En­gi­neer pay lure +

South Aus­tralian en­gi­neer­ing firms are avoid­ing skill short­ages by lur­ing grad­u­ates with sub­stan­tial pay pack­ets, Lau­ren Ah­wan re­ports.

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High in­comes for grad­u­ates –

EN­GI­NEER­ING grad­u­ates are be­ing lured with $80,000 pay pack­ets as com­pa­nies strug­gle to find enough staff. The As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional En­gi­neers, Sci­en­tists and Man­agers, Aus­tralia (APESMA) re­ports Santos is among the com­pa­nies pay­ing top dol­lar to re­cruit and re­tain work­ers amid a chronic, na­tion­wide en­gi­neer­ing short­age.

Santos will not re­veal how much it pays its en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates be­cause of com­mer­cial rea­sons, but states it is not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any short­age of en­gi­neers.

As­so­ci­a­tion state di­rec­tor Sue Fen­wick says mem­bers have in­formed her Santos is of­fer­ing $80,000 a year to en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates – well above the av­er­age grad­u­ate salary of $58,000. ‘‘It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary,’’ she says. ‘‘They (Santos) are go­ing out (to uni­ver­si­ties) very early in the year and go­ing to the fourth (fi­nal) year stu­dents with (of­fers of) $80,000.

‘‘ This ( en­gi­neer­ing short­age) re­ally is a cri­sis on the hori­zon. We know there are po­si­tions, in govern­ment in par­tic­u­lar, that they haven’t been able to fill for a num­ber of years and . . . it’s only go­ing to get worse.’’

Ms Fen­wick above-av­er­age salaries of­fered by larger com­pa­nies fur­ther com­pound the prob­lem for smaller en­gi­neer­ing firms, which are not able to of­fer the same re­wards.

‘‘If they can’t com­pete fi­nan­cially, how else are they go­ing to (at­tract en­gi­neers)?’’ she asks.

The num­ber of grad­u­at­ing en­gi­neers in Aus­tralia is sig­nif­i­cantly less than is needed to meet the present level of con­struc­tion and other en­gi­neer­ing projects.

A re­port last year found two thirds of en­gi­neer­ing con­sul­tancy firms across the coun­try were forced to de­lay projects be­cause of staff short­ages.

Ade­laide-based en­gi­neers Tonkin Con­sult­ing man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ken Schalk says the cri­sis is im­pact­ing on his com­pany’s abil­ity to bid for con­tracts.

‘‘Things just take longer (to com­plete) and we have to say no to a few things,’’ he says.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously we don’t like to say no to clients . . . but we have to think quite se­ri­ously about what we can do.’’

Mr Schalk says Tonkin Con­sult­ing is look­ing for five en­gi­neers to add to its 120-strong work­force.

‘‘(En­gi­neer­ing) has never been re­ally pop­u­lar (as a ca­reer choice),’’ he says.

‘‘It’s one of those things that un­less it’s an area you are in­ter­ested in, it’s not one that’s re­ally pro­moted a lot.’’

En­gi­neer­ing Aus­tralia be­lieves the short­age of en­gi­neers has the po­ten­tial to be cat­a­strophic.

‘‘There is a very real risk that the in­vest­ment of bil­lions of dol­lars in na­tional in­fra­struc­ture projects and in the re­sources sec­tor will be com­pro­mised,’’ chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Peter Tay­lor says.

He be­lieves the de­clin­ing num­ber of peo­ple study­ing en­gi­neer­ing is partly caused by a lack of un­der- stand­ing about what the pro­fes­sion in­volves.

At Santos, how­ever, se­nior hu­man re­sources ad­viser Tracey Zilm says project de­lays are un­heard of.

‘‘We’re not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a short­age (of work­ers),’’ she says.

‘‘We run pop­u­lar and in­dus­tryrecog­nised vacation and grad­u­ate pro­grams for stu­dents that at­tract tal­ented young pro­fes­sion­als to our busi­ness.

‘‘By tak­ing a long-term ap­proach in the form of a grad­u­ate pro­gram, we can en­sure that our stocks of en­gi­neers and geo­science pro­fes­sion­als are con­tin­u­ally topped up with new tal­ent.’’

Ms Zilm says Santos re­cruits about 20 grad­u­ates each year but ex­pects to em­ploy al­most 30 next year.

She de­scribes pay for Santos grad­u­ates as ‘‘com­pet­i­tive’’. ‘‘It’s not just about pay,’’ she says. ‘‘Oil and gas is a world­wide in­dus­try that re­mu­ner­ates well and of­fers ex­cit­ing and chal­leng­ing po­si­tions across the globe.’’

Re­cent en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates and Santos em­ploy­ees Te­gan Digby, who is a drilling en­gi­neer, and Khalee Field, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, say work­ing con­di­tions at­tracted them to the com­pany and that the pay is a bonus.

Ms Digby says the train­ing, va­ri­ety and type of work lured her to the com­pany.

‘‘Ad­di­tion­ally, there is plenty of op­por­tu­nity to travel,’’ she says.

‘‘As for pay, yes, it is great that my hard work is re­warded well.’’

Pic­ture: DEAN MARTIN

En­gi­neers Te­gan Digby and Khalee Field, who both have found work with Santos.

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