The latest Australian Engineering Employment Vacancy Report, produced by Engineers Australia, shows that demand for engineers is at a 10-year high. It also warns that this is exacerbating the existing skills crisis.

According to the report, the number of jobs advertised increased 50 per cent nationally in 2021. Demand grew most strongly in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, and in all branches of engineering – including HVAC&R building services.

For Engineers Australia, the report highlights the need to tap into the large cohort of migrant engineers.

“While some sectors are experiencing a shortage of experienced engineers, it is in the face of an economy-wide oversupply of qualified – but underutilised – migrant engineers,” says Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans. “This imbalance must be addressed by policy makers and employers.”

An international shortage?

The high demand for engineers is confirmed by Norman Disney & Young CEO Stuart Fowler, M.AIRAH, who notes that the problem isn’t only a local one.

“Job vacancy rates are high,” he says, “and the competition for talent is strong. The demand is not restricted to the Australian marketplace, and we are seeing competition for talent in the NZ, UK, Ireland, US and Canada markets.”

According to Fowler, this is “a combination of increased demand – the work pipeline continues to be quite strong across all regions of our operations, and beyond, at present – as well as a shortage of appropriately skilled talent globally.”

As for the impact on HVAC&R building services, Fowler sees a potential impact on costs.

“I expect that salary pressure will place upward pressure on consultants’ professional rates and fees,” he says. “In a strong and active project marketplace, that will ultimately be a small but contributing factor that will impact overall project costs, over time.”

Supply, demand, and something else

GWA Consultants Australia Director Mikaila Ganado, M.AIRAH, has also noticed the high demand for engineers.

“I’ve been searching for engineers consistently over the past two years and have had limited success,” she says. “Discussions with industry colleagues indicate that most of us are facing similar issues.

“The impacts of COVID-19 across our industry (like many others) have been huge. There has been a general reluctance to hire new staff at various times over the pandemic. What we’re seeing now, with increased job vacancies, is in some part a correction of that previous reluctance. Confidence is returning, and with it the need to hire new engineers. Of course, we also have a much smaller pool of engineers to draw from with the lack of immigration resulting from border closures.”

Ganado says that it’s not only a matter of supply and demand, but also “something else”.

“It’s an overused phrase,” she says, “but we do have to take account of the ‘new normal’. People have had months of working from home. For some of us that involved a lot more time with our families. We also need to consider the general level of emotional fatigue that many people are experiencing at the moment. The last couple of years have been quite the challenge. I think this has led to a lot of people reconsidering their priorities, their work-life balance, and their general expectations surrounding work. We need to consider if the positions we’re offering provide the level of flexibility that the current workforce are looking for.”

According to Ganado, promoting the HVAC&R building services sector will be key.

“We need to work harder to attract our share of the candidates,” she says. “We need to make this industry attractive to graduates and engineers and support their development into successful engineers and senior engineers. The importance of HVAC&R and indoor air quality has never been greater and more visible – we need to leverage this visibility to grow our industry.”

HVAC&R building services – an attractive option

Cundall Managing Director Garrit Schot, M.AIRAH, has also noticed a high level of demand for talent.

“Public and institutional investor projects have been on the upswing, and there is also significant growth in work for asset upgrades and refurbishments to address energy efficiency, asset resilience, ESG priorities and regulatory shifts. So overall, the level and type of activity does require recruiting more engineers, particularly mechanical and other building services specialists who also have expertise in sustainability innovation and net zero carbon design.”

But despite the challenge – and the fact that HVAC&R building services has not always enjoyed as high a profile as other areas of engineering – Schot believes the sector is well placed to attract talent.

“Building services is now a dynamic and innovative sector, and there has been a major shift in the overall culture as the new generation of engineers and building services technical consultants rise through the ranks,” he says. “There’s a realisation that the world can’t achieve net zero carbon without the engineering talent and the technical solutions they provide. Cundall recognises engineers are looking for more than just a salary – they are purpose-driven and want to make a positive difference in the world. They look to align themselves with companies that are leading the net zero carbon charge, have strong ethical principles and a culture that gives every person a voice.”

To read the Australian Engineering Employment Vacancy Report, click here.


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