A Chief Engineer should be employed at senior levels to increase technical competency, improve decision making and lift the standing of the profession.
Businesses and governments alike have often failed to maintain engineering and technical capability at management and decision-maker levels. They have placed greater importance on low cost rather than best value, foregoing the benefits of in-house engineering advice, at times abrogating their public interest responsibilities. Projects have suffered, waste has occurred and sub-par outcomes have been achieved. The engineering profession will not be able to maximise its contribution to the economy without being recognised as critical to informed decision-making.
A Chief Engineer employed in all engineering workplaces will help drive good practice and ensure adequately skilled people make informed decisions about technical issues. An organisation that is an informed purchaser and project designer stands a much better chance of making the right decisions and delivering results that will maximise community benefit with minimal waste and risk.
Organisations will be better aware of the potential outcomes of their decisions, the risks and the potential benefits. They will also be better placed to manage their technical workforce, providing a bridge between engineering functions and the wider organisation.
Currently, engineers are one of the only professions without any form of mandatory registration. This regulatory anomaly is creating risks for consumers and for the delivery of projects across the broader economy, while also holding the profession back by undermining the status of professionally qualified engineers.
Practising doctors, lawyers, accountants and architects must register. Electricians, plumbers and other trades are licenced, but not the engineers who often design and oversee the projects they work on.
Given the importance of engineers to our power and water systems, dams, roads, bridges, buildings and infrastructure, plus defence and manufacturing to name a few, it is critical we protect the community. With Government planning hundreds of billions in infrastructure spending in the coming decade, a mandatory professional registration system for engineers is vital. This would require engineers to:
The co-regulatory model has worked well in Queensland and is the basis for the Victorian model. Other states should follow with mutual recognition to achieve a nationally consistent framework.
A survey by Omnipoll shows that an overwhelming 93% of those surveyed support the registration of engineers, while nearly 8 in 10 engineers also back a registration scheme.
Engineering is complex yet too many non-engineers are working in jobs that should be performed by qualified engineers. Only qualified, professional engineers should undertake engineering services.
Businesses and governments often view technical skill as a cost to be minimised and we now see engineering decisions increasingly being made by non-engineers, with accounting rather than technical engineering expertise driving decision making.
It is hard to imagine this in any other profession or trade. Nurses do the nursing in our hospitals; only electricians are allowed to wire a building; yet the people who design the electrical systems and power stations do not have to be engineers. There is clear evidence that poor scoping, design and delivery is costing millions and risking lives.
We need to ensure that only engineers are doing the engineering work. Engineers have the skills and training to ensure that risks are minimised while benefits are maximised, and these skills are not easily replaced.
An engineers registration scheme in every state and territory which guarantees that only professional engineers do the engineering work is the medium-term solution, but for workplaces today, all organisations shouldcommit to only allowing engineers to undertake engineering work.
There is huge pressure to deliver community infrastructure. Government needs adequate internal capacity but also needs industry to have the skills and staff to deliver the government’s projects.
The engineering skills development process is broken. While government has lost capacity, the private sector often lives hand to mouth relying on winning project and then headhunting or using migrant engineers on permanent or temporary visas.
This model is not sustainable or desirable and inevitably leads to cost blowouts and delays.
Government procurement is a major driver of economic activity. Procurement can also be used to drive better workforce development outcomes, by encouraging construction companies and consulting engineer firms to develop the next generation of engineers:
This will provide graduates with a real opportunity and move beyond the short-term behaviour of headhunting and utilising temporary migration visas.
To build professional capacity and maintain currency in a fast moving world, workplace graduate programs must be world’s-best and engineers should be supported and reimbursed for all costs associated with registration and ongoing continuing professional development.
The current skills development process post-graduation is broken. Australia’s development of engineering graduates ranks 79th in the world, leaving us trailing most of the world’s developed nations. As a result, our graduate numbers only cover one third of our engineering needs. Unless this is rectified, our pool of engineering talent will be inadequate to tackle the challenges of the future.
Due to increased reliance on outsourcing, the private sector often waits for the next successful tender and then head hunts talent or relies on overseas engineers on temporary visas. As a result, many graduates are struggling to find positions and graduate programs are falling short in helping engineers transition to skilled experienced engineers.
There needs to be adequate numbers of engineers employed in graduate programs. These engineers will need broad exposure to a range of different areas and settings to build their skill base. A comprehensive graduate program with rotations through different areas of the business will ensure the development of well-rounded graduates, capable of delivering high quality outcomes.
Best practice programs should be identified and shared, and organisations should be incentivised to form partnerships to develop world-best programs for graduates. For example, procurement models such as alliancing increase the opportunity for skill exchange. Partnerships should involve rotations across businesses, and opportunities to learn and understand practical engineering applications across different organisations and settings.
Graduate programs should provide a pathway towards registration and build a range of competencies. Ongoing professional development should be supported so engineers maintain their skills at the highest level, keeping up with contemporary practice.
Government once had well-staffed public works departments and owned major utilities such as electricity and gas.
Approximately 30 years ago, the trend began to privatise and contract out. The private sector headhunted from the public sector and competed on wages.
Today, Government in many areas lacks the internal professional capacity to be an informed purchaser leading to problems for government and business. Government gets poor value outcomes because it doesn’t adequately plan and scope the project. Business is affected by delays and disputes as they deal with an uninformed client which attempts to shift too much risk.
There is an urgent need to increase the in-house engineering capability of governments and their agencies, with engineers required to do the necessary scoping and design work and oversee projects properly.
Governments should audit and develop policies to rebuild engineering and technical workforce capability and restore engineering to critical decision making levels, enabling government to be an informed purchaser. The initiatives required to do this are:
The public sector would be better positioned to effectively scope, design, deliver and maintain infrastructure and satisfy community demand for accountability and best value in all infrastructure decision making.
Improving internal capacity can save government money, with a lack of technical capacity driving massive waste every year.
To close the gender pay gap, we must provide real gender equality. This means recognising that in addition to doing the right thing there is a strong business case for embracing diversity in all its forms.
It’s almost 2020 and women are still only 12% of the engineering workforce. Women represent one of the largest under-represented pools of talent in engineering. A 4% increase in the participation rate of women over the next decade would add $25 billion dollars to the economy. Employers who get the gender balance right ensure improved organisational performance, stronger governance, less groupthink and a better bottom line.
Businesses and Governments alike should take steps to ensure that the factors that contribute to the gender pay gap are dealt with once and for all.
This means addressing the obstacles to merit-based progression including:
Real strategies for implementing diversity
While workplaces may have policies in place to support diversity, they often do not have the strategies, workplace culture and management accountabilities in place to give effect to the policies. Putting proper strategies in place to address progression, attrition and retention issues for women in engineering should be a priority for businesses and government agencies.
Inclusive work environments
Engineering has long been a male-dominated profession. As a result, many workplaces fail to provide an inclusive environment for women engineers. Employers should ensure that workplaces are safe for all employees, that processes are in place to address concerns as they arise, and that these processes are in a broader diversity and anti-discrimination framework. Leaving it up to individuals to “call out” sexual harassment, sexist attitudes, behaviours and practices and stereotyping without a broader strategy for cultural change just leads to women leaving their workplace or profession.
Diversity goes beyond gender
All forms of diversity should be embraced. Including race and sexual orientation. All workers should feel safe and comfortable at work.
Infrastructure requires long-term planning, and only infrastructure that provides the best outcome for the community should be built.
Infrastructure priorities seem to change at the whim of a new government, with projects sometimes chosen based on political expediency rather than economic need.
We need to end the waste in infrastructure development and ensure the best projects are selected in the best interests of the community.
Governments should restructure and reform project selection to achieve better outcomes for the community and promote accountability and confidence in decision making.
An expert independent infrastructure authority is needed in each state and territory to develop a pipeline of priority infrastructure projects and improve project selection including delivery models, with a focus on real value for taxpayers
These independent bodies should be consulted by the relevant government on project selection and should be responsible for developing detailed business cases for major projects. Their priority project lists should be public as is now done in some states.
An Engineering Workforce Plan should identify and predict project needs into the future and match this to engineering skills needs. These plans must be accessible to the workforce.
A skilled workforce of technical professionals does not happen by accident. The world we live in is ever changing, and provides new, more complex challenges every day. To meet the challenges of the future and continue to lift our standard of living, we need a large, capable workforce of engineers.
In recent years many businesses have viewed workforce development as a cost to be avoided and few organisations are actively involved in planning their engineering workforce.
Many aspects of workforce planning and development can take years to reap rewards, yet neglecting this process can have a real negative impact on technical capacity.
We now lack the skills needed to engineer our future. With an overreliance on headhunting, use of temporary Visa engineers and contractors and without a formal process of workforce planning, the profession will not be prepared to tackle the challenges of the future.
Governments and private businesses need to ensure they have the engineering capacity to effectively manage their businesses and make technical decisions. They need to invest in workforce development, to keep their engineers at the forefront of new technology and techniques.
By developing an Engineering Workforce Plan and taking steps to enact the plan, businesses and governments will be in a better position to manage their technical functions.
A comprehensive Engineering Workforce Plan within every organisation should ensure that organisations have:
We know STEM skills are critical for the future of Australia and yet the evidence shows we are going backwards on many measures including the number of young people at school studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Australia’s development of engineering graduates ranks 79th in the world, leaving us trailing most of the world’s developed nations. Meanwhile, participation in STEM subjects in Australian schools is declining, with enrolments in these subjects at the lowest level in 20 years.
As a result, our graduate numbers only cover one third of our engineering needs. Unless this is rectified, our pool of engineering talent will be inadequate to tackle the challenges of the future.
Each State Government should develop a STEM strategy which leads to more students studying STEM subjects at school and university, improves retention rates and graduate numbers. The strategy should also include active support for cadetships.
Before engineering work is outsourced, employers must consult with their engineering workforce to ensure internal capacity is maintained and the outcome is truly best value.
Historically, much of Australia’s engineering work was carried out by highly skilled, publicly owned organisations. These organisations managed vital public assets including our power networks, roads, railways and water assets. Over the years, many of these functions have made their way in to private hands, and during this process, the level of internal capacity has declined markedly.
Businesses and governments increasingly view engineering as a cost, and both public and private sector organisations have decreased their level of internal engineering capacity. As a result, their ongoing costs are smaller, but engineering is now often bundled up into specific project costs through the use of consultants.
While engineering consultants form a key part of the overall market for engineering services, they are not a substitute for internal capacity. Organisations require a level of internal skill to inform their decision making, to enable efficient investment and maintain their position as an informed purchaser. At present, many organisations now lack the internal technical capacity to act as an informed purchaser, and the result is waste and sub-optimal engineering outcomes.
Many organisations are contracting out without a proper cost benefit analysis. This is being driven by an attempt to shift risk and avoid recurrent expenditure in the form of permanent employees, even when there is clear evidence that the use of contractors is more expensive and less efficient.
At times governments are relying on contractors to oversee other contractors, creating huge risk to both efficiency and probity.
Governments and businesses must commit to a minimum level of internal capacity.
We should focus on demonstrating the benefits of outsourcing before contracting-out and, even when we do outsource, we need to understand the capabilities required to do this effectively.
Governments and businesses should consult with their engineering workforce to rebuild internal engineering capacity.
A comprehensive consultation process with engineers should be the first step in rebalancing internal and external capacity.
Government has inadequate professional capacity to deliver best practice projects. The private sector is calling for government to rebuild capacity.
Even with capacity it is essential to review projects and learn with ongoing innovation to find the best way to scope, procure and manage major projects.
Government should improve its capacity to deliver infrastructure by early engagement, developing best practice procurement and planning. Learning should be disseminated through best practice guides, systems and education to build capacity across the sector.
To achieve this, Government should establish an independent advisory body to:
Properly account for costs in projects, recognising baseline engineering and procurement capability should not be seen as a cost when otherwise project or capital costs will be higher