migration to Australia. They can apply through the employer sponsored scheme, be state/territory nominated or apply as an independent skilled migrant.”

Whilst Australian firms will look to their home market before recruiting staff from overseas, current estimates are that around 15% of consultancy staff are from outside Australia. And with graduate levels predicted to stay stable, Australia looks to remain a hub of construction activity – and employment – for a while yet.

5 MAJOR PROJECTS IN OZ RIGHT NOW

1. BRISBANE AIRPORT LINK: £2.9bn
2. VICTORIA DESALINATION PLANT: £2.5bn
3. SYDNEY RAIL LINK: £1.5bn
4. ADELAIDE DESALINATION PLANT: £1bn
5. SYDNEY LIGHT RAIL: £320M

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