China drives the big scram­ble for tal­ent

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Careers In Construction -

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.’’

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