Australia has a shortage of engineers and one Australian university is turning to women to ease the skills shortage and reduce our dependence on importing engineers from overseas to fill job vacancies.
Every year 18,000 engineering jobs need to be filled in Australia. Currently only 6,000 engineering jobs are filled by Australian graduates – the rest are filled by engineers who were educated overseas. The country annually imports 12,000 engineers, 25% on temporary work visas to alleviate chronic job shortages¹, and has done so for more than a decade.
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, has by far the country’s biggest engineering faculty, educating almost 20% of the country’s homegrown engineers.
Mark Hoffman, Dean of Engineering at UNSW says “Demand from industry completely outstrips supply and that demand is not slowing. In fact, it has doubled in the past decade.”
While UNSW has attracted a strong number of engineering students this year – indications are that enrolments will be 7% higher in 2016 – more needs to be done to resolve this critical skills shortage. It’s just one of the many reasons UNSW has turned to women.
Only about 13% of engineers in Australia are female, a ratio that has been growing slowly for decades. UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering wants to boost these numbers dramatically and is investing in a number of initiatives to support this endeavour.
The Faculty has recently tripled the number of its Women in Engineering scholarships to 15. With a value of more than $150,000 annually, the scholarships are made possible by support from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Orica, Arup, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Hindmarsh, Kimberly-Clark, Transport for NSW, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, Shelly Phillips, David Beale, and the families Vida Bashaw, Alexandria Ada Lam, and the Klabe family.
Engineering a dream: 90 girls and 90 futures
Next month 90 bright young women from around the country, with their hearts set on a future of maths and science, will come to UNSW from around Australia to take part in its annual Women in Engineering Camp – more than tripling the size of previous camps.
The women, students in Years 11 and 12, will spend five days at UNSW (February 11-15), exploring engineering as a career and visiting major companies like Google, Resmed, Transurban and Sydney Water to see the engineering profession in action. Just over a third of the UNSW campers are from interstate or regional New South Wales.
The student will network with real-life female engineers, and work in teams on week-long design projects that make them see how their maths and science skills can be applied to the real world. In the past, 75% of girls who attended the camp in Year 12 have gone on to enrol in engineering at UNSW.
“There may be young women in high school right now who could become some of the best engineers ever born – but if they don’t know about the profession and what it offers, they’ll never realise that potential,” said Alexandra Bannigan, Manager of the Women in Engineering Initiative at UNSW. “If we succeed, it’s a win for them as individuals, it’s a win for us as a society and it’s a win for the engineering profession.”
Bannigan manages several UNSW initiatives to boost female participation, from multiple events held on campus for female students as young as 14, to school visits, annual awards which highlight successful women engineers and mentorship of students at high school. Early data suggest these initiatives are working. December figures show female first preferences for engineering at UNSW had risen 10% for 2016, versus just 1% for males.
30% female representation by 2020
Mark Hoffman, who became Dean of Engineering at UNSW less than a year ago, has made boosting the number of women in engineering one of his priorities. Within the Faculty, his goal is to raise female representation among students, staff and researchers to 30% by 2020. Currently, 21% of UNSW engineering students are female (versus the Australian average of 16%).
“Engineering has one of the highest starting salaries, and the average starting salary for engineering graduates has been actually higher for women than for men,” said Mark Hoffman.
“In a knowledge driven economy, the best innovation comes from diverse teams who bring together different perspectives,” he said. “This isn’t just about plugging the chronic skills gap it’s also a social good to bring diversity to our technical workforce, which will help stimulate more innovation. We can’t win at the innovation game if half of our potential engineers are not taking part in the race.”
For more information visit the UNSW Engineering Faculty website www.engineering.unsw.edu.au
1. Engineers Australia, The Supply of Engineers in Australia – A Decade of Skilled Migration.