Sector crying out for feminine touch
Engineering skills shortage waiting to be fixed, writes
ENGINEERING graduates enjoy one of the highest starting salaries and best job outcomes of all new graduates, yet the industry still struggles to attract enough professionals to meet demand.
Just 6000 engineering students graduate from Australian universities each year, forcing the industry to import double that to alleviate chronic job shortages.
Engineers Australia president John McIntosh says while the decline in students taking up maths and science is partly to blame for the skills shortage, the profession also unfairly suffers a poor reputation.
“We’ve got the narrative wrong,” McIntosh says.
“People think of (engineers) as grubby old boys and their toys. They don’t see engineering as an attractive career option, whereas I think it’s one of the most worthwhile things that you can do.
“Engineers build happy, healthy communities – people have engineered teeth and engineered knees and hips, they’ve got cochlear implants. Everything involves engineering.”
To help meet demand, the University of New South Wales is attempting to attract more women to the industry, this year tripling the number of its Women in Engineering scholarships to 15.
“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,” UNSW dean of engineering Mark Hoffman says. “Name another profession where that’s happening.
“We can’t win at the innovation game if half of our potential engineers are not taking part in the race.
“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.”
Graduate Careers Australia research shows the average starting salary for male engineering graduates is $60,000 and $63,000 for women. The research also shows engineering graduates are more likely to be in paid employment than the average Australian graduate.
Electrical engineering student Nisha Pradhan, 20, had a passion for maths and science at school and chose engineering after seeing a smart wheelchair built for people with complete paralysis that can be powered by brain waves. “I was so overwhelmed by the idea that, as engineers, we could completely change the way people live their lives,” Pradhan says.
“A lot of girls don’t understand what engineering is – they think it’s getting down and dirty and fixing a car. I love what I’m doing in engineering … and I’ve never had to do any kind of work that would get me dirty.”
Nisha Pradhan, an electrical