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Barriers to employment for migrant engineers

Skilled migration Barriers to work Employment Engineering Australia

Australia needs more skilled engineers to deliver on an ambitious infrastructure agenda. However, the Australian engineering profession is focussed on skills supply for two current reasons:

  • International border closures during 2020-21 due to COVID-19
  • The Federal Government’s initiation of many new infrastructure projects. Engineers Australia believes that supply could be addressed accessing the existing pool of overseas-born engineers who currently live within Australia. These engineers make up over 58% of Australia’s engineering workforce but are significantly more likely than their Australian-born counterparts to be unemployed.
  • To find out why and identify how to overcome the barriers to employment these engineers face, Engineers Australia commissioned research into these questions. This research, led by independent, accredited agency Pollinate, involved:
  • Quantitatively surveying 817 migrant engineers to obtain a broad overview of the migrant experience of seeking engineering employment in Australia
  • Qualitatively interviewing eight migrant engineers, five migration agents, three recruiters and seven employers to obtain an in-depth, detailed view of the barriers to both hiring and being hired.

The research revealed that many overseas-born engineers do indeed struggle to find work in the industry. Many are unemployed or ‘underemployed’, i.e. in roles at a more junior level than their skills and experience warrant. The research also identified seven barriers that employers and recruiters perceive to hiring overseas-born engineers. These range from a lack of local knowledge and experience to perceived differences in soft skills, and a lack of local people who can ‘vouch’ for these engineers. On a more individual level, barriers also encompass visa or sponsorship working rights issues, and concerns regarding international certification validity and perceived ‘flight risks’.

Based on the research, Engineers Australia sees six key opportunities to address these barriers:

1. Positioning migrant engineers as a collective talent pool and talking to the size of the opportunity for employers

2. Providing credible, trusted information on employment pathways for migrant engineers

3. Increasing local networks by developing networking and sponsorship programs/ opportunities for migrant engineers

4. Coordinating initiatives to build local knowledge and experience of migrant engineers

5. Assisting humanitarian visa holders with their credentials assessment

6. ‘Making it easy’ for employers to access the talent pool.

In taking advantage of these opportunities to address the barriers, Engineers Australia can help to ensure sufficient skilled engineers for the industry’s planned projects, both now and into the future.

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