Engineering skills critical to net zero emissions

Engineers make up 7 of the 38 critical clean energy occupations required to achieve Australia’s net zero emissions target.

A new report from government body Jobs and Skills Australia models the workforce needed for the transition to renewable energy and other zero emissions technologies, along with enabling sectors and supply chains.

The modelling suggests nearly 2 million workers will be needed in building and engineering trades by 2050.

“These sectors are critical and need to grow well above the average growth for employment in Australia,” says Damien Oliver, Assistant Secretary for the Workforce Futures at Jobs and Skills Australia.

Presenting on a panel on overcoming the engineering skills shortage at the Climate Smart Engineering conference in Melbourne, Oliver says while electrical and civil engineers will obviously make a contribution, many other fields are needed. 

Demand for industrial and mechanical engineering, in particular, is likely to grow, he says.

‘The Clean Energy Generation’ report identifies critical occupations from trades and technicians, labourers, managers and professionals. Engineering features heavily, including civil, mining, electrical, chemical, materials and other engineers as well as engineering managers.

Modelling for the report suggests a steady supply of engineers is likely, including workers transitioning from other sectors, but notes Australia’s high reliance on overseas-born engineers, the lack of gender diversity and potential constraints on the future workforce including the decline in secondary students studying advanced STEM subjects, particularly maths.

“Anecdotally, many students forgo mathematics and science subjects as they are perceived as difficult and will not help students achieve a high ATAR score. This could be the result of poor messaging, or an ATAR system that acts as a disincentive to STEM,” the report states.

The findings coincide with new analysis of census data by Engineers Australia revealing Australia has the sixth lowest share of engineering graduates among OECD countries, and the number completing an engineering degree continues at roughly half the number starting. 

‘The Engineering Profession: a statistical overview’ provides an update on the state of the profession and shines a light on several factors contributing to the engineering skills gap – the low share of engineering graduates in Australia compared to other countries, the continuing lack of women in the profession, and the large share of qualified engineers not currently working in engineering roles.

According to the data, Australia has more than 545,000 qualified engineers. “Only about 56% work in engineering roles” says Chief Engineer of Engineers Australia, Jane MacMaster (also on the skills shortage panel).

Women now make up 16% of the engineering profession in Australia, a modest improvement up from 13.6% in 2016, according to the report.

Overseas born engineers make up 60% of the engineering workforce in Australia, according to the analysis, with India, China and the United Kingdom the top three countries for oversees-born qualified engineers. Overseas-born women are the least likely to be working in engineering roles.

Panelist Amy Lezala Zahr, Chief Rail Engineer with the Victorian Department of Transport and Planning says the data shows that women’s progression often stalls as they reach their 30s and 40s, as they are more likely than men to take on primary caring responsibilities. The diversity of the workforce drops off as a result.

“We need to be looking at more flexible leadership and working opportunities … so when they are in their 40s and ready to come back to work, so they’re not coming back to those entry level jobs,” she says.

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