Two of the biggest issues currently contributing to the engineer shortage in Australia are the industries dependence on migrant workers and international engineering students studying and seeking employment in Australia paired with the stagnant numbers of domestic students (men and especially women) undertaking STEM studies in their later years of schooling, or pursuing engineering after completing high school through additional study. Even after completing their engineering studies, graduates aren’t necessarily going into engineering. According to research conducted by Engineers Australia, 40% of engineering graduates end up working in non-engineering roles (Engineering Australia, 2019).
Due to COVID-19 and Australia’s strict border restrictions over the last eighteen months, the usual number of international engineering students and workers couldn’t enter into Australia, or had to return to their home country. Prior to the covid outbreak, 57% of engineers working within Australia were born overseas as compared to 40% in other professions (Engineers Australia, 2019). This meant that a considerable portion of the engineering labour force Australia depended on, was suddenly unavailable. At the same time, Australia has ramped up its investment into civil infrastructure to help revitalise the country’s economy after multiple state lockdowns. During the unveiling of the Federal Government’s 2021 -22 budget in May, the construction and infrastructure industry announced that an additional $15.2 billion will go towards funding infrastructure commitments over the next 10 years. In a press statement about the budget, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack said that the significant portion of funding dedicated to infrastructure within the 2021-2022 budget demonstrated its importance in the country’s economic recovery (Australian Government, 2021). As engineers are critical to the successful delivery of infrastructure projects, the current skills shortage can cause significant delays. Furthermore, as Australia embarks on a digital transformation, more and more multidisciplinary engineers are needed for projects working in renewable technology, robotics, additive manufacturing, the digitisation of industry and 6G networks to name a few (Mannan, 2021).
Due to the political and environmental factors that have exacerbated the industry’s skill shortages, engineering companies are at a critical juncture. Attracting and retaining talent is integral, but because the demand for engineers currently outweighs the number of professionals actually working, the job market has become highly competitive. The roadmap to retaining employees and keeping them engaged in both their work and their organisation is an ongoing process and can involve different strategies and techniques depending on what stage they're at within their employment lifecycle; from the employee’s first day, to the moment they deliver their resignation. While many organisation’s can focus on the early stages of an employee’s lifecycle (attracting potential candidates and recruitment) research has shown that ongoing training and development is crucial for retaining employees. Furthermore, an employee’s ‘separation stage’ (when an employee leaves the organisation) can have a positive flow-on effect for attracting and recruiting new employees.
Below, we break down each phase of the employment lifecycle and how organisations can engage with current and potential engineering talent at each phase of their lifecycle and benefit their overall productivity, retention rate and future recruitment.
Phase 1: Attraction
Compared to the other stages of the employee life-cycle, there is limited control an organisation has over how they attract potential candidates. However, there are a few steps a company can take to maximise their talent pool and engage with potential candidates. Firstly, a company should focus on their branding; does it have a good reputation within the engineering sector and is it a desirable and aspirational company to work for? When considering hiring for a new role, a company must consider the desires and interests of prospective employee candidates; what would they want from a role and what do they need for a positive employee experience? Generally speaking, this usually means things like flexible work options, the reputation of the organisation and the scale of projects they work on and the available opportunities to learn and develop their skillset. Once an organisation has considered the desires of their prospective employees, they must then address these desires across all of their touchpoints to ensure this desirability is effectively reaching potential candidates. This includes events, the company’s website and social media. It’s also useful for a company to have a ‘careers’ section on their website to make it easy for eligible candidates to come to them.
Another useful consideration for engineering organisations is to invest in a variety of entry-level training options like apprenticeships, sponsorships and internships to provide to high-school leavers and tertiary graduates. This could attract a considerable number of talent who after completing their engineering studies, don’t feel there are any roles to support them and pursue a different avenue of work. Organisations can also work closely with high schools, training organisations and higher education institutions to promote particular jobs or training options they have available to graduating students and raise awareness of the career possibilities within engineering. This is a great way to target the demographic directly and help students visualise how they can enter into the industry, grow with the company and ultimately widen the organisation's talent pool.
Phase 2: Recruitment
First and foremost, an organisation must carefully consider how the role they are recruiting for is advertised, in order to ensure they attract the best and most relevant list of candidates to choose from. It’s a waste of time if a company is looking for a civil engineer, yet keep receiving applications from mechanical engineers. To avoid this, an organisation should ensure the job advertisement has a clear description of the role, the experience needed and a full list of responsibilities to help attract the right candidates. The job advertisement should also provide details on the workplace and the available perks of the role, to further showcase the role's desirability.
The selection process involves many decisions; how many interviews you should have, whether any technical tests need to be included, how to screen resumes, what methods you should use to avoid bias and how to do referral checks. These decisions will depend on the specific role an organisation is recruiting for (the seniority level, the responsibilities involved etc.) however, no matter the role, an organisation should always ensure they are being transparent and honest with their candidates. Gender diversity is a big priority for engineering organisations currently, so it’s important that organisations ensure that their recruitment policies are formalised and transparent to all. This doesn’t mean that referrals can’t be considered, but organisations should ensure there is a step-by-step process for every job application, to ensure consistency and fairness in all future hires. This means anyone referred to a position will still have to go through the same formal steps as someone who applied via a job advertisement, rather than jumping ahead to a meeting with the manager due to their mutual connection. Research conducted by The Australian Department of Jobs and Small Business has shown that 30% more females were placed into white-collar roles that were advertised than not advertised within the built environment industry (2019).
Phase 3: Onboarding
Many organisations can get confused between onboarding and orientation. Orientation will usually occur during an employee’s first week and focuses on an initial introduction to an employee’s new role and the organisation itself. However, onboarding is a much more thorough process that should last the first 6 to 12 months of an employee’s life cycle. It starts with pre-boarding, which is the period from when an employee signs their employment contract to the first day of employment. During this process, it’s important for an organisation to keep in regular contact and engage with their new employees. Things like adding them to team group chats, company events and sending them relevant and practical information can make them feel included and more prepared for their first day.
During the onboarding process, it’s also important to have regularly scheduled feedback sessions between the new employee and their manager in order to establish how well they are settling in and give them the opportunity to raise any concerns or issues they are having. This will provide the organisation with the chance to resolve any problems early in the employee-employer relationship before an employee can feel resentful.
Phase 4: Development
The development phase of the employee life-cycle is essential, not only in motivating and encouraging an individual employee, but also in improving the organisation’s productivity through progressing an employee’s abilities and skillset via training. The more advanced an employee becomes in their abilities, the better they can perform their job and consequently contribute to the organisation. The development phase is also intrinsically linked to technology. In this day and age, it has become imperative for all employees within the engineering sector to keep up to date with all of the digital tools available to them, especially as multidisciplinary engineering in areas like robotics, artificial intelligence plays a bigger part in infrastructure and manufacturing projects. Consequently, ensuring employees have access to the relevant training and equipment is integral.
There’s a common misconception that learning & development is an expensive initiative for a business, however there are many cost- effective methods an organisation can use like peer coaching and mentoring, which relies on an organisation’s own talent to showcase their particular skillset or expertise with the greater team. Organisation’s can hold weekly sessions, in which a team member who has expertise in one area, can share this knowledge with their colleagues and encourage peer-based learning. Not only is this a cost-effective strategy for the business, but research has indicated that it's also great for fostering employee engagement and innovation within a company.
Asking an employee about their learning and development goals during the recruitment and onboarding phase will help the organisation identify, prepare and customise their learning and development strategy to best suit the individual’s learning needs.
Phase 5: Retention
The retention phase of the employee life-cycle focuses on how to build and develop an employee’s commitment to their role, their team and their organisation. By the retention stage of the life-cycle, the novelty of a new role has well and truly worn off and employees can start to feel stagnant and disengaged. To counteract this, organisations should invest in activities that recognise employee accomplishments and demonstrate how much they value their employee’s commitment to the company. When doing this it’s important to remember that no two people are motivated in exactly the same way and therefore they shouldn’t be recognised or rewarded in the same way. Instead, experts encourage offering a range of recognition tactics across the organisation and not just focusing on financial incentives.
Some alternate ways to recognise employees could involve focusing on creating shared experiences, where an emotional bond between an employee and their organisation is strengthened through celebrating employee anniversaries and asking employees to join in on celebrating noteworthy corporate achievements and business wins. Organisations can also look in to certifying aspects of a company’s curriculum or support an employee’s professional certification opportunities. By actively recognising and encouraging an employee’s desire to learn, an organisation can demonstrate how much they value the employee’s contribution to the business and that they see their potential.
Phase 6: Separation
The final stage of the employee lifecycle focuses on how to manage an employee’s departure from an organisation, whether they’re dismissed, retire or leave to seek new opportunities. Many organisations underestimate the importance this phase plays within the employment cycle, thinking that a departing employee will no longer be relevant to an organisation. However, ‘happy leavers’ (employees that leave their organisation on good terms) can be a great source of new hire referrals and are more open to work or partner with the organisation in some capacity in the future.
There are a few things to keep in mind for maintaining engagement with employees at this stage including:
Utilising effective offboarding processes like exit interviews and feedback mechanisms, so that the organisation can learn why an employee is leaving and improve/rectify any processes that have caused that employee dissatisfaction. It also demonstrates that the organisation values the employee and is sad to see them leave.
Creating and maintaining alumni channels within the organisation so that they can easily stay in touch and reach out to valuable employees who have left, perhaps even sharing particular job opportunities, if the relationship with alumni employees is particularly strong and the job in question showcases an organisation’s growth and development.
If you’re looking for advice or more information on the employee life-cycle -especially the first three stages - Design & Build specialises on attracting, recruiting and transitioning the right candidates within the built environment industry (including engineering) to the right roles. Reach out to our team of consultants today to help give yourself the best chance of attracting and widening your talent pool within the engineering sector.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more
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 Engineers Australia. (2019). The Engineering Profession: A Statistical Overview: Fourteenth Edition. Engineers Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/sites/default/files/resources/Public%20Affairs/2019/The%20Engineering%20Profession%2C%20A%20Statistical%20Overview%2C%2014th%20edition%20-%2020190613b.pdf
 Engineers Australia. (2019). Engineers Make Things Happen. Engineers Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/Pitch-Better-Nation/Make-Things-Happen
 Mannan, R. (2021). Overcoming The Shortage of Engineers. New Engineer. Retrieved from: https://newengineer.com/blog/overcoming-the-shortage-of-engineers-1509925
 Australian Government- Department of Jobs and Small Business. (2019). Australian Jobs 2019. Retrieved from: https://docs.employment.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/australianjobs2019.pdf
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