China drives the big scramble for talent
HIGH starting salaries, travel opportunities and even permission to use Facebook at work. These are some of the strategies construction companies are using to lure much- needed employees to their ranks.
According to University of Western Australia’s Engineering, Computing and Mathematics associate dean ( academic) Dr Angus Tavner, there has never been a better time engineer.
‘‘ It is very much a graduate’s market,’’ Dr Tavner says. ‘‘ Employers, particularly here in the west and in mining areas in Queensland, can’t get enough graduates across all flavours of engineering.’’
According to Dr Tavner, the intensification of the resource boom has made the need particularly acute over the past two years: ‘‘ A lot of it depends on the Chinese
an economy. It’s about how much they want to buy the stuff we’re getting out of the ground.
‘‘ From the point of view of construction, all the large- scale engineering enterprises require significant infrastructure. There are big things to be built.’’
Over the last 10 years, engineering enrolments at the university have gone from 1700 to 2100. Next year’s intake of first year students alone will be 700.
Securing the resources to increase the number of engineering places in order to keep up with demand has been a challenge for some universities.
‘‘ We have been increasing our student numbers over the last few years but this also requires an increase in the number of places that are allocated to us by the Government - they have always tended to lag behind us,’’ Dr Tavner says.
‘‘ The problem with all skills shortages is that if you want more graduates, you can’t have them instantly, you have to wait four years.’’
Construction company John Holland has been recruiting about 25 graduates per annum over the last few years, but plans to increase that number to between 40 and 50.
According to executive general manager for specialist businesses, Glen Palin, the company has grown four- fold in as many years: ‘‘ Demand has risen - the whole industry is pretty buoyant now.’’
One of the company’s responses to the skills shortage has been to conduct school programs to encourage students to consider a career in the industry.
They have also changed their graduate program to increase its appeal to young people. Over the two- year program, graduates are rotated through all aspects of the company’s operations, and also have the opportunity to rotate intestate.
Some of the areas John Holland graduates may cover during the two- year program include telecommunications, rail, road and water projects.
‘‘ If you can provide the right challenges, graduates are more than happy to take those challenges on board,’’ Palin says.
Offering clear opportunities for career progression is also essential in the competitive engineering employment market: ‘‘ Young people demand quick career progression,’’ Palin says. ‘‘ We need to respond to that challenge to keep people interested.’’
The social and environmental responsibility of a construction company is another factor being scrutinised by applicants, according to Palin: ‘‘ It seems to be gaining a lot of importance among young people - they’re wanting to see how we add value to the community that we’re in.’’
Other activities, such as sporting events and family days are available at John Holland to enhance the working environment of its employees.
The company recently restored company computer access to social networking site, Facebook, to keep its employees happy. ‘‘ These things are part and parcel with young people these days - they expect it, so why shouldn’t we allow it?’’ Palin says.
The opportunity to work overseas is another drawcard, but according to Dr Tavner, it’s usually just a short- term stay: ‘‘ It’s common for recent engineering graduates to spend some time working abroad as a way to develop their careers.
‘‘ A lot of our graduates in WA will work overseas at some stage in their careers but we also find that a lot of them come back.’’