Eyes on the prize: cre­ativ­ity is the key

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View - By RICHARD KING*

WHERE the bloody hell are you? could eas­ily be the ad cam­paign slo­gan for en­gi­neers.

They’re in high de­mand, but the sup­ply is tight in Aus­tralia and over­seas.

En­gi­neer­ing is the most can­di­dateshort pro­fes­sion, with the high­est de­mand for min­ing and con­struc­tion en­gi­neers.

In fact, re­sources and min­ing are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the most in­tense skills cri­sis of any sec­tor, with the Michael Page Salary Sur­vey 2007/ 2008 pre­dict­ing salary in­creases of as much as 15 per cent over the next 12 months for min­ing en­gi­neers, and an av­er­age salary in­crease of be­tween five and 10 per cent.

We’ve reached the point where or­gan­i­sa­tions and re­cruiters have to work more cre­atively to source their tal­ent.

For most other pro­fes­sions, such as ac­count­ing or mar­ket­ing, a re­cruiter starts the re­cruit­ment process by find­ing a short­list of four or five can­di­dates.

When it comes to sourc­ing en­gi­neers, the short­list has no more than one or two suit­able can­di­dates. The can­di­date skills short­age for en­gi­neer­ing is ex­treme to the point where many large min­ing or con­struc­tion sites will have a list of job va­can­cies some of which don’t get filled for many months.

Within 48 hours of be­ing in­ter­viewed by Michael Page En­gi­neer­ing and Man­u­fac­tur­ing, one can­di­date was in­ter­viewed in Perth, Melbourne, Ade­laide and Bris­bane by three en­gi­neer­ing con­sul­tan­cies - one global and two do­mes­tic.

The 26- year- old chem­i­cal en­gi­neer worked in min­ing and had three years ex­pe­ri­ence.

For some com­pa­nies, find­ing the right peo­ple has be­come a lim­it­ing fac­tor on growth, and many other dis­ci­plines fo­cus their en­ergy on find­ing do­mes­ti­cally- based tal­ent, while en­gi­neer­ing/ con­struc­tion/ min­ing com­pa­nies have be­come much more re­cep­tive to re­cruit­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally based can­di­dates.

En­gi­neer­ing is one of the most ge­o­graph­i­cally mo­bile, highly por­ta­ble skills sets. An Aus­tralian tax ac­coun­tant, for ex­am­ple, may have dif­fi­cul­ties work­ing seam­lessly in the UK or US, whereas an en­gi­neer can be trans­ported where there is work.

En­gi­neers will largely be placed into min­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing or in in­fra­struc­ture ( projects) such as roads, re­tail, gas and wa­ter any­where in the world.

The tra­di­tional sources of en­gi­neer­ing tal­ent were from west­ern coun­tries, but that is chang­ing for min­ing in par­tic­u­lar where South Africa, Canada, Brazil and even the Repub­lic of the Congo can be the source for en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise.

In the war for en­gi­neer­ing tal­ent, or­gan­i­sa­tions must com­pete glob­ally. Aus­tralia his­tor­i­cally has traded on lifestyle, but with smart or­gan­i­sa­tions, that’s be­com­ing sec­ondary. Now it’s the qual­ity of work and the scale of projects that need to be pri­mary at­trac­tion fac­tors.

Cur­rently, we are see­ing an ex­o­dus of home­grown en­gi­neers due to a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing money, the scale of projects and the re­spect that other coun­tries have for Aus­tralian en­gi­neers.

Ar­eas of op­por­tu­nity for can­di­dates in­clude Malaysia, In­dia and, in par­tic­u­lar, the Mid­dle East where there is a huge level of con­struc­tion. But of­ten, th­ese peo­ple come back home.

It’s an in­creas­ing chal­lenge for or­gan­i­sa­tions to find that tal­ent. As a min­i­mum, cor­po­rates need to be will­ing to spon­sor 457 visa can­di­dates, have Fly in- Fly Out op­tions in re­mote lo­ca­tions and, in ad­di­tion to the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age, sign- on and loy­alty bonuses matched with at­trac­tive salaries. One 27- year- old can­di­date was acutely aware that she could be paid $ 25,000 more in Perth than on the east­ern seaboard. But money isn’t the main in­cen­tive. Ac­cord­ing to the Michael Page Salary Sur­vey, only nine per cent quoted fi­nan­cial gain as their core driv­ing fac­tor, whereas 29 per cent cited ca­reer ad­vance­ment.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions need to look at the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of how to split shift work and their at­trac­tion and re­ten­tion strate­gies. They have to have clearly de­fined value propo­si­tions, par­tic­u­larly ca­reer strate­gies, to sell to prospec­tive em­ploy­ees.

Re­cruit­ment com­pa­nies of­ten need to be creative in find­ing en­gi­neer­ing skills.

Michael Page has a global op­por­tu­ni­ties net­work of 149 of­fices across 26 coun­tries. We keep in touch with Aus­tralians who work in­ter­na­tion­ally, and when it’s time for them to re­turn, we get in touch and of­ten we have got them in­ter­views be­fore they step off the plane.

The vol­ume of en­gi­neer­ing jobs is enor­mous with one oil and gas client re­cently look­ing for 150 en­gi­neers.

It’s the tight­est of all dis­ci­plines with a great mo­bil­ity and can­di­date shar­ing within re­cruit­ment firms for en­gi­neers both lo­cally and glob­ally.

Sell­ing sun and surf is no longer the at­trac­tion for most pro­fes­sion­als com­ing to Aus­tralia.

Pro­fes­sion­als such as en­gi­neers want to have ca­reer paths, sig­nif­i­cant projects and pack­ages that are fi­nan­cially, so­cially and pro­fes­sion­ally re­ward­ing.

Richard King is the di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing at Michael Page In­ter­na­tional

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